Tuesday, January 22nd 2013, 9:35 AM EST
Attenborough’s claim that humanity is a plague is silly and dangerous. When natural historians use their knowledge to try to explain the human, social world and its problems, it’s almost always dangerously wrong. It is presented as a ‘scientific’, empirical approach, but is deeply ideological.
The Telegraph’s resident Gaia-botherer, Louise Gray has a short piece on neoMalthusian anti-baby campaigner, David Attenborough.
The television presenter said that humans are threatening their own existence and that of other species by using up the world’s resources. He said the only way to save the planet from famine and species extinction is to limit human population growth.
“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now,” he told the Radio Times. Sir David, who is a patron of the Optimum Population Trust, has spoken out before about the “frightening explosion in human numbers” and the need for investment in sex education and other voluntary means of limiting population in developing countries. “We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves — and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case. Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a coordinated view about the planet it’s going to get worse and worse.”
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Let’s leave aside Attenborough’s silly claim that humanity is a plague. What is of interest here are the ideas that Ethiopia suffers from having too many people, and that ‘we keep putting on programmes about famines in Africa’
Alex Cull deals with the first claim in a comment posted at The Telegraph and on another post here.
Taking a charitable view here, Sir David is being a little naive.
In terms of population density Ethiopia ranks 121st, well behind the United Kingdom, France and Germany. It also has vast areas of fertile arable land.
Drought and war undoubtedly played a part in Ethiopia’s problems during the 20th century but there’s a strong argument that the famine in 1983-85, for instance, was caused mainly by bad governance, including inflexible Soviet-style central planning (Kenya, by contrast, had worse drought in that period but avoided famine altogether.)
This has nothing to do with “too many people”.
Attenborough would have it that Ethiopia’s problems are the result of its relationship with the natural world, not the result of relationships between Ethiopians, and between other countries. It is the privilege of elderly natural history broadcasters from wealthy backgrounds to pronounce on what people with dark skin are doing wrong: existing in such numbers that offend him. He ignores the history of people in that part of the world. It’s much easier to say that a fecund, stupid people don’t ‘get’ nature than is understand what drives conflict and besets development to produce famine. It’s immeasurably patronising; nobody, if they came across someone living in poverty or without a home in the West, would say ‘what you need is sustainability’. Why then, is the ‘natural order’ the way social problems are understood when they happen thousands of miles away?
So is it true that ‘we keep putting on programmes about famine in Africa’?
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