Bottom Feder

by | May 2, 2008

A link to this article came our way…

Procreation is killing the planet, and traditional religion is to blame, Global-Warming cultists insist. First the industrial revolution had to go. Then it was to the wall with oil company executives, those malignant Carbon Interests. Next, SUVs were declared enemies of the planet.  

Hmmm. This is the first time we’ve heard the claim that environmentalists blame ‘traditional religion’ directly for environmental degradation. Noticeably, the claim is not actually attributed to the environmental movement in general, but to an individual, an Oliver “Buzz” Thomas, who asks in a USA TODAY article, “Might our religion be killing us?”. Thomas argues predictably that religious doctrine encourages people to have more babies, thereby creating a greater environmental impact through ‘overpopulation’. Yawn.

You may be wondering why we, the editors of a site that intends to challenge climate orthodoxy, are sceptical of the claims made by Don Feder in his GLOBAL WARMING — LEFT’S LATEST EXCUSE FOR THE WAR ON THE FAMILY. The reason is that it’s difficult to establish which is worse, the intellectual poverty of the environmental movement – as Thomas exhibits – or the intellectual dishonesty of Feder in this article. The fact of the former should make the latter unnecessary. What are we to make of Feder, then?

Notice that Thomas is no atheist, but is in fact a Southern Baptist minister. And notice too that there is no real substance in his article that one could fairly attribute to the ‘Left’. Yet Feder appears to maintain that Thomas’s remarks are evidence that the left are trying to attack the family, and religion.

As we have argued before, Environmentalism and conventional religions are strikingly compatible. But this is not just some dispute about different interpretations of biblical texts, Feder – who is allegedly a political consultant, seems to be absurdly ignorant of political theory. He tells us that

For 200 years, the left has been fixated on an imaginary overpopulation crisis. In 1798, Thomas Malthus warned that wars, famine and plagues were needed to reduce the “surplus population” else we would soon inhabit Planet SRO. 

But Malthus’s ideas had no currency in the Left. Quite the opposite. Lenin – about as left as lefties ever got – said of them that they were “an attempt on the part of bourgeois ideologists to exonerate capitalism and to prove the inevitability of privation and misery for the working class under any social system”. Indeed, Tomas Malthus, the classical economist, was in fact a keen fan of Adam Smith – the ‘father of capitalism’. To claim that Malthus is key to the development of the left is as sound as claiming that a pope was instrumental in the development of the ideas in Darwin’s “origin of the species”. A key assumption for Malthus was that poverty is the consequence of the poor’s moral shortcomings rather than unequal structures of society. Again, where’s the socialism? Nonetheless, Feder continues,

In his 1969 book, “The Population Bomb” (the prequel to “An Inconvenient Truth”), Paul Ehrlich forecast worldwide famine by 1975. Natural resources would be severely depleted and arable land exhausted in a futile effort to keep up with the population explosion. 

Neither was Paul Ehrlich ‘Left’. He was on the board of advisors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform until 2003 – “The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization in the United States that advocates changes in U.S. immigration policy that would result in significant reductions in immigration, both legal and illegal.” And the Left has never been about submitting to ‘limits to growth’, thereby arresting progress; it’s goal has been to distribute the fruits of that progress among those who actually produce stuff, rather than those who merely own it.

It’s not as if Feder doesn’t know that he’s talking bullshit…

If Global Warming didn’t exist, the left would have to invent it. In fact, they did. As Nigel Calder, former editor of the British magazine New Scientist explains: “Twenty years ago, climate research became politicized in favor of one particular hypothesis, which redefined the study as the effect of the study of greenhouse gasses. As a result, the rebellious spirits essential for innovative and trustworthy science are greeted with impediments to their research careers.” 

… If he knows that climate research was politicised twenty years ago, he would know that it was politicised by the then UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher – a Conservative, and friend and ally of Ronald Reagan. Her administration – a right wing administration, arguably farther right than the party’s tradition – found the ideas of Paul Ehrlich and Malthus expedient. They were communicated to the PM by the likes of neomalthusian (he admits to the term) Sir Crispin Tickell, a senior British diplomat at the time.

And on the subject of ‘traditional religion’, and the ‘left’s attack on the family’, Marx – again, a fairly leftish kind of lefty – says this of Malthus:

Although Malthus was a parson of the English State Church, he had taken the monastic vow of celibacy — one of the conditions of holding a Fellowship in Protestant Cambridge University: “Socios collegiorum maritos esse non permittimus, sed statim postquam quis uxorem duxerit socius collegii desinat esse.” (“Reports of Cambridge University Commission,” p. 172.) This circumstance favourably distinguishes Malthus from the other Protestant parsons, who have shuffled off the command enjoining celibacy of the priesthood and have taken, “Be fruitful and multiply,” as their special Biblical mission in such a degree that they generally contribute to the increase of population to a really unbecoming extent, whilst they preach at the same time to the labourers the “principle of population.” It is characteristic that the economic fall of man, the Adam’s apple, the urgent appetite, “the checks which tend to blunt the shafts of Cupid,” as Parson Townsend waggishly puts it, that this delicate question was and is monopolised by the Reverends of Protestant Theology, or rather of the Protestant Church. With the exception of the Venetian monk, Ortes, an original and clever writer, most of the population-theory teachers are Protestant parsons. [Capital, Ch 25, note 6] 

Marx’s point here, like Feder’s, is that Malthusianism is used to coerce the working classes, not for the benefit of the Left, as Feder claims, but for the capitalist elite. Malthusianism is just good, old-fashioned fear of the uncontrolled masses. Too many of them is a problem, you see, for capital. They start demanding things. And they start becoming a viable political force, rather than merely a useful source of labour.

The left must have its scapegoat. This is absolutely essential. For Marx it was the bourgeoisie. For the ’60s New Left, it was America — spelled with a “k.” White males are the villains of multiculturalism. Now, it’s babies and retrograde churches that are destroying the planet. The environment has assumed the role of the proletariat, the Third World and racial minorities in earlier models of damnation and salvation. 

If it wasn’t so utterly dishonest, it would be funny that Feder should talk of scapegoating in an article where he attacks the ‘left’, which isn’t left, for characteristics of the right, in defence of the poor and the oppressed at the hands of the bourgeoisie!

The left has always worried about the reproductive patterns of certain people. As Jonah Goldberg explains in his book “Liberal Fascism,” from the beginning, racial eugenics was a project of the left — or progressives, as they called themselves then and now. H.G. Wells, a hero of pre-World War II progressivism (a socialist who wrote science fiction, much like Al Gore), said that in order for humankind to move to the sunny uplands of utopia, “swarms of black and brown, and dirty (lower class) white and yellow people” would have to be discouraged from breeding — or physically eliminated. Moreover, Goldberg explains, “The foremost institution combating eugenics around the world was the Catholic Church.” 

In fact eugenics was as much an orthodoxy prior to WW2 as climate change is today. Both the left and the right bought into it. Many US states had programs of compulsory sterilisation, and there’s probably no point in raising that little matter of racial segregation in the southern states up until… oh, well after eugenics was unfashionable. It is only with tunnel vision that Feder can make the point. Indeed, he cites just one prominent socialist. But it wasn’t simply Wells’s socialism which made him keen on eugenics, but his scientism. Indeed some religious movements have stood in the way of eugenics, but arguably, only because reproductive technologies threaten to undermine their influence, by separating our behaviour from its consequences, or otherwise undermining religious orthodoxy. What appears to be a positive stand against the evil of eugenics also stands in the way of life-saving, and life-enhancing medicine and research. Feder is not speaking about anything positive. We agree that it is a bad idea to campaign against families after the fashion of the Chinese one-child-per-family policy. But on the other hand, it is bad to coerce people into families through orthodoxies. Whether you want states or ‘traditional religion’ to maintain the family, the idea that the family unit is both right, and natural, and is the bedrock of society is undermined; it is still a claim that families can only exist with such forms of intervention. Why would families need a religion or a state to exist? What is more, how can Feder honestly claim that the traditional church does not worry about ‘the reproductive patterns of certain people’? It’s not as if the church doesn’t speak about sex before marriage, gay relationships, contraception, and all that stuff.

There are plenty of things to criticise the old left for. But no need. Because it no longer exists. Feder misses the point that Environmentalism is perfectly compatible with right wing, religious as well as ‘liberal’ perspectives. Indeed, it’s more at home with the old right in that, ultimately, it serves to maintain elites and class structures. There’s no problem making rubbish up about Environmentalism if all you want to do is score points here and there against political (or even religious) rivals, as Feder seems to want to do. It’s not fine if you think Environmentalism is a dangerous idea that needs challenging. And it does need challenging. There is plenty of scope for people on the right and left to have interesting conversations about what’s wrong with Environmentalism. But the intellectual dishonesty of Feder’s article is no way to challenge the intellectual poverty of Environmentalism. Please, let’s raise the standard.

1 Comment

  1. Robinson

    I’m curious to know if you think that population increase is in general a good thing or not? If not, then obviously things like birth control and female emancipation (at the very least, giving the woman control over her fertility) must be positive.

    With this in mind then, you can tie in traditional religion with over-population, because the two things religions tend to have in common are objections to birth control and encouraging patriarchy. I could finger Islam and the Catholic religion as two extreme examples of this, but the other more limp wristed religions (Anglican Christianity for example) are culpable to some degree (can you believe the Anglican Church is still split over whether to allow women to be priests at all!?).

    With respect to Malthus, it’s true that his predictions failed in his time. But of course he doesn’t factor in the destruction of natural habitats, fisheries and so forth in his calculations. So the question really should be, “what population level is sustainable and when will we reach it?”. There must be a limit, surely?

    I’m not a “believer” in the Environmental Project as it stands in its more extreme forms, but I do think over-population and the strain that is putting on the natural world is one of the problems facing humanity. Of course, apart from the heat island effect, I don’t think it has very much to do with climate change either.



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