Dominic Lawson: A retort to the population control freaks

I don't accept the assumption that this country is unbearably overcrowded – or would be at 71m.

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"Enoch was right," said Mr Nigel Hastilow, and within 24 hours of uttering those words the speaker found that he was no longer the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis.

Mr Hastilow, you see, had reacted in a completely unacceptable fashion to the Office for National Statistics' report that the population of this country would, largely as a result of net immigration, rise to 71 million in 25 years' time.

Respectable opinion offers a different response to this alleged problem. Thus, on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG, KCVO said that we should be pursuing policies that would reduce our population to 20 million – a third of its current level. Meanwhile, a columnist on The Times, Melanie Reid, argued that we should look to the People's Republic of China for appropriate remedies. Referring to China's "one child" policy, Ms Reid wrote that: "I rather admire the Chinese. They recognised a huge problem and did something about it. It was dreadfully crude but it has prevented the births of 400 million people."

As that great student of Communist China, Jonathan Mirsky, retorted: "The male-female birth rate in China now is between 115 and 118 males to 100 women. The results? Rape, abduction (of females for brides) and female infanticide. Why would anyone admire this, crude or not?"

I'm not aware that anyone has rebutted Sir Crispin's suggestion that there are three times more British people than is desirable, so perhaps I should do so here. First of all, I don't accept the initial assumption that this country is unbearably overcrowded – or even would be so with a population of 71 million. No more than 8 per cent of the land mass of the United Kingdom consists of human dwellings or offices. Sheep, cows and assorted other creatures occupy much more space than we do.

The BBC's peerless economics correspondent, Evan Davis, points out that if the whole of the UK had the population density of Jersey then we would have a headcount of 180 million. Yet the people of Jersey are not engaging in bloody civil war or cannibalism – the sort of outcome that would be predicted by the population doomsters. As Davis observes, the key to managing population growth is to develop the appropriate infrastructure, which presumably Jersey has managed to do.

I was surprised to hear Sir Crispin Tickell citing 20 million as the appropriate number of residents for the UK; only four years ago, on BBC 2's Newsnight, he spoke in support of a figure of 30 million. Numbers, numbers. In his earlier broadcast, Sir Crispin remarked: "Someone has said that constantly increasing growth is the doctrine of the cancer cell. You just get out of control."

This metaphor, in effect describing the birth of children as like a metastasising tumour, is truly disgusting. Who, though, was that "someone" Sir Crispin airily quoted? His name is Paul Ehrlich and he is a patron, along with Tickell and Sir Jonathon Porritt, among others, of the Optimum Population Trust, an organisation that campaigns tirelessly for an organised reduction in human life.

Mr Ehrlich is the godfather of the environmentalist human reduction movement. Almost 40 years ago he wrote a book called The Population Bomb, which asserted that so many people would die as a direct result of starvation due to overpopulation that the world would, by 1985, be able to support only 1.5 billion humans. Mr Ehrlich also claimed that about 65 million of the victims would have died of hunger in his own country, the United States of America. As for Great Britain, Ehrlich declared that he would "take even money" that none of its inhabitants "would exist in the year 2000".

We now know that these predictions were of no more value than those given by the lunatic on a street corner declaring that the end of the word is nigh. Unlike those weirdos, however, Professor Ehrlich continues to pick up awards and is invited on to television programmes, like a sort of Cassandra in reverse (Cassandra, you will recall, got her prophecies right, but was ignored).

Even in what we used to call the Third World, life expectancy has grown by 40 per cent over the past half-century. Both the developed and the developing world have refuted the contemptible assertion – which defies both agricultural science and the human spirit – that the more we are, the worse it will be for all of us.

There have indeed been some horrendous famines – but fewer than ever before in human history and on a tiny scale compared to those foreseen by the guru of the Optimum Population Trust; these have been a result not of overpopulation but of governments taking control of land that used to be run by the farmers themselves – sometimes as part of a deliberate policy of starvation.

The population control freaks canvas a similarly insidious invasion into the intimate lives of hitherto free peoples. The Optimum Population Trust is scandalised by the fact that: "Couples making decisions about family size do so in the belief that it is a matter for them and their personal preferences alone." These professional misanthropes have now co-opted the fashionable hysteria about the consequences of climate change into their eternal quest for human self-culling.

Thus an Optimum Population Trust briefing paper rejoiced that: "A non-existent person has no environmental footprint; the emission saving is instant and total." As Frank Furedi, the author of Population and Development – A Critical Introduction, comments: "This preference for the non-existent over the existent speaks to a powerful anti-humanist sensibility."

As a matter of fact, we can expect this "problem", insofar as it can be so described, to solve itself: we now know that the process of economic development brings with it medical improvements that reduce infant mortality – and thus the compensating urge to produce very large families. That process is also accompanied by female education, which has a similar effect on what is sometimes called "fertility choice".

Note the word: choice. For the state to intervene in any way in the most personal and precious decision of our private lives would be a reduction of freedom dwarfing in significance all the minor infringements which have already occurred over such apparently unacceptable activities as the hunting of foxes while wearing red coats or smoking in private clubs.

So here is a message that we might send to the population control freaks, and I hope that it will not be found too crude. It is this: mind your own reproducing business.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

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