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Smart planning for the global family

Lester Brown, Grist
When it comes to population growth, the United Nations has three primary projections. The medium projection, the one most commonly used, has world population reaching 9.2 billion by 2050. The high one reaches 10.5 billion. The low projection, which assumes that the world will quickly move below replacement-level fertility, has population peaking at 8 billion in 2042 and then declining. If the goal is to eradicate poverty, hunger, and illiteracy, then we have little choice but to strive for the lower projection.

Slowing world population growth means ensuring that all women who want to plan their families have access to family planning information and services. Unfortunately, this is currently not the case for 215 million women, 59 percent of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent. These women and their families represent roughly 1 billion of the earth’s poorest residents, for whom unintended pregnancies and unwanted births are an enormous burden.

… Shifting to smaller families brings generous economic dividends. In Bangladesh, for example, analysts concluded that $62 spent by the government to prevent an unwanted birth saved $615 in expenditures on other social services. For donor countries, ensuring that men and women everywhere have access to the services they need would yield strong social returns in improved education and health care.

Slowing population growth brings with it what economists call the demographic bonus. When countries move quickly to smaller families, growth in the number of young dependents—those who need nurturing and educating—declines relative to the number of working adults. At the individual level, removing the financial burden of large families allows more people to escape from poverty. At the national level, the demographic bonus causes savings and investment to climb, productivity to surge, and economic growth to accelerate.

… The good news is that governments can help couples reduce family size very quickly when they commit to doing so.

Adapted from Chapter 11, “Eradicating Poverty, Stabilizing Population, and Rescuing Failing States,” in Lester R. Brown’s book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), available online at Additional data and information sources at, including stats on population growth.

Lester R. Brown is founder and president of Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.
(12 April 2011)

The Anti-Immigration Crusader

Jason DeParle, New York Times
Three decades ago, a middle-aged doctor sat outside his northern Michigan home and saw a patch of endangered paradise.

A beekeeper and amateur naturalist of prodigious energy, John Tanton had spent two decades planting trees, cleaning creeks and suing developers, but population growth put ever more pressure on the land. Though fertility rates had fallen, he saw a new threat emerging: soaring rates of immigration.

Time and again, Dr. Tanton urged liberal colleagues in groups like Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club to seek immigration restraints, only to meet blank looks and awkward silences.

“I finally concluded that if anything was going to happen, I would have to do it myself,” he said.

Improbably, he did. From the resort town of Petoskey, Mich., Dr. Tanton helped start all three major national groups fighting to reduce immigration, legal and illegal, and molded one of the most powerful grass-roots forces in politics.

… While Dr. Tanton’s influence has been extraordinary, so has his evolution — from apostle of centrist restraint to ally of angry populists and a man who increasingly saw immigration through a racial lens.

… Now FAIR’s signature event is an annual gathering of talk radio hosts, where earnest policy pitches share time with the kind of battle cries Dr. Tanton once feared. This year’s event mixed discussion of job losses among minorities with calls to use Tomahawk missiles on Tijuana drug lords, while a doubter of President Obama’s birth certificate referred to “the undocumented worker” in the White House. Leading allies include Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, whose sweeps of Latino neighborhoods around Phoenix have prompted a federal investigation.

While the whole movement grew more vehement as illegal immigration increased, Dr. Tanton seemed especially open to provocative allies and ideas.

… “The fear was that one ugly person could tar the larger movement, and sadly, ironically, it turned out that person was John Tanton,” said Patrick Burns, who was then FAIR’s deputy director.

But if anything, Dr. Tanton grew more emboldened to challenge taboos. He increasingly made his case against immigration in racial terms.

“One of my prime concerns,” he wrote to a large donor, “is about the decline of folks who look like you and me.” He warned a friend that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”

… He corresponded with Sam G. Dickson, a Georgia lawyer for the Ku Klux Klan, who sits on the board of The Barnes Review, a magazine that, among other things, questions “the so-called Holocaust.”

… Beyond immigration, he revived an old interest in eugenics, another field trailed by a history of racial and class prejudice.
(17 April 2011)
Racist figures bring discredit to the movement to reduce population. The reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center (below) make grim reading for anyone concerned with a rational population policy. -BA

The Hypocrisy of Hate: Nativists and Environmentalism

Heidi Beirich, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
In January 2010, national leaders in ecology, sustainable business, and the larger environmental movement gathered in Washington to grapple with the problem of building “The New Green Economy.” Hosted by the government-funded National Council for Science and the Environment, the event was a prestigious one.

But one of the invited speakers was hardly an environmentalist.

Roy Beck, who participated in a panel entitled “Perverse Incentives, Subsidies, and Tax Code Impediments to a Sustainable Economy,” is the head of NumbersUSA, an anti-immigration group that was largely responsible for sinking a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2007. Beck has spent nearly 20 years relentlessly attacking American immigration policies, even editing tracts like The Immigration Invasion, a book so raw in its nativism that Canadian authorities banned it as hate literature. More to the point, perhaps, purported environmentalist Beck’s group not long ago paid nearly half a million dollars to a far-right news service— an outfit that has described global warming as a “religion” that is “impervious to evidence” and has pilloried conservationists as “anti-mankind.”

So what was Beck doing talking about “greening the tax code”?

Roy Beck is part of a sweeping, renewed attempt by immigration restrictionists in America to convince environmentalists that they, too, must oppose immigration if they are to save the environment from the ravages of a growing population. Because such efforts typically have been organized by anti-immigration activists whose leading concern is not the environment — men and women who attempt to recruit conservationists and other “progressives” to their cause, sometimes even while simultaneously working with nakedly anti-environmental forces — this strategy has come to be known as “greenwashing.”

In the last few years, key nativist groups have increasingly been taking up this strategy. They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to run full-page advertisements appealing to liberals in an array of publications and have started a new group, Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR). They’ve built a series of websites aimed at “progressive” environmentalists — and many of those sites are run by people who are also principals of right-wing nativist groups.

… [In the 1990s] more and more environmentalists concluded that immigrants did not contribute in significant ways to such problems as urban sprawl, overconsumption of resources and traffic congestion. Many also worried about the white nationalism that seemed to be at the core of many restrictionist groups. The Sierra Club, in particular, abandoned its anti-immigration stance in 1996. Similarly, Paul Ehrlich, the author whose influential 1968 book The Population Bomb predicted a “race to oblivion” if population wasn’t brought under control, eventually renounced the immigration-restrictionist position he had explicitly endorsed, instead describing fighting global poverty as the key to slowing population growth.

But John Tanton, Mary Lou Tanton’s spouse and the main builder of today’s nativist movement, did not move with the environmental mainstream. Instead, he continued to see immigration as a root cause of environmental degradation.

A Michigan ophthalmologist who headed the Sierra Club’s Population Committee in the early 1970s, Tanton kept moving to the right, eventually coming to embrace an array of eugenicists, white nationalists and race scientists as he increasingly viewed “European-American” society as under threat. More and more, he worried about a “Latin onslaught,” writing to colleagues about the necessity of maintaining “a European-American majority” in America and complaining that Latinos were less “educable” than other races. But through it all, Tanton never lost interest in wrestling the Sierra Club around to his point of view.
(July 2010)
The complete report (27-page PDF): Greenwash: Nativists, Environmentalism and the Hypocrisy of Hate -BA