It is reported that the UK government-sponsored Sustainable Development Commission believes that curbing people’s right to reproduce should be central to the fight against global warming (1). Jonathon Porritt, who chairs the commission and is also a patron of the Malthusian campaigning group the Optimum Population Trust, wants to turn population control into the key objective of environmental campaigning. So the totalitarian impulse towards controlling people’s reproductive lives has now received the blessing of sections of the British political elite.
Porritt’s estrangement from the newborn puts him in the company of a growing band of dreary misanthropists. King Herod’s fear of the newborn was confined to one baby. Today’s misanthropic fear-merchants have a wider target. One Australian professor of obstetric medicine, Barry Walters, believes that the very survival of the planet demands stringent controls on the number of children parents can have. This is what he has to say:
‘Anthropogenic greenhouse gases constitute the largest source of pollution, with by far the greatest contribution from humans in the developed world. Every newborn baby in Australia represents a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions for an average of 80 years, not simply by breathing, but by the profligate consumption of resources typical of our society. What then should we do as environmentally responsible medical practitioners? We should point out the consequences to all who fail to see them, including, if necessary, the ministers for health. Far from showering financial booty on new mothers and thereby rewarding greenhouse-unfriendly behaviour, a “Baby Levy” in the form of a carbon tax should apply, in line with the “polluter pays” principle.’ (2)
Throughout history, different cultures have celebrated birth as a unique moment signifying the joy of life. The reinterpretation of birth as a form of ‘greenhouse-unfriendly behaviour’ speaks to today’s degraded imagination, where carbon-reduction becomes the supreme moral imperative. Once every newborn baby is dehumanised in this way, represented as a professional polluter who is a ‘potent source of greenhouse gas emissions’, then it becomes increasingly difficult to feel anything other than apprehension about the growth of the human race.