Adam Ramsay, Economic Growth, Environmentalism, George Monbiot, Greens, Immigration, Malthusianism, openDemocracy, Opinion, Politics, Population Matters, Syrian Refugee Crisis, Syrian Refugees, Thomas Robert Malthus
Poor Adam Ramsay is in a total muddle. On Wednesday, the People and Planet campaigner and scruffier younger brother of David Cameron was waging war, in the pages of openDemocracy, on a tiny, potty think-tank called Population Matters. Ramsay had taken offence to the tank’s “Malthusian arguments,” particularly when they were deployed last year as a theoretical basis for turning away Syrian refugees from the UK’s borders:
…their comments about the Syrian crisis didn’t come out of nowhere. Population Matters has long called for “zero net-migration” to the UK: essentially, “one in, one out” – a position more extreme than the BNP… It’s not just their extreme views on migration which are controversial. Among Population Matters’ six policy proposals for the recent general election was a suggestion that child benefit should be scrapped for third and subsequent children.
But this is the confusion of somebody who cannot recognise his own ideology in an unfamiliar setting. Ramsay is part of the Green movement: a movement which is, from start to finish, and from top to bottom, steeped in an apocalyptic Malthusian scaremongering. It is the Greens who define human beings as a kind of vermin, who are mindlessly overrunning the planet, wasting its supposedly “finite” resources, and incapable of using technology or ingenuity to clean up after themselves. It is the Greens who want us to be mindful of our “impact” upon the planet. It is the Greens who want us to know our place and, if we are to be born at all, to be modest little peasants who tiptoe carefully, and with suitable reverence, through the planet’s manorial gardens.
The mantra that people are a problem has always been the pounding heart of the Green agenda. The Tories’ belief that we should cut back on the state’s spending is almost dithering liberalism when compared to the Greens’ belief that everybody should cut back on all spending. The SNP, for example, a self-proclaimed “anti-austerity” outfit, actually wants everybody in Scotland to use 12% less energy by 2020. In 2007, the sainted environmentalist George Monbiot was arguing that “we should bring on the recession” because “how else will the destructive effects of growth be stopped?”
There can be lots of people, Ramsay concedes in his article, so long as they live in virtuous poverty. He congratulates Mali, where the average woman has six and a half children, because “the average Malian family is responsible for 1/136th of the carbon of the average American family.” Mali would only become a problem if all of its people wanted to be as rich and as happy as American families. Then they would presumably buy more cars, eat more meat, go on more foreign holidays, and deplete more of the planet’s precious bounty. A large population is therefore not problematic in itself, but only when its people are fulfilled as human beings.
The mistake of Population Matters, in Ramsay’s analysis, is to try to apply Green policies nationally rather than globally. Indeed, Ramsay had previously contacted Chris Packham, one of the tank’s patrons, who “got back promptly expressing his concern, and making clear that his worry about population relates only to global numbers of people.” A national Green policy will involve unpopular proposals being put in front of real electorates, which can be unpredictable. At a “global” level, it is all safely wishy-washy, with summits agreeing upon faraway targets, NGOs telling everybody what to do, and the peoples of the world standing at a proper distance.
In a “manifesto” for this year’s General Election, Population Matters warned that, “population growth means ever more houses, power stations, roads, reservoirs, hospitals, schools, etc. must be built, staffed and maintained.” People like these, who make out that “the country is full,” are not objecting to immigration in the old racist Enoch Powell sense. They have instead an apocalyptic, almost religious belief in the failure of our own society. For them, we just can’t do it – we can’t build more houses, we can’t provide more jobs, and we must “live within our means.” This is straightforwardly irrational – even hysterical. It imagines that we have reached a random point in our history when modernity is suddenly stopped by an invisible barrier.
I want to let more Syrians into the UK, either as refugees and migrants, and more of everybody else too. I therefore accept that this will require more houses, more nuclear power stations, more schools and hospitals, and, once the Syrians have inevitably enriched themselves, more growth and more consumerism. Ramsay cannot realistically embrace one without the other. Or else maybe Population Matters is more like him than he is himself?