Peter Singer: women’s right to have children might have to be sacrificed for the environment
June 5, 2013 (Pop.org) - Bioethicist Peter Singer compared women and children to cows overgrazing a field and said that women’s reproductive rights may one day have to be sacrificed for the environment. He made the remarks at the global Women Deliver Conference last week, hailed as the most important meeting to focus on women and girls’ human rights in a decade.
The controversial Princeton University professor, known for championing infanticide and bestiality, was a featured panelist on Thursday at the three-day Women Deliver conference attended by Melinda Gates and more than 4,000 abortion and contraception activists in Kuala Lumpur.
Singer said that since the world’s affluent are not likely to restrain their high rate of consumption compared to the world’s poor any time soon, and since it’s possible that family planning efforts may “turn out to be not enough…we ought to consider what other things there are that we can do …in order to try stave off some of the worst consequences of the environmental catastrophes…”
“It’s possible of course, that we give women reproductive choices, that we meet the unmet need for contraception but that we find that the number of children that women choose to have is still such that population continues to rise in a way that causes environmental problems,” he said. Women have more children because of their “ideological or religious views.”
Singer added that “greenhouse gases… are getting very close to a tipping point,” and climate change could become a “catastrophe and cause hundreds of millions or billions of people to become climate refugees.”
In that case, he said, “we need to consider whether we can talk about trying to reduce population growth and whether that’s compatible with the very reasonable concerns people have about women’s right to control their life decisions and their reproduction.”
Singer, who has also argued the case for bestowing international human rights on primates, said it is “appropriate to consider whether women’s reproductive rights are 'fundamental' and unalterable or whether, in bioethicist speak, they are 'prima facie' - good and important to respect but there can be imaginable circumstances in which you may be justified in overriding them.”
Then Singer compared women’s right to bear children to the traditional villager’s right to graze their cows on “common” grounds. As the villagers get more affluent and their cows die less from disease, he said, until the commons are overgrazed, “yields are falling... and that’s a road to disaster.”
“Turns out that the right to graze as many cows as you like on the common was not an absolute right,” said Singer. “Obviously this is what I think we ought to be saying even about how many children we have… I hope we don’t get to a point where we do have to override it… but I don’t think we ought to shrink away from considering that as a possibility.”
His views were not entirely well received. Babtunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNFPA objected, “There is no way we will come to a point where we are limiting the rights of people in this way.”
Osotimehin was one of a number of speakers at the conference to highlight what pro-lifers have been saying for decades: that “global population growth is actually coming down” and that predictions of worldwide famine and overpopulation disaster were way off the mark.
“India not only feeds itself, it exports food,” said Osotimehin. He added that while some regions of the world continue to grow, others have “more 65-year-olds than 5-year-olds and those countries have issues with how they are going to remain competitive.”
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Earlier at the conference, Karolinska Institute Professor of International Health, Hans Rosling, clearly demonstrated (as opponents of population control have also contended for decades) that falling fertility is related to declines in infant mortality and to rising affluence. He also conceded that fears of a population “explosion” are grossly exaggerated and the world’s population will likely peak at about 9 billion, and then start to fall.
Harvard School of Public Health’s Alicia Yamin also said that the original population explosion proponent, Thomas Malthus, was wrong. “Human beings are more than just consumers” she said. They have “capacity for reason,” and are “active agents” able to solve problems.
The problem, a number of speakers identified, is overconsumption by the world’s wealthiest. “One third of the food that is produced in the world today is wasted, “ said Osotimehin. “So sometimes it is not about what is available, it is about the politics distribution and it is about the politics of access.”
“A homeless person in Denmark actually consumes more than a family of six in Tanzania,” he added.
And wealthy people in developed nations aim to consume as much as wealthy Americans. The “new population problem,” said Osotimehin, “is that every young person who grows up in Tanzania wants to drive an SUV.”
Kavita Ramdas, an Indian representative of the Ford Foundation in New Delhi pointed out that the “ecological footprint” of the average American’s consumption is 9.7 hectares, compared to the average for a person from Mozambique: 4.7 hectares. An American SUV requires 44,000 gallons of water to produce it. And American houses grew 38% in size between 1975 and 2002, even though the number of people per household fell.
It is difficult to say how receptive the conference attendees were to this attack on American consumerism (Melinda Gates’ house is 66,000 square feet and features an indoor swimming pool that is piped with an underwater sound system.) But Ramdas was just warming up.
“I don’t think all rights should be put in stone,” she said. “Why can there not be a prima facie right imposed on the countries that are truly putting an unsustainable load on the planet for all of us?” She continued saying that the United States and Europe are not always going to have this “post-colonial glow in which they assume they are always going to have control.”
“If Americans consume more than Africans, they should be forced into a one child policy,” she said at one point.
When a journalist on the panel said he didn’t see “how to get the rich world to consume less,” Ramdas said: “You force it… you can force women to have less children, you can force people to consume less… Suck it up!”
“The world order has to change,” said Osotimehin, a Nigerian family doctor. “Not only about the environment, it has to change about rights, it has to change about transportation. It won’t do any country any good to stick to some norm that is actually hurting the rest of the world. It just won’t fly.”
Ramdas said the Global South will no longer tolerate Western “hypocrisy and their “other agenda.” “We have been there before, “she said. “ We have seen forced sterilizations. We have seen the fears that the West has of brown people overrunning the world. We are tired of being slaves to colonial masters.”
It is a point population control opponents at the Population Research Institute (PRI) have been making for decades.
Ironically, Ramdas works for the Ford Foundation, one of the original architects of the global population control policies that she denounces. One Ford official, in the 1960s heyday of overpopulation fears of brown people reproducing themselves across the globe, speculated on record about “spraying an aerial contraceptive over India that could be neutralized with an antedotal pill on medical prescription.”
But in her closing remarks Ramdas moved away from population control to another global agenda. “We tend to talk a lot about family planning, but this is also about the choice not to have children. It's about the choice to understand that you can have sex just for the pleasure of having sex,” she said to applause and added that “free safe and legal abortion” is vital to the cause.
Unwittingly, Ramdas appears to to be advocating — and adopting herself — the very tenets of Western ideology that underpin the Western population control dogma she so despises: a hedonistic view of sex divorced from nature and family, a complete disregard for some human life, and an irrepressible urge to regulate the behaviour of others.
Reprinted from the Population Research Institute.