Here are some uncomfortable (but compelling) words:
“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth, or the natural world will do it for us. And the natural world is doing it for us right now.”
Photo courtesy of Bianca Nongrady via Flickr (CC)
Just roll those words around in your mind for a bit – and now imagine them tripping off the tongue of:
Same words, but I imagine they’re beginning to sound rather different when you think of them being uttered by such different sources.
It was of course David Attenborough who uttered them for real in a recent interview for the Radio Times. I’m not sure whether David uses email or not, but if he does, I wonder if he would have been bombarded by the same kind of hate-mail as is customary in such cases?
For wholly justified reasons (in my opinion, at least), David has a quite unique place in the hearts and minds of the people in the UK (and indeed around the world), a mixture of respect and affection bordering on veneration. Especially within the environment community.
Coming from anyone else, I suspect my dearly beloved Greenie colleagues would have been withering in their outrage/contempt. “Plague”? “Horde”? What kind of misanthropic, tree-hugging extremism is this? But from David Attenborough...
It obviously helps that David is seen by most people to be somehow above politics. As a fellow Patron of Population Matters, I find myself in a rather different position, caught up as I am in the grubby cut and thrust of politics.
Which probably explains why I would never use the word “plague”. If it works at all, it’s as a disembodied metaphor, at the species level. But population is really all about real people, making (or not making) real decisions with real impacts on their own and other people’s lives.
For me, it’s important never to move too far away from that core reality in talking about population. Keep it grounded – for even the big headline figures (for instance, referring to the 200 million women who are not in a position to manage their own fertility) can easily alienate us from the reality of those women’s lives.
It’s great that David keeps stirring the population pot. Most people in his position would take the easy life or simply haven’t got the guts – or indeed the understanding. And when so many remain deaf to the case for prioritising investment in non-coercive family planning, it’s just possible that one of the most inspired communicators of the modern age may even now persuade those people to take out their wretched ear-plugs.