The Population Matters controversy hots up

Adam Ramsay has provoked the most interesting blog thread on the issue of the Green World Editorial Board (GWEB) refusing to accept a flier from Population Matters:

You should be aware that I resigned from GWEB over this matter, not because of my opinion on Population Matters as an orgnisatuion, but as a matter of editorial principle. My contribution to the blog thread is no. 70, but I repeat it here:

This thread demonstrates the reason why I felt I had to resign from GWEB over the refusal to take the flier from PM. There are very many GP members on both sides of the argument, and therefore, it had to be incumbent to GWEB to reflect that spread of opinion, rather than effectively censor one side of the debate.
Let me further clarify my position as it is getting quite a complicated web of issues.

The GWEB that I found myself a part of consisted of three passionate young guys and Miriam Kennett, who I know a bit about, but have not (to this day) ever met. My understanding of the role, perhaps based on naive assumption, was that the magazine should reflect the full range of opinion within the Party, as well hoping that it may perhaps provoke debate and discussion more than it appears to have done in the past.

When one member of GWEB voiced opposition to taking the flier from Population Matters, I thought it was ridiculous. It is not that I have a strong opinion on the organisation, and it would not have been relevant if I had.

The fact of the matter is that there are very many Green Party members that not only sympathise with PM, but are active members and supporters of it. I therefore made the case, within GWEB, that it was preposterous to turn down advertising from an organisation that clearly had support from within the Party, especially as there is a disclaimer in every issue that makes it clear that, and I quote: “views in Green World do not necessarily express the views of the Green Party. Products and services advertised in Green World are not necessarily endorsed by the Green Party”.

I thought this line of argument would put the issue to bed, but it soon emerged that GWEB was split down the middle, with 2 members entrenched on each side of the argument, and the Convenor sitting very uncomfortably on the fence.

I again made it clear to GWEB members that I considered our own ideological positions on this issue irrelevant, as the magazine had to reflect the range of opinion within the party and not effectively censor elements of it. I suggested that if anybody had such strong views about any organisation associated with the Party, the proper means to address this would be through Conference. I considered this situation could set a very dangerous precedent and I was not happy to work with a Board that was not prepared to reflect the whole Party, but seek to impose their own perspectives. Thus, I felt the principles at stake here were such that it had become a resignation issue – so when the Convenor chose to favour the call to refuse the advertising, I duly resigned.

I do not rule out returning to GWEB, indeed I think I would like to do so at some point, but I hope this whole episode might precipitate some useful and beneficial debate on a number of issues related to both Population Matters and Green World at Conference and beyond.

It is, perhaps time I declared a position on the central ideological controversy regarding population growth and its implications.

Being a geography graduate of the early 80’s, I am very familiar with Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population , from way back in 1798. He describes unchecked population growth as exponential (1→2→4→8), while the growth of the food supply he anticipates to be arithmetical (1→2→3→4). Malthus then suggested that were two types of “checks” that could then reduce the population, returning it to a more sustainable levels. He believed there were “preventive” checks, such as moral restraints (e.g. abstinence, delayed marriage on economic grounds), and restricting marriage against persons suffering poverty and/or defects. These ideas have given rise to all manner of objectionable and heinous (indeed fascist) ideas, such as eugenics and genocide, which has led to anything vaguely Malthusian becoming a cause for left wing contempt, as seen in the various blogs on this Population Matters controversy.

However, Malthus also recognised “positive checks” (somewhat ironically named), which lead to ‘premature’ death: disease, starvation, war; resulting in what are sometimes called Malthusian catastrophes. The catastrophes would return population to a lower, more “sustainable”, level. The term has been applied in different ways over the last two hundred years, and has been linked to a variety of other political and social movements, but almost always refers to advocates of population control. This has become the ‘elephant in the room’ that my Green Left colleagues seem reluctant to get to grips with.

There are some stark facts that need to inform the ideological extremes on both sides of the divide. Simple logic dictates that the human population will not, indeed cannot, continue to grow exponentially as it has in the last 200 years. There is evidence that the rate of increase is slowing down, even the most optimistic predictions suggest we will not see the world population stabilise until somewhere between 10 and 12 billion. We are currently at 7.1 billion and counting ( )

The crux of the issue is whether we do anything at all to try and manage population, or whether we leave it to Malthusian catastrophes to control. Surely the only sensible way forward is to try to manage it in some way, but we ecosocialists, at least within Green Left, seem to be floundering to come up with answers. But the answers are in our core beliefs. Decrying (ancient) Malthusian ideas as misogynistic and racist is not enough. Ecosocialist solutions, based on overcoming poverty and empowering women, have to be fought for and, so far as I can see, are values largely shared with Population Matters (

It is a matter of fact that high birth rates generally accompany poverty and lack of education. Most poor women do not actually want to spend their lives in childbirth and child rearing. A central demand of women’s movements across the globe has always been for better access to safe and reliable contraception and abortion. Poor people often have large families as an insurance against poverty in old age. When people become richer, birth rates go down. These are all established patterns that I have been teaching in geography lessons for decades. Collectivisation of housework has also been a demand of feminists and socialists, and we need to take a much closer look at this and the role it should play when considering alternatives to capitalism. Malthusian catastrophes will be associated with increases in domestic violence and violence against women. These things always increase dramatically during any societal breakdown.

A world of environmental catastrophe also opens up the danger of massively increased militarism, repression and war – Malthusian catastrophes compounded. Ecological collapse may be survived by the rich minority, but it will devastate the poor. The fight against it is a vital part of the struggle for ecosocialism. Ignoring the ‘population’ elephant in the room is not an option. The stark choice was posed by Rosa Luxemburg: Ecosocialism or Barbarism!

1 thought on “The Population Matters controversy hots up

  1. swanseaandllanelligreenparty Post author

    Bridgend Green Party member and Population Matters member, Noel Thomas responds to Adam Ramsay’s condemnation of PM at post 119 in this thread:

    Maybe the informative and calm contributions from AC, NR and RM have been of use to GP members who might never have studied the offending ad. ?

    Reading your initial thoughts, Adam, which include me ( PM, GP member ) with those who blame the unemployed for the recession, and the people of Iraq for Saddam Hussein, and with those who are ( therefore ) offensive ( all the time ? ), I delayed reading your later comments, for fear of more home truths.

    Now that I have done so, where does one begin ?

    To keep it short, we will begin and end with A.
    Africans and Animals.

    “On hunger – there might, I suppose, be a theoretical point at which it would be impossible to feed the people on earth. But we aren’t anything like there. Hunger is an issue of distribution, and of inefficient useage (ie using crops as fodder for animals so people like me can eat meat).”

    Tell that to the billion or so people who struggle to find enough food to survive.
    They might not be impressed to know that the problem is down to distribution.
    Which in small part it may be, but for us with our full bellies, to dismiss their misery in such disinterested terms suggests we may be living in our heads, heartless.

    Many vegetarians have become tired of explaining to the curious, why we make such a choice, instead we point out that anyone who understands the cruelty, inefficiency and polluting effects of the livestock industry, and who eats meat and fish, puts their palate and stomach before their head and their heart.
    Any explanation should be their responsibility.

    “I believe that adverts for an organisation which I think shifts blame into women and people in the global South are oppressive. I think they cross that line. My anti-racist activist friends think that it’s amazing that we even have I have this debate and that it’s totally obvious we shouldn’t publish this,”

    Is this based on your experience in the global South ? And your friends’ experiences ?

    Thanks to many working trips to sub saharan Africa in recent years, I probably have more female friends in poor African villages that I have on your, posher, side of Offa’s dyke.

    They share the burdens of women everywhere.
    Abuse , domestic/physical/sexual.
    They carry, deliver ( too often die doing so ) and nurse the children whose conception they often have little choice in deciding.
    Until they die , they carry a disproportionate disease and trauma burden, compared to the male sex who misuse and abuse them so.
    They are daily victims of male dominated cultures which are often more discriminatory towards women, than is our own.
    They wish to have more control over their lives, and any advice or help to do so, wherever it comes from, is welcome.
    They would laugh at any suggestion that a UK ‘organisation’ is a cause of their ‘oppression’.

    We, the male sex, are the cause of their oppression.
    Our need for dominance, power, sex, knows no bounds. Our anger goes often uncontrolled.

    Racism is a pimple on our species’ face, compared to the plague of abuse and violence that we men inflict on women, regardless of colour, class, or creed.

    About fifty years ago, Ronnie Laing, in ‘The Divided Self ‘ showed how labelling peoples behaviour ( mad, bad, psychotic etc ) enabled them to be devalued, dismissed, and often locked up.

    This used to be a psychiatric habit, nowadays it is commonplace.

    Discussion can be distorted, discussants can be ruled out of order, positions ridiculed, by the use of a few words.

    Laing suggested that psychiatrists used a “vocabulary of denigration” to diminish or destroy their patients’ freedom and individuality, and their right to express themselves.

    Today’s vocabulary of denigration is as long as a piece of string, but anyone who introduces words like racist into a discussion, needs to be quite clear what they attempting to do, or not do.

    Why is this vocabulary of denigration so commonplace , fifty years on ?

    Rereading Chapter 3 of our well thumbed copies of “The Spirit Level “ may provide some clues.



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