Whenever environmental issues are discussed, overpopulation comes up. Specifically, educate brown and black females in the Global South to produce less offspring.
This is painful. It disregards the sovereignty of brown and black females who look like me and live in the part of the world I come from. It also sidesteps the issue of overconsumption by the Global North. Specifically, Americans.
Since we tend to think of consumption as the purchase of material goods, we don’t see how it’s manifest in other forms or how pervasive it is. Entertainment, recreation, sports, fitness, travel, pets and pet care, amusement parks, water parks, cruise ships, skating rinks, lawns and landscaping, housecleaning services, horse and car racing, delivery services, refrigeration, health and medical care, escalators, elevators, work and school commutes, beauty salon and spa services, renovation, remodeling, plastic and cosmetic surgery, washing machines, dryers and so on are normalized forms of consumption.
Unless you’re desperately poor, many Americans live like a friend I recently visited. His beautifully decorated four bedroom, 2 ½ bath home holds at least two flat screen TVs and two personal computers. He and his partner sport smart watches and fit bits. Since they both love gadgets, their cats drink from a gurgling fountain while the food dispenser and litter box are automated. One of their cats recently suffered kidney failure and requires daily dialysis.
They each have their own vehicles as well as a motorcycle. They live in a house with a fenced in yard and a two-car garage full of toys: canoes, bikes, fishing and camping gear. When the weather is inclement they go to a gym to run, cycle or swim. They frequently travel for triathlons and vacation in other countries. Cleaning and landscaping services keep their green lawn leaf and weed free and their home spotless. For most Americans, this seems normal and desirable.
All of this requires a tremendous amount of materials and energy.
In fact, the average US citizen consumes 6.8 hectares of resources to everyone else’s 2.7 hectares (that’s 17 and 7 acres, respectively). We even consume more calories. If everyone on the planet lived like Americans, it would take over four planets to support us all.
Yet whatever strategies Environmentalists of the Global North (EGN) come up with involve greening our opulent lifestyles. For example, on the micro level, use an energy efficient dishwasher then on the macro level, advocate for green technology to run said dishwashers.
We don’t, however, question these fundamentally unsustainable, unnecessary machines. Nor do we address the massive sports, lawn, fitness and entertainment industries or our increasing appetite for any of the aforementioned; all of which are uncommon in countries whose populations we want to control. Even though they are childless, my dear friends, mentioned earlier, do not live a lifestyle the planet can support.
To advocate for solar panels to power automated litter boxes in the Global North yet urge citizens of the Global South to diminish their actual, literal existence is a form of supremacy.
Consider the tactics aimed at reducing carbon put forth by the popular, Project Drawdown. They focus on greening or retrofitting transportation, energy & city infrastructure with telecommuting, wind farms and rooftop gardens, for example. It’s quite startling to read through categories –energy, transport, buildings, materials—then to run into the category, women and girls.
To regard females as something to retrofit, along with refrigeration and insulation, is a form of supremacy. It is a form of green washing and even virtue washing to suggest that this agenda is about empowering females.
To be clear, of course I want women and girls to be educated. Parity is a perennial issue for females. But let’s educate females because it is their right to be educated. Let’s educate females to have full sovereignty over their lives. To educate girls and women so they don't produce offspring is no different than forcing women to produce offspring. Both fit someone else's agenda if the desired number of offspring isn't the woman's intention. Moreover, since women and girls are disproportionally impacted by ecological collapse, empowerment-for women's own needs in their own context -is vital.
We feel entitled to speak into unfamiliar cultural and religious contexts to promote family planning but seemingly turn a blind eye to in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, fetal surgery or NIC unit heroics performed here--yet more forms of consumption. If indeed, overpopulation is at the crux of our ecological collapse, then are environmentalists protesting at fertility treatment centers on Fire Drill Fridays? I saw no mention of addressing the fertility industry in Project Drawdown or other climate change mitigation lists put forth by EGN.
Besides, here in America, the equal rights amendment hasn’t been ratified, the maternal mortality rate is rising, access to family planning is under siege, child marriage is a thing and there’s still a pay gap. In fact, the US ranks 51 of 149 countries in terms of gender equity. We could use a little female empowerment in our own backyards.
It is form of supremacy to ignore what you need to fix but busy yourself ‘fixing’ others.
It is also in keeping with America and its allies’ geo-political pursuit of empire: virtue washing (fight for freedom and democracy) to support an unsustainable lifestyle (exploitation and extraction of resources, labor and energy). It begs the question, what are EGN really after? Preserving the lifestyle of the Global North or fostering a habitable planet for all living beings?
If EGN are invested in education, then let’s make a concerted effort to retrofit America’s educational system since the US has the highest percentage of climate deniers. Along with transport, energy, food and city infrastructure, let’s tackle the Department of Education. Let’s teach the millions of children, female and male, in America to be ecologically literate so that we can have a livable planet. Maybe then Americans and other Global Northerners will learn the impacts of consumerism that disproportionally endanger females worldwide. Maybe ecological literacy would empower us to consider sustainable, equitable lifestyles that do not require the erasure of brown and black people.
Maybe the infrastructure that needs to be retrofitted is the supremacist heritage of the EGN.