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Peter Singer: women’s right to have children might have to be sacrificed for the environment

Singer said that since the world’s affluent are not likely to restrain their high rate of consumption compared to the world’s poor any time soon, and since it’s possible that family planning efforts may “turn out to be not enough…we ought to consider what other things there are that we can do …in order to try stave off some of the worst consequences of the environmental catastrophes…”
“It’s possible of course, that we give women reproductive choices, that we meet the unmet need for contraception but that we find that the number of children that women choose to have is still such that population continues to rise in a way that causes environmental problems,” he said. Women have more children because of their “ideological or religious views.”
Singer added that “greenhouse gases… are getting very close to a tipping point,” and climate change could become a “catastrophe and cause hundreds of millions or billions of people to become climate refugees.”
In that case, he said, “we need to consider whether we can talk about trying to reduce population growth and whether that’s compatible with the very reasonable concerns people have about women’s right to control their life decisions and their reproduction.”
Singer, who has also argued the case for bestowing international human rights on primates, said it is “appropriate to consider whether women’s reproductive rights are ‘fundamental’ and unalterable or whether, in bioethicist speak, they are ‘prima facie’ – good and important to respect but there can be imaginable circumstances in which you may be justified in overriding them.”
Then Singer compared women’s right to bear children to the traditional villager’s right to graze their cows on “common” grounds. As the villagers get more affluent and their cows die less from disease, he said, until the commons are overgrazed, “yields are falling… and that’s a road to disaster.”
“Turns out that the right to graze as many cows as you like on the common was not an absolute right,” said Singer. “Obviously this is what I think we ought to be saying even about how many children we have… I hope we don’t get to a point where we do have to override it… but I don’t think we ought to shrink away from considering that as a possibility.”
His views were not entirely well received. Babtunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNFPA objected, “There is no way we will come to a point where we are limiting the rights of people in this way.”
Osotimehin was one of a number of speakers at the conference to highlight what pro-lifers have been saying for decades: that “global population growth is actually coming down” and that predictions of worldwide famine and overpopulation disaster were way off the mark.
“India not only feeds itself, it exports food,” said Osotimehin. He added that while some regions of the world continue to grow, others have “more 65-year-olds than 5-year-olds and those countries have issues with how they are going to remain competitive.”
Earlier at the conference, Karolinska Institute Professor of International Health, Hans Rosling, clearly demonstrated (as opponents of population control have also contended for decades) that falling fertility is related to declines in infant mortality and to rising affluence. He also conceded that fears of a population “explosion” are grossly exaggerated and the world’s population will likely peak at about 9 billion, and then start to fall.
Harvard School of Public Health’s Alicia Yamin also said that the original population explosion proponent, Thomas Malthus, was wrong. “Human beings are more than just consumers” she said. They have “capacity for reason,” and are “active agents” able to solve problems.
The problem, a number of speakers identified, is overconsumption by the world’s wealthiest. “One third of the food that is produced in the world today is wasted, “ said Osotimehin. “So sometimes it is not about what is available, it is about the politics distribution and it is about the politics of access.”
“A homeless person in Denmark actually consumes more than a family of six in Tanzania,” he added.
And wealthy people in developed nations aim to consume as much as wealthy Americans. The “new population problem,” said Osotimehin, “is that every young person who grows up in Tanzania wants to drive an SUV.”
Kavita Ramdas, an Indian representative of the Ford Foundation in New Delhi pointed out that the “ecological footprint” of the average American’s consumption is 9.7 hectares, compared to the average for a person from Mozambique: 4.7 hectares. An American SUV requires 44,000 gallons of water to produce it. And American houses grew 38% in size between 1975 and 2002, even though the number of people per household fell.
It is difficult to say how receptive the conference attendees were to this attack on American consumerism (Melinda Gates’ house is 66,000 square feet and features an indoor swimming pool that is piped with an underwater sound system.) But Ramdas was just warming up.
“I don’t think all rights should be put in stone,” she said. “Why can there not be a prima facie right imposed on the countries that are truly putting an unsustainable load on the planet for all of us?” She continued saying that the United States and Europe are not always going to have this “post-colonial glow in which they assume they are always going to have control.”
“If Americans consume more than Africans, they should be forced into a one child policy,” she said at one point. >>MORE from Ye Olde Journalist<<

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