An Open Letter to Alan Weisman

I recently finished reading “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman.  The basic premise is, what would happen if suddenly all of us humans vanished form the Earth?  Not through war or natural disaster or by any other means that might likewise devastate other organisms, but if all the humans were simply and suddenly gone.  What would happen to our cities, our factories, our nuclear power plants and toxic waste sinks, our oil sands and arms dumps?  How would ecosystems respond?  How would species currently on the road to human-caused extinction fare?  It’s really a phenomenal book, and while I highly recommend it, I was troubled by the way he handled what seemed to be the conclusion of the book, if one can say that it has such a thing.

Weisman ends the book with a brief discussion of human population dynamics, and although he never comes right out and says it, he definitely gives the reader the impression that the best thing we can do is limit every woman on Earth to only one child.  Sound familiar?  Familiar, and troubling.  So troubling, in fact, that I was prompted to write the following letter, which I have mailed to him in Massechusettes where I’m not certain if he’ll ever read it or not.  I have copied it here for your reading enjoyment and comment, with one caveat: at this blog, the fact that we live in a global patriarchy where women are disproportionately poor, marginalized, and subject to violence is NOT up for debate.  If you doubt, dear reader, there are lots of data and information out there in the world with which to educate yourself on the topic.  Please do so before commenting — it isn’t mine or anyone else’s job to educate you about something which is abundantly clear to anyone who investigates it.  Anti-feminist rants will not be posted, so don’t bother.  There’s lots of places for that, this blog doesn’t need to become another one.  Thanks.

An Open Letter to Allen Weisman

Dear Mr. Weisman,

I have recently finished reading “The World Without Us” and felt compelled to write you for two reasons.  The first is that your book has touched m in many ways — good and bad, but deeply — and I would like to thank you for all your work, research, and insight.  The second reason, however, is that I left the world of your book feeling troubled.  Not by its content, which while deeply troubling is also meant to be so, should be so to any living, thinking person and so I feel okay, even good, about being troubled by it, but by your analysis of it.  In the last few pages of the book you delve into the intricate world of human population, which is certainly an important and highly pertinent topic.  But to do so in only a few pages and with only one level of analysis — women should have fewer children — is an oversimplification that borders on dangerous in a way that leaves me feeling the queasy, heart-pounding fear of a woman under threat.

When studying food policy in university I often encountered the topic of so-called “population control” in discussions of world food security issues.  Certainly, anyone can see that reducing the number of humans would ease the pressure on both earth and human systems.  But far too often the attention paid to lowering overall birth rates distracts attention from the much more easily and equitably obtainable goal of reducing the overall impacts that each of those children will have throughout their lives.  A family of 5 in many places will use less resources in their whole lives than a child born in Canada might use in her first five years, as I’m sure you know.  And so the population control discourse becomes a way for people in overconsuming nations to abdicate responsibility for their choices and instead lay the blame at the feet of the poor in the majority world.  The irony is that this is overhwlemingly NOT their mess, and yet they are blamed for it because they have “too many children.”  An oversimplfication based in racist feelings of entitlement has the dangerous ability to masquerade as sound policy if not put into its social and historical context.

And then we must remember that when we are speaking about children, we are speaking about mothers, about women.  Women, who also did not make this mess.  Men have been in control in most of the world, and have used violence from the personal to the structural to maintain that control, for the last five thousand years or so.  Theories about prehistoric overhunting aside, it is in the timeframe of global patriarchy that most of the damage you write about has been done.  And now women are to clean up the mess by obediently having fewer children, after centuries of obediently having many children to facilitate patrilineal inheritance patterns and male ideas about “spreading strong seed” which created so much of the mess in the first place?  “Limiting” women to one child is a dangerous line of thinking that again implies that the responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in does not lie with the ideologies that cause it — colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism — nor with those — primarily Euro- and Euro-American (and Canadian) men — who have perpetuated them and who disproportionately benefit from them to this day.  Again, some context is required.

I do not disagree with you that population reduction would be easier on the Earth and ourselves.  But the method of that reduction must be just.  In a just world, birth rates would lower themselves.  Given access to healthcare, education, equal rights and choices, women have fewer children and have them later.  At 28 I am a double minority among women my age across the world, both childless and university educated.  I hope to have a child in my life, but not likely before 30 because I have goals I want to acheive first — and the later in their lives women have children, the slower population grows.  Because I am not dependent on my family, my partner, or his family for financial or social support, I can assert these kinds of choices for myself and feel secure in sticking to them, knowing that I can live the life I want.

How different would the world be if all women had access to freedom and to choices?  If heterosexuality, marriage, and childbearing were not enforced but chosen, or not chosen?  To discuss population without placing the rights and standards of living of women and girls at the absolute centre is not only sexist and violent, it is also doomed to failure.  No method of enforced control of women’s fertility — and there have been many, as I’m sure you know — has ever proven to be sustainable or to produce healthy families and societies.  The mechanism of population explosion is not, or at very least is not only, access to more and better food and healthcare.  The mechanism of population explosion is women’s loss of control over our lives and our bodies, our loss of access to real choices about our lives; the mechanism of population explosion is patriarchy.  Its attendent poverty and insecurity leads to higher birth rates and deepening cycles of marginalization, therefor only a solution that addresses patriarchy is any solution at all.

I have the depenst respect for your work and for your intentions.  But no matter how good, our intentions must be expressed and acted upon in ways that are also good.  Our ends cannot justify our means, our means must reflect and demonstrate, must be our ends.  Creating a world that is just and safe for women is an acheivable goal that will also help make sure we still have a world in the future.  To discuss population and carrying capacity through a lens which doesn’t acknowledge that is to do more harm than good.  A world of 1.6 billion people, a projection which you allude to in your book as a result of a global one-child-per-woman policy, will simply baloon back to 6 and then 9 billion again if those 1.6 billion still live under the kinds of patriarchy and disparity that we live under today.  The lasting way — the only lasting way — to environmental sustainability is through equality and a just, peaceful world for us all.

In love for the Earth and all her humans,

rin, Vancouver, Canada.

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3 Responses

  1. Beautiful analysis! The thing that irks me the most about “one-child policies” is how female-directed they are. Under these policies, women are directed to have fewer children but there is no onus put upon men! Why don’t we limit men to having one child only?

    Oh, that’s right. Patriarchy. Women are mere chattel by which to propagate genes, right?

  2. Yes! Exactly! Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. I mean, think about how many deadbeat dads there are in the world, irresponsible layabouts with a kid here and a kid there who don’t do a damned thing to help the kid or the mum. And then the women get blamed for being poor and needing social assistance, get called “bad moms” if they don’t have an abortion. Wait, what? Something’s wrong here.

    If some lawmaker tried to make it so that all men were required by law to have a vasectomy once they had had a baby with someone, there’d be riots! But to suggest the same sort of thing for women seems to be just okay.

    But hey, women are equal now, right?

    • Population reduction and the Green Agenda is speaheaded through the UN and UNESCO by people behind the Club of Rome. People like:

      Al Gore
      Kofi Annan
      Maurice Strong
      Mikhail Gorbachev
      Robert Muller
      David Rockefeller
      Bill Gates
      Bill Clinton
      Henry Kissinger
      Ted Turner
      George Soros
      Tony Blair
      Juan Carlos I – King of Spain
      Prince Philippe of Belgium
      Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands
      Dona Sophia – Queen of Spain
      and many more.

      It’s the globalists who are also the industrialists who have caused all the problems. Do you feel good trusting these people?

      “The common enemy of humanity is man.
      In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up
      with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. All these dangers are caused by human intervention, and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome. The real enemy then, is humanity itself.”
      – Club of Rome

      The have conferences, make committees, summits whereby they frame the problems and questions in terms that allow them to control the solutions which will suit them best. We need to flip their little evil scheme on its head and slide the balance of decision making to the personal and local level. Not global tyrrany but local expressions of community. The last thing a bureaucrat wants. They want to convince us that religion and democracy is bad and the root cause of all this when it isn’t. In fact it may be the solution. I’m not sure. But I know levers are being pulled and it’s being done in the dark and all darkness needs to retreat is some light shed on it.

      The activists behind the Global Green Agenda have established regulatory control in many societies through Agenda 21, they have written a Constitution for their transformed global society with the Earth Charter, and they have even described, in detail, how their new global system will be operate in Our Global Neighbourhood. However several obstacles must be removed before the final phase of the Agenda, global governance based on a system of earth-worship, can be fulfilled.

      “We need a new beginning” they will say, “We all must change and renounce our old destructive ways.” Amazingly everything is already in place. The Earth Charter would be endorsed as a Planetary Constitution and the Security Council replaced with some new ‘United Earth Council.’ The world would be divided into ten administrative regions with each one represented by an Earth Councillor. The blame for the recent conflict, and many of the worlds other problems, would be placed firmly on traditional religions. They would be swiftly outlawed and replaced by reverence for the earth itself. “We nearly destroyed Gaia!” they would say, “We nearly destroyed our own Mother!”

      As David Rockefeller stated, “all we need is the right crisis”. Everything is now in place. They are just building momentum and waiting for the storm they know is coming. You don’t need to look in the shadows for the coming world government. It is standing right before your eyes. When they bring “order out of chaos” the United Nations will be transformed and the final global empire will be born.

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