Environment vs. population

Update: Part 2 of the response to this post is in the following page.

Grist magazine is a well known source of environmental news and commentary. Here is an article which serves as a perfect example of the unhealthy conflation of issues and reasons why so many people dislike, discredit and even oppose environmentalists. In this article Michelle Goldberg author of a 2009 book The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, talks about environmentalism through the lens of  ‘women’s rights’ and reproductive rights. IN her book (I need to admit I haven’t read the whole book or am an expert, but this suffices as you will see) she says “All over the planet, conflicts between tradition and modernity are being fought on the terrain of women’s bodies.” and “[T]he conflation of women’s rights with globalization or Westernization, and the concomitant desire to limit them in the name of national or cultural integrity, is nearly universal. … women’s rights are perhaps the most visible sign of modernity and thus an obvious bête noire for flourishing fundamentalist movements.”

In the video she talks about the genesis of the spread of world contraception, describes the utilitarian mindset that spread these measures and the numerous cases of UN and international court rulings that hold the ‘right to reproduction’ over and above the right to life (not surprising outcomes considering the UN wholeheartedly supports contraception and abortion). The Grist article positions these issues even more antagonistically and conflictingly:

The culture war raging in the U.S. over abortion and reproductive rights isn’t confined within our country’s borders — it’s gone global. American Christian conservatives have teamed up with Islamic fundamentalists, the Vatican, and other religious traditionalists around the world to fight efforts to bring contraception, abortion rights, and basic equality to women everywhere…. Her emphasis is on women’s well-being rather than the health of the environment, with the understanding that the two are inextricably tied up together.

And here’s Goldberg being quoted from the video, which you can see below :


[W]omen’s rights and particularly reproductive rights are really at the heart of development, they’re at the heart of the answer to almost every pressing problem that we’re facing, whether it be environmental devastation or the persistence of global poverty or the AIDS pandemic. You can’t begin to address any of these problems until you address the oppression of women. [S]o fundamentalists all over the world, whether we’re talking about here or in Afghanistan or in India or in Africa or in South America, in their hatred of the modern world, in their desperate desire to restore some kind of lost paradise that probably never existed …, they see the key to that as restoring women to what they see as their proper place.

So the Catholic Church is lumped together with conservative politicians and other religions and called fundamentalism. I actually think these are important issues over the rights and values we hold and an intelligent conversation can be had, but these unintelligent remarks don’t help the conversation and certainly not the environmental movement. To pick one example, the invocation of the declaration of human rights and the inclusion of reproductive rights imply a contradiction unless there is a hierarchy. Article 3 states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” To just throw a claim in that reproductive rights should be included without discussing the implications is unintelligent. Anyway, there is much to talk about here. I am opposed to Grist’s ideas, via Goldberg, for factual reasons and also moral and theoretical reasons. The latter will come in the next post, for now the substantive argument.

In a recent post Roger Pielke Jr. talked about ‘post-normal’ science where the WHO (UN World Health Organization) claims 60,000 people died due to climate change. He says they are wrong and has continually showed why and how. Read the post here. In another post Roger outlines how population is invoked as the cause of climate change and hence contraception should be promoted. Finally, I think what is really underlying the discussion here is not really the invocation of environmental rights, the good and bad of abortion or contraception for the environment etc. but it is fundamentally about values. As this post suggests it is not about science but about values, as in Goldman’s case where she invokes history and ‘justice’, it is about the values we hold. The next post moves in that direction.


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