Swans Commentary » swans.com August 10, 2009  



Environmental Populationism, A Dangerous Obsession


by Michael Barker





"Population increases are associated with faceless and undifferentiated poor women of color in intricately coded and unspoken ways. This fear seeps into public discourses and discussions, bleeding into the public policy arena, indelibly coloring and distorting understanding of the world. Media reporters and public policy 'experts,' in discussing crises ranging from civil war in Rwanda to deforestation in the Amazon, proclaim them a result of overpopulation. These facile explanations pay little to the specifics of each situation: complicated histories of colonialism, corporate extraction, government policies and subsidies, economic inequalities, and growing fundamentalism worldwide that are, in fact, more pertinent than overpopulation. They put the blame on others -- those 'dark and irrational people' in those equally 'dark and primordial places' -- who are unaware and ignorant of the 'fuses' they are sparking. 'They' are the problem. 'We' are absolved of all responsibility. In lieu of complicated explanations, cookie-cutter analyses and solutions are advanced and gain political and financial support."
—Jael Silliman, 1999. (1)


(Swans - August 10, 2009)   Human population control, or decrease, is regularly promoted as a solution to the environmental catastrophe caused by unrestrained capitalist growth: a remedy that has some validity, but perhaps not for the reasons often cited. This is because the normal focus of such prescriptions is the entire human race, not just upon the small plutocratic class who are intent on spoiling things for everyone else. No question about it; it certainly would be easier to prevent the destruction of our planet if we could reduce the number of capitalist elites riding roughshod over the rest of us, and in the process redistribute their possessions amongst the broader populous. However, such logic is not dominant within the environmental movement and all too often environmentally minded people falsely equate human population growth (not capitalism) with humankind's increasing propensity to pollute and destroy the planet. On this score, Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren could possibly be isolated as the two single individuals most responsible for misleading the public on the relationship between human population and environmental degradation. Moreover, their ongoing influence over current environmental thinking is especially worrisome given that their ill-informed arguments have already been thoroughly undermined by numerous authors. This article will initially outline the progressive counter discourse that challenges Ehrlich and Holdren's alarmist "population bomb" scare-mongering. It will then extend former critical analyses by demonstrating how some of the most radical feminists opposing such Malthusianism arguments perhaps unwittingly act to legitimize the institutions promoting the very same practices that they critique.

During the radical ferment of the 1960s, the most significant event marking the merger of the longstanding population control movement and the environmental movement was the publication, in 1968, of Paul Ehrlich's book The Population Bomb, which was published by the Sierra Club with a forward by David Brower. (2) The message contained in this influential book was essentially a crude Malthusian argument, reiterating the earlier work of elite conservation/population activists like Fairfield Osborn, Frederick Osborn, and William Vogt. (3) At the same time, in the United States at least, the mass media played a crucial role in thrusting the population issue onto the polity by 1) presenting "facts in such a way as to mislead readers, e.g., creating an impression that malnutrition in Latin American was due to overpopulation," and 2) "fail[ing] to report legislative developments in this area while they were underway, making it harder for the opposition to activate their potential supporters." (4) The end result was that "Environmentalists, along with their enemies, 'the industrial polluters,' found the chief cause of every problem from slums to suburbs, pollution to protest, in the world's expanding numbers." (5) Maximizing the public interest generated around the sale of his best-selling book, in 1968 Ehrlich created the Zero Population Growth (ZPG) group, whose stated goal was to "place the population issue at the center of environmental policy."

The importance of Ehrlich's work in adversely influencing the environmental movement has been highlighted by Betsy Hartmann, who considers Ehrlich to be the scientist most responsible for "populariz[ing] the [false] belief that overpopulation is the main cause of the environmental crisis." She adds that the US media has also "aided immensely" the spread of his ideas by "persist[ently]... presenting New Right, cornucopian economist Julian Simon as his primary critic." (6) Others have also drawn attention to the sterility of the population debate, which is narrowly confined and rarely includes progressive greens and feminists equipped with more powerful arguments to question the Malthusian argument.

Another well-received Malthusian tract that has successfully linked population and environmental issues is Garrett Hardin's book, The Tragedy of the Commons, which was published the same year as Ehrlich's book. Later popularizers of such Malthusian arguments include the Club of Rome's 1972 Limits to Growth, which added a liberal twist to Ehrlich's and Hardin's work. However, perhaps of most importance of all, in 1974 Paul Ehrlich and John Holden presented their now familiar IPAT formula (Environmental Impact = Population + Affluence + Technology) to calculate the impact of population growth. (7)

While the IPAT equation has been critiqued by many progressive environmentalists (most notably by eco-socialist Barry Commoner), (8) unfortunately, "advocates and critics alike debate from within" the rigid confines of the IPAT paradigm. There is, however, a convincing case for reformulating IPAT as eco-feminist H. Patricia Hynes argues in her essay "Taking Population out of the Equation: Reformulating I = Pat." (9) This is an important argument given the frequency with which it is utilised by population control advocates (e.g., see last month's letter to Swans by Sir Adrian Stott of the Optimum Population Trust). (10) Consequently, the following section of this article will summarize Hynes reformulation of IPAT.

As Hynes writes:

The appeal of IPAT lies in its simple, physical insight: All people use resources and create waste, and many have children who use more resources and create more waste. Complex, close-grained social and political factors that identify who among the universal P is responsible for what, and the how and the why behind much pollution -- such as the military, trade imbalances and debt, and female subordination -- are outside the scope of the formula. With IPAT, an atomistic view of humans' impact on the environment has been promulgated as sufficient analysis for public policy on population and environment.

She suggests that the IPAT formula should initially be revised so that it distinguishes between environmental impact (I) caused by human needs incurred to survive versus those incurred through additional luxuries.

I = PAT (for survival) + PAT (for luxury)

In this way one could work to primarily enhance affluence (A) for survival "through investment in primary health care and women's health, including the availability of appropriate birth control, education, and opportunities for women equal to those of men; and through access to credit, land reform, and the reduction of foreign debt." At the same time one would decrease the pollution generated by technology per good consumed (T) for both survival and luxury needs by "investment in appropriate technology and pollution prevention" while working to make "national and individual commitment to change consumption patterns" to reduce the amount of goods consumed per person on luxury items.

Hynes continues that the next step towards revising IPAT would involve integrating military pollution (predominantly that of the United States) into the equation, where M refers to the "military population, particularly those with authority over budget, arms technology, and defense policy."

I = PAT (for survival) + PAT (for luxury) + MAT

Planet earth's military population clearly needs to be controlled and reduced, but unfortunately as Hynes notes, with few exceptions "environmental organizations have avoided the issue of the military and the environment." She continues that "the most telling shortcoming of IPAT is its singular view of humans as parasites and predators on the natural environment." Consequently, the model is silent on the issue of environmental conservation (C) that is "environmentally beneficial work of natural resource management, preservation, and restoration; indigenous door-yard gardens, urban forests, gardens and composting, etc."

I = C -- [PAT (for survival) + PAT (for luxury) + MAT]

Another problem Hynes identifies with the IPAT model is the manner in which the word "population" as "an unspecified universal... evades the issue of who among the P of IPAT" are responsible for ensuing problems; and similarly she points out the problematic way that "[w]ords like 'fertility rates' delete human agency in pregnancy by implying that an abstract factor -- fertility -- is responsible for environmental degradation, and thus they enable the speaker to avoid discussion of who is responsible for what." Hynes asks:

Should not the agents of poverty, debt, and militarism, that mix of elite government officials, global economic institutions, and multinationals that engineers the international economic agenda -- rather than an agentless and unspecified universal "population" -- be named and held accountable for their role in the environmental crisis and the P of IPAT? (11)

Ultimately, though as the title of her article suggests there is a need to take the P out of the IPAT equation altogether, and replace it with another P, that of "patriarchy (subordination of women; paradigm of power as economic and military dominance)."

I = C - IPAT

This reworking of the Malthusian predecessor no longer allows for arithmetic calculation of environmental impact:

Rather, A and T are functions of P. That is, there is a relationship between patriarchy and the reduction of nature to natural capital and market commodities, the appeal and growth of militarism, the mechanistic model of nature that underlies industrial technology, the second-class status of women, the "feminization of poverty," women's unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, the lack of male contraception, and the lack of male responsibility for contraception.

As Hynes concludes: "Wittingly or unwittingly, many women's health advocates are buying into the P of IPAT." This has meant that in many cases a "women's rights agenda has become a rhetorical means for a populationist end -- a reduction in the numbers of the poorest people on Earth -- without a structural change in the analysis." (12)

Sadly, there is nothing particularly new about Hynes's analyses as the manner by which population control was (for the most part) uncritically latched onto environmental concerns was first documented in 1970 by Steve Weissman (within the New Left magazine Ramparts). This critical examination eventuated because an increasing focus of liberal foundations (most especially the Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie Foundations) on the population issue -- or more precisely the high birth rates among the poor in the Third World throughout the 1950s and 1960s -- led many New Left activists to be highly skeptical of the foundations' motivations, suspecting that their population fixation was closely wedded to US imperialism. This suspicion was well-founded, as population control advocates acknowledge that "Ford Foundation funding was the major element in developing large integrated population programs with a substantial concern with the Third World"; and that "the main thrust of [the] Ford Foundation's population effort was directed at the developing world." (13) Consequently, in a special Earth Day issue of Ramparts, Weissman explained "Why the Population Bomb is a Rockefeller Baby" with the foundations' agendas tied to elite interests that were more concerned with devising ways to minimize the increasing Third World upheavals than with protecting the environment. (14) Eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin also critiqued the rise of a new "type of biological 'cold warrior'....who tends to locate the ecological crisis in technology and population growth, thereby divesting it of its explosive social content." He added that the "naïvete of this approach would be risible were it not for its sinister implications." Moreover, Bookchin concluded that "[i]t is supremely ironic that coercion....has acquired a respected place in the public debate on ecology -- for the roots of the ecological crisis lie precisely in the coercive basis of modern society." (15)

Another irony is that the popularization of the Malthusian arguments underpinning the liberal foundation's population activities may not have been entirely what the leading foundations (like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations) had hoped for. In fact, Ford biographers John Caldwell and Pat Caldwell blamed The Population Bomb and Limits to Growth for the rising resistance to the population issue, mainly in the Third World, and especially evident at the August 1974 Bucharest Population Conference. (16) It would appear that although those books were on the same wavelength as the foundations, the foundations would have preferred a more subtle and tempered discussion of the population issue so as not to arouse the indignant wrath of the targets of "population control" strategies.

By the 1970s, the Ford Foundation -- the main private funder of population research -- was beginning to reduce its proportional support for leading organizations like the Population Council as the US government began to provide such groups with larger grants. At the same time, towards the end of the 1970s, other large philanthropic foundations began to fill the void left by the Ford Foundation's reduced funding. In this respect, today, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fulfills a critical role in supporting the global work of elitist environmental and population control groups, (17) and neoliberal environmental outfits that have recently received strong support from the foundation include the African Wildlife Society, WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Nature Conservancy. (18) Likewise well-known population control outfits that have obtained funding from the MacArthur Foundation include the Population Council, IPAS, and EngenderHealth. (19) In addition, the MacArthur Foundation -- which is one of the largest foundations based in the United States -- like other leading liberal foundations, provides an infinitesimal, although significant, amount of support for radical researchers. So it is of worth to observe that the excellent work that was published in the Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment's (CWPE) edited collection of feminist writings that included H. Patricia Hynes's article "Taking the Population out of the Equation" obtained funding from both the MacArthur Foundation and the Noyes Foundation. (20) The acknowledgements of this book notes how "Funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the [Jessie Smith] Noyes Foundation enabled CWPE members to come together to develop the alternative analysis reflected in this book, and we are very grateful for their support." (p.vii)

The existence of funding connections between radical feminist groups like the Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment (CWPE) and an anti-democratic liberal foundation (the MacArthur Foundation) is severely worrisome, especially given that the MacArthur Foundation funds much of the work that CWPE opposes. For a related example, close ties between similar liberal philanthropists and the Malthusian Optimum Population Trust (OPT). Thus OPT advisory council member Catherine Budgett-Meakin is the network coordinator of the Population and Sustainability Network -- a group whose steering committee includes Martha Campbell, who formerly led the David and Lucile Packard Foundation's population programme, and Steven Sinding, who has headed the population sciences program at the Rockefeller Foundation. Likewise OPT patron Sara Parkin serves on the advisory group of the Population and Sustainability Network, while another OPT patron, John Guillebaud, serves on the Network's steering group. Yet another interesting connection comes through OPT patron, Partha Dasgupta, who is a university fellow of the controversial Ford and Rockefeller initiated group, Resources for the Future.

Even more problematic though is the fact that Jael Silliman -- one of the lead authors of the CWPE book in question, Dangerous Intersections: Feminist Perspectives on Population, Environment, and Development (South End Press, 1999), presently serves as the Ford Foundation's program officer for Women's Rights and Gender Equality. (21) Silliman's adoption by the Ford Foundation would appear to be an unexpected career turn for such a radical feminist, as she notes in her book Jewish Portraits, Indian Frames: Women's Narratives from a Diaspora of Hope (Brandeis, 2003) that:

I came to know United States politics and organizing traditions first-hand through my first job, which was as a programme officer in the Noyes Foundation, a progressive foundation in New York, committed to issues of the environment and population. When I joined the Foundation in the mid-eighties there was a great deal of organizing among people of colour in both the reproductive rights and the environmental movement, to expand these more mainstream agendas. I was very sympathetic to the critiques being launched by people of colour and learned about these issues through activists in the field, through site visits, grant-making and attending key conferences on these issues. Together with my colleagues at the Foundation I worked to introduce these perspectives in our grant making, and the Foundation became a leader on issues of environmental justice, the concerns of women of colour and reproductive rights. (p.160)

Indeed, as Joan Roelofs, a leading critic of liberal philanthropy observes, the Noyes Foundation "provides important support to the environmental justice movement," presenting "a potential threat to the system, as it reveals the human and environmental costs of our military preparedness and economic prosperity." (22) So considering Silliman's progressive background, her recent decision to work for a leading imperialist foundation (the Ford Foundation) should raise many critical questions for radical activists committed to revolutionary social change. This is especially the case considering that Silliman wrote in her edited book, Dangerous Intersections, how:

In many cases an NGO's priorities may be donor-driven and donor-controlled, which may distort or divert local priorities and the character of NGO interventions. For example, the emphasis on controlling women's fertility as part of an environmental agenda that has been pushed by many foundations and donor agencies has further consolidated population-control initiatives rather than strengthened valid environmental interventions. (23)

In the same article Silliman also draws attention to Mark Dowie's "insightful" critique of the cooption of the environmental movement, Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century (MIT Press, 1995). Yet while pointing out that "No such studies track the mainstreaming of women's groups where the same process is under way," Silliman apparently failed to take on board the powerful critique of liberal foundations that Dowie provided in his groundbreaking book.

Finally, given the powerful critique of IPAT that H. Patricia Hynes presented in Silliman's MacArthur Foundation-funded book, it is ironic that during the time that this edited collection was in preparation, John Holdren -- the co-creator of the misleading IPAT formula, and current member of the Obama administration -- actually served as a trustee of the MacArthur Foundation (1991-2005).

Ending Populationist Obsessions

It is more than apparent that serious questions need to be asked as to why radical feminists have yet to systematically challenge the way in which liberal foundations have manipulated the development of both the environmental movement and population control programs. Only when such questions have been asked and rigorously answered, will feminists be able to adequately understand the historical role that philanthropic bodies, like the MacArthur Foundation, have played in the execution of imperialist population lobbies' policies. This will then allow them to adopt appropriate strategies that challenge the elitist prerogatives of such liberal philanthropists.

That said, Betsy Hartmann has already provided a preliminary, albeit very limited, examination of the groups involved in the cooption of feminist politics. Thus writing in 1994, Hartmann described the way in which the "scare-mongering of security analysts," and the "population propaganda of mainstream population and environmental organizations" helped "to create a grand 'consensus' on the need for population control" prior to the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development. This article was subsequently republished in Dangerous Intersections but without the following quote which provides a partial list of some of the world's most influential imperial populationist philanthropists. Thus in the 1994 article Hartmann demonstrated how the manufacture of consent for this 'consensus' had...

... been carefully orchestrated and financed by a small group of actors: the Pew Charitable Trusts Global Stewardship Initiative; the U.S. State Department through the office of Timothy Wirth, Undersecretary for Global Affairs; the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA); and Ted Turner of the powerful Turner Broadcasting System, producer of CNN.

More recently, in 2006 Hartmann drew attention to the growth of the "military-environmental security complex," which she noted provided a new raison d'être for the population lobby. She wrote that this is because:

As birth rates continue to fall around the globe more rapidly than anticipated, it is hard to sustain the alarmism that fuels popular support for population control. Building an image of an overpopulated, environmentally degraded and violent Third World is politically expedient, especially as it feeds on popular fears that refugees from this chaos will storm our borders.

Hartmann observes how this "appeal to national security interests is also a strategy to counter the right-wing assault on international family planning assistance," and she then cites a 1997 Rockefeller Foundation report, pointing out that, "In a kind of strange déjà-vu, the threat of resource scarcities and political instability also featured in Rockefeller's first rationales for population control in the 1950s." (24) Clearly given the limited attention that even Hartmann has paid to liberal foundations, instead of fixating on the issue of overpopulation, concerned citizens should pay much closer scrutiny to the role of ostensibly progressive philanthropists in the evolution of both environmental and populationist discourses. The problem is not the world's population, our problem is capitalism.




1.  Jael Silliman, "Introduction," in Jael Silliman and Ynestra King (eds.), Dangerous Intersections: Feminist Perspectives on Population, Environment, and Development (South End Press, 1999), p.viii.  (back)

2.  The title for the book was inspired by a pamphlet called The Population Bomb, published in 1954 by population activist and businessman, Hugh Moore (see footnote #19).  (back)

3.  Fairfield Osborn, the first president of the Conservation Foundation (see "The Philanthropic Roots of Corporate Environmentalism"), was an influential and popular writer. Along with his cousin, Frederick Osborn, and William Vogt, who became secretary of the Conservation Foundation in 1962, the three were named "the most influential writers on conservation and population control issues" between World War II and 1964 -- a significant designation considering that population issues went on to become a central concern to the newly emerging environmental movement. Indeed, according to a 1973 editorial in The New York Times, Fairfield Osborn's Our Plundered Planet along with Vogt's book, Road to Survival, both published in 1948, were largely responsible for the revival of Malthusianism within the conservation movement.

Donald Gibson, Environmentalism: Ideology and Power (Nova Science, 2002), p.40, p.44. Before joining the Conservation Foundation, from 1951 to 1961 Vogt had been national director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  (back)

4.  Donald Gibson, Environmentalism, p.63. Also see John Wilmoth and Patrick Ball, "The Population Debate in American Popular Magazines, 1946-90," Population and Development Review, 18(4), 1992.  (back)

5.  Steve Weissman, "Why the Population Bomb is a Rockefeller Baby," in Ramparts (eds.), Eco-Catastrophe (Harper and Row, 1970), pp.38-9.  (back)

6.  Quoted in Tom Athanasiou, Slow Reckoning: The Ecology of a Divided Planet (Vintage, 1998), p.80. Cornucopian economics preaches that technological advance will enable humans to enjoy infinite benefits from resources and make unlimited population growth possible.  (back)

7.  Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, "The Impact of Population Growth," Science, 171, 1974, pp.1212-17. Affluence (A) refers to the amount of goods consumed per person, and Technology (T) denotes the pollution generated by technology per good consumed.  (back)

8.  Barry Commoner, "Rapid Population Growth and Environmental Stress," International Journal of Health Services, 21 (2), 1991, pp. 199-227; Andrew Feenberg, "The Commoner-Ehrlich Debate: Environmentalism and the Politics of Survival," in David Macauley (ed.), Minding Nature: The Philosophers of Ecology (Guilford Press, 1996).  (back)

9.  H. Patricia Hynes, "Taking the Population out of the Equation: Reformulating I = Pat," in Jael Silliman and Ynestra King (eds.), Dangerous Intersections (South End Press, 1999), p.40. Hynes notes how Barry Commoner, "one of the early and fiercest critics of IPAT," while "forcefully propound[ing] the overriding role of industrial technology in pollution....nevertheless leaves the IPAT paradigm intact" (p.41).

For related articles see Marina Carman, "Population Control and Women's Rights," Green Left Weekly, September 21, 1994; Lynette Dumble, "Population Control or Empowerment of Women?," Green Left Weekly, November 2, 1994.

Two recent contributions to the debate on the relation between population control and environmentalism are Simon Butler's "Ten Reasons Why Population Control Can't Stop Climate Change," Green Left Weekly, May 31, 2009, and his follow-up piece "Climate Change: Too Many People?," Green Left Weekly, November 14, 2009. Other useful resources are: Asoka Bandarage, "A New and Improved Population Control Policy?," Political Environments, 1994; Rajani Bhatia and Tom Reisz, "Environmentalism and Population Control," Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment, July 15, 2006; Betsy Hartmann, Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control (South End Press, 1995); Eric Ross, The Malthus Factor: Population, Poverty, and Politics in Capitalist Development (Zed Books, 1999).  (back)

10.  As a trustee of the controversial British-based Optimum Population Trust, Sir Adrian Stott argues in his letter to Swans that there are "only three ways to reverse mankind's damaging impact on the ecology." Drawing upon the IPAT equation he writes that the first way is to "reduce the average affluence per person" (A), the second is to "make improvements in technology" (T), and the last is to achieve a smaller human population (P). Disingenuously, he argues that it is not feasible to make changes to the first two "solutions" as apparently "average impact per person is actually going to keep going up" while "pursu[ing] better technologies...is sure to be too little and too late to do the job." Following this (mis)logic the only viable solution left to Stott is "population decrease," which makes special sense to him because Stott believes that "overpopulation is actually the root cause" of environmental degradation (including climate change, extinctions, and deforestation) -- not capitalism, of course. (Notable patrons of the Optimum Population include Paul Ehrlich and Jane Goodall; see "Sustainable Population Australia and the Population-National Security Complex.")

Stott's letter to Swans was a shortened version of a speech he had used in a debate with Brendan O'Neill that took place in July 2009. This is important to note because despite having had his arguments thoroughly refuted by O'Neill, Stott remains dogmatically committed to the IPAT paradigm (as evidenced by his letter to Swans). Furthermore, although during the debate he said that to reduce population, "No coercion is needed. Really all we need to do is spread the word properly." He later noted that, "We need to pay women not to have children. ... If you look at the cost to the state of a new baby being born, education, childcare, the additional health, and eventually pensions and everything, it's a financially sensible thing to do, to pay women to have fewer children." As O'Neill was quick to point out, Stott's conception of what constitutes coercion is troublesome to say the least; yet Stott was committed to his authoritarian idea and reiterated his point by saying, "in fact we could afford to pay women in poor countries to have fewer children."

It should come as no surprise that Stott adopts a racist imperialist argument to justify the Optimum Population Trust's Malthusian "population decrease" program. Thus with reference to majority world nations he said: "If you look at a lot of places in the world the women want to have fewer kids [but] the men won't let them. In places where the men are in charge in the households they will not let women practice contraception in many cases. In effect, they force them to have children or refuse to practice contraception themselves which is very common in many countries." In 1999, Asoka Bandarage addressed Stott's miscomprehension of this issue by noting how:

"Population control advocates are not entirely wrong when they point out that many poor women do not have access to reliable contraceptives and that they would like to use them in some cases, regardless of the disapproval of their boyfriends or husbands. However, historical evidence from the West as well as other regions has shown repeatedly that, for family planning and contraceptives to be accepted and used, social conditions compatible with low fertility must exist. Voluntary family planning has succeeded only in societies where economic security -- including access to material resources, health and education -- has been improved for the general population and for women in particular."

Sir Adrian Stott, Debating Matters Competition, July 2009 (for quotes see 5 min 30, 17 min 04, 44 min, 20 min 05); Asoka Bandarage, "Population and Development: Toward a Social Justice Agenda," in Jael Silliman and Ynestra King (eds.), Dangerous Intersections (South End Press, 1999), p.28.  (back)

11.  Hynes points out the importance of challenging the "sexual politics of research, family-planning program priorities, and reproductive responsibility." For example, she notes: "The trend in contraceptive technologies is in the direction of longer-acting, so-called woman-controlled methods, such as Norplant, that can be monitored and removed only in family planning agencies -- in other words, contraceptive technologies that give family planning programs more control over women's fertility and more potential to abuse the rights of poor women." (p.57)  (back)

12.  Hynes makes the following suggestions for promoting women's human rights within "environment-population-development" programs. For Women's Health and Environmental Organizations she suggests that the first step should be to "[r]eplace the population framework with a feminist framework." Here she points out that women must not "advocate for women's equality and self-determination within a framework that is defined by population analysis; otherwise women's health networks and organizations risk trading off inclusion for co-option." Next she says, "[i]ntroduce agency"; then "[e]ducate women and men"; and "[r]edirect contraceptive technology and research." Next for Environmental Organizations she suggest that initially, one should teach ecological literacy as distinguished from environmental science; then it is critical to examine the politics of consumption; and finally it is vital to provide support for grassroots and urban environmentalism. (pp.66-9)  (back)

13.  John Caldwell and Pat Caldwell, Limiting Population Growth and the Ford Foundation Contribution (F. Pinter, 1986), p.1; Oscar Harkavy, Curbing Population Growth: An Insider's Perspective on the Population Movement (Plenum, 1995), p.5.  (back)

14.  Another article in the same issue of Ramparts described the liberal foundations' favourite groups, the Conservation Foundation and the Population Council, as forming the "Eco-Establishment," a coalition whose aim was to protect and conserve natural resources for the benefit of big-business interests. See Katherine Barkley and Steve Weissman, "The Eco-Establishment," in Ramparts (eds.), Eco-Catastrophe (Harper and Row, 1970).

The Conservation Foundation has now merged into the well-known elite conservation group WWF -- for further details see " The Philanthropic Roots Of Corporate Environmentalism."  (back)

15.  Murray Bookchin, "Toward an Ecological Solution," in Ramparts (eds.), Eco-Catastrophe (Harper and Row, 1970), p.47, p.48.  (back)

16.  John Caldwell and Pat Caldwell, Limiting Population Growth and the Ford Foundation Contribution, pp.130-1. This concern mirrored Frederick Osborn's with the publication of The Population Bomb pamphlet in 1954, as he "feared that the overzealousness of some new converts to population control might weaken the firm foundations he was trying to build for international cooperation." James Reed quoted in Oscar Harkavy, Curbing Population Growth, p.35.  (back)

17.  The world's largest liberal foundation is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: for a detailed critical examination of this foundation and their role in funding environmental and population control initiatives, see "Bill Gates, Philanthropy, and Social Engineering?"  (back)

18.  MacArthur Foundation staff members with strong personal connections to neoliberal conservation groups who presently work in the foundation's office of "Conservation and Sustainable Development" include their newly appointed director, Jorgen Thomsen, who most recently served as a senior vice president of conservation funding at Conservation International; Asia program officer, Christopher Holtz, who also formerly worked for Conservation International; program officer Steve Cornelius, who used to manage WWF's conservation program in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean; and program officer Elizabeth Chadri, who served as the first manager of the African Wildlife Foundation's (AWF) White River Conservation Centre in South Africa from 2000 to 2002. For a critique of the mining-friendly neoliberal activism that is promoted by Conservation International, see "When Environmentalists Legitimize Plunder," and for more general criticisms of neoliberal environmentalism, see here.  (back)

19.  Known as EngenderHealth since 2001, this group was originally launched in 1937 as the Sterilization League of New Jersey by Marian Olden (1888-1976), and over the years has been through many rhetorical name changes, becoming Birthright, Inc., in 1943, the Human Betterment Association of the United States in 1950, and Association for Voluntary Sterilization (AVS) in 1965. One important person who played a key role in moving AVS from its openly racist and eugenic origins towards promoting more publicly palatable campaigns emphasizing voluntary sterilization (not eugenics) was H. Curtis Wood (1903-1984). However, as Ian Dowbiggin observes, Wood's desire to promote this shift to voluntary sterilization (in the 1940s) was more informed by pragmatism than humanitarianism. In his book The Sterilization Movement and Global Fertility in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2008), Dowbiggin writes: "Wood's objectives remained eugenic, but in contrast to Marian Olden he realized that there was no future in eugenic sterilization laws." So while the rhetoric surrounding AVS's work emphasized voluntary not coercive sterilization, Dowbiggin points out that Woods and his colleagues had faith "in the power of 'propaganda' and the 'suggestibility' of the unfit" to implement their ambitious sterilization programs.

Owing in large part to bad press dedicated to the authoritarian eugenics practiced under Hitler in Germany -- initially with a large degree of US support -- political interest in sterilization programs fell, but they later received a welcome booster when Hugh Moore (1887-1972), an individual who "agreed with [AVS member William] Vogt that population growth was the root cause of international conflict, including the spread of communism," became involved with AVS's work. Dowbiggin observes how Hugh Moore "began donating to AVS in the late 1940s and with his wife Louise (Wilde) Moore increasingly dominated AVS internal politics until he took over as the group's president in 1964." Moore is most famous for publishing the influential 1954 pamphlet The Population Bomb, which inspired the soon-to-be AVS member Paul Ehrlich, whose best-selling book utilized the same title.

Between 1971 and 1973, AVS teamed up with Paul Ehrlich's newly formed group, Zero Population Growth, and the American Civil Liberties Union to work on "Operation Lawsuit," an "effort to seek out litigants for lawsuits against hospitals that refused to perform tubal ligations." This program proved successful and a "test case over hospital bans on sterilizations reached the U.S. Supreme Court which on April 17, 1973 ruled that such bans violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution." Later during the 1970s AVS then set a charter for international waters by founding the World Federation of Associations for Voluntary Sterilization in 1974.

Returning to the present, according to EngenderHealth's 2007 annual report, they now have a total income of $47 million, most of which is derived from the US Agency for International Development ($37 million to be exact). Moreover, given the critical role they fulfilled in promoting one of the "biggest imperialist ventures in all of history" (Dowbiggin's words), closer scrutiny certainly needs to be paid to their work in Africa, most especially their activities in the Congo (see "When Environmentalists Legitimize Plunder").  (back)

20.  The Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment describes itself as a "multi-racial alliance of feminist community organizers, scholarly activists, and health practitioners" who "envision the social and economic empowerment of women in a context of global peace and justice and look to a world where human rights are valued above profit-driven consumerism. This world we envision is free of poverty, white supremacy, militarism, religious chauvinism, patriarchy and other oppressive systems that threaten our health, environment and global well-being."  (back)

21.  Silliman's co-editor on the Dangerous Intersections book, Ynestra King, does not seems to have met the same fate and she presently serves on the board of the ecofeminist editorial group of the radical journal Capitalism Nature Socialism.  (back)

22.  Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (State University of New York Press, 2003), p.20.

The former president of the Noyes Foundation of fourteen years (1986-2000), Stephen Viederman, recently wrote the preface for Daniel Faber and Deborah McCarthy's excellent edited collection, Foundations for Social Change: Critical Perspectives on Philanthropy and Popular Movements (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005). Despite having become a strong critic of elite philanthropy it is important to note that Viederman has himself fulfilled an important function with the liberal philanthropic establishment. For instance, between 1965 and 1967 he ran the international program of the Carnegie Corporation of New York -- a foundation that at the time had been working closely with the US Central Intelligence Agency -- see Edward Berman, The Ideology of Philanthropy: The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy (State University of New York Press, 1983). In addition, Viederman had previously been a member of the elite think tank the Council on Foreign Relations, and prior to joining the Noyes Foundation he "was involved in various aspects of international population assistance at the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, and before that at the Population Council." This far-from-revolutionary background explains Viederman's current commitment to promoting the misleading concept of corporate social responsibility (see "Corporate Social Responsibility or Constraining Social Revolutions?"), as he presently serves as a faculty member of the UK-based think tank SustainAbility. Notably, SustainAbility's cofounder, John Elkington, is a member of WWF-UK's council of ambassadors; while another one of SustainAbility's 82 faculty members is Optimum Population Trust patron Norman Myers.  (back)

23.  Jael Silliman, "Expanding Civil Society, Shrinking Political Spaces: The Case of Women's Nongovernmental Organizations," in Dangerous Intersections, p.139. In her analysis of the cooption and manipulation of civil society Silliman predominantly refers to politically liberal reference materials, i.e., Michael Edwards and David Hulme's edited collection Beyond the Magic Bullet? NGO Performance and Accountability in the Post-Cold War World (Kumarian Press, 1996). This is fitting, because in 1999 Edwards joined the Ford Foundation, and only recently retired (in October 2008) from his position as the director of their Governance and Civil Society Unit.  (back)

24.  Hartmann writes that Jessica Matthews who wrote the 1989 article "Redefining Security" that played an important role in "set[ting] the stage for the linking of environment and security." This is particularly interesting given that Matthews presently serves as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation.  (back)


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Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in Australia. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008 and 2009 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published August 10, 2009