Thursday, 12 May 2016

Environmentalism and over-population. Then and now.

Much of how the anti-nuclear power movement came about can be understood in terms of over-population obsessions. This is not very helpful today because, if you mention it, a modern enviro won't know what you are talking about. Modern Environmentalism is very different to its parent. Environmentalism was totally captured by the left from the early 1990s onward. In response to the Soviet Union collapse, many ex-Marxists joined the environment movement, and seem to have taken it over (at least ideologically). It's no longer legitimate for modern enviros to worry about population in public. I can't think of any green organizations promoting population as a problem. Au contraire, most enviros want unrestricted immigration into the West. Malthus still dominates environmentalism, but it's the Malthus of limits: resources running out, environments polluted, and earth's capacity exceeded.

The origins of environmentalism, and the anti-nuclear movement were very different, as Donald Gibson points out:

... In the pre-World War Two period the Rockefeller interests also became deeply involved in an area that would become increasingly intertwined, both organizationally and ideologically, with conservationism and environmentalism - population. Fox notes that “As social movements, population control and conservationism shared parallel histories, intersecting at many points over the years.” That probably began with Malthus. John D. Rockefeller III would later be eulogized by the population control establishment and given the informal title of 'Mr. Population.' In the early decades of the 1900s the focus was on the solution of social problems through population control and eugenics, one of Henry Osborn's areas of specialization.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. set up the Bureau of Social Hygiene in 1911 ...

A few things to note.

  • The Rockefellers funded and, to an extent even directed the 1956 BEAR 1 agenda - a key report made by geneticists which formulated Linear no-threshold, LNT, (claiming there's no safe radiation dose). Many of these geneticists were worried about the impact of genetic mutations on the human species itself. They believed genetic degeneracy caused by radiation would cascade down the generations. We can see the influence of eugenics concerns here. The LNT hypothesis would later become a key environmental regulation tool, and in the eyes of enviros, transform itself into a scientific theory just because they said it was. Rod Adams has written extensively on this aspect.
  • Scientists term radiation a peril to future of man - even small dose can prove harmful to descendants of victim, report says, From front page of New York Times, June 13 1956, referring to BEAR 1 report.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation also funded radiation education in universities with substantial grants
  • "The Population Bomb", 1968 (by Paul R. Ehrlich) was written at the suggestion of David Brower, Friends of the Earth founder.
  • Friends of the Earth, FotE, manufactured the rationale for anti-nuclear power movement, with a Gish Gallop of pseudo-scientific arguments. Many of these key memes in the anti-nuclear power movement were created during discussions between David Brower, Amory Lovins and their colleagues at FotE.
  • Because they called themselves an environmentalist organization, many journalists took FotE claims are valid. Being against nuclear power became part of environmentalism.
  • This despite the fact that none of the anti-nuclear power arguments invented/popularized by Lovins & Co were actually environmental problems or concerns.
  • Liberal pro-nuclear scientists didn't know how to respond to barrage of pseudo-scientific arguments put forward by Amory Lovins et al.
  • Opposition to nuclear began as Malthusian — anti-growth — but greens invented made up environmental reasons” (hat tip to Michael Schellenberger for this and previous 4 points)
  • Michael Schellenberger points out that over-population was the key Malthusian worry of early Friends of the Earth (David Brower).

    ... Starting in the mid-sixties, a handful of Sierra Club activists feared rising migration into California would destroy the state’s scenic character. They decided to attack all sources of cheap, reliable power, not just nuclear, in order to slow economic growth.

    If a doubling of the state’s population in the next 20 years is to be encouraged by providing the power resources for this growth,” wrote David Brower, who was Executive Director of the Sierra Club, “the state’s scenic character will be destroyed. More power plants create more industry, that in turn invites greater population density.” ...

    --Michael Schellenberger


  1. Donald Gibson, 2000-2014. Ecology, Ideology and Power, pp35-36
  2. Stephen Fox, 1981. The American Conservation Movement, pp 144-145.
  3. Michael Schellenberger, 2016, Why Environmentalists Keep Changing Their Mind On Nuclear
  4. Jennifer Gunn, 1999. "A Few Good Men: the Rockefellers and Population Studies." Pp. 97-114 in The Development of the Social Sciences in the U.S. and Canada: the Role of Philanthropy, eds. Theresa Richardson and Donald Fisher (Stamford, CT: Ablex Publishing, 1999).
  5. Rod Adams, 2014. Shaping public perceptions of radiation risk


  1. "I can't think of any green organizations promoting population as a problem. Au contraire, most enviros want unrestricted immigration into the West."

    Immigration doesn't create more people, it just moves them from one place to another. Do you think that contemporary environmentalists support open borders both to fend off any accusations of neo-Nazism (as the original Nazis used Malthusian economics to justify their genocidal wars), and also perhaps because they believe that Third World immigrants in the West (or failing that, their descendants) will have lower birth rates than they would have had if they had remained in their original homelands?

    1. Plus a possible third explanation -- that mass immigration will (by increasing housing costs) reduce discretionary income in First-World countries that could otherwise have been spent on wasteful consumerism.

    2. Modern deep greens regard themselves as leftist, so they favour open borders. But they are incoherent. Not just on nuclear power. In the last UK election: English Green Party wanted to "build local economies" but opposed national GDP growth at the same time. They can't see their own incoherence. In contrast, it looks like the original deep green Californian enviros has a 'vision'; even it if was anti-human. They were anti-immigrant - opposing an increase in energy use and industry to protect Californian nature. Today's "deep greens" don't care about nature except rhetorically - to the extent protecting it is an excuse for banning stuff. 180º turnaround there too.

      I don't think anti-humanists don't know they are anti-human. They are just muddled thinkers.

      It's very difficult for me to figure out what modern green opposition to nuclear power is based on because they never really say. Their Gish Gallop even confuses themselves! Overdetermination as Althusser would say; stealing the term from psychoanalysis. I don't think things are, necessarily, 'overdetermined'; more a case that the root cause of an idea can't be traced for all the confusion. In life, 99% of the time, there's always one core reason for doing, or not doing something. Green Gish Gallop attacks on nuclear power: "costs too much", "makes waste!", "radioactivity", blah, indicate how confused they are. Greenery is a kind of Zombie politics. Acting with no clear direction. It may be more an effect of the funding it continues to get than any green vision.

      W.r.t. "wasteful consumerism" - I can't distinguish between essential consumerism, and the "wasteful" kind. The term sounds like rhetoric to me. If greens oppose "consumerism" (of any kind), they oppose economic activity. I think "green consumerism" would see resources recycled.

      In my view, the neo-Malthusian outlook causes resource wars, and is caused by same. I don't have accept any base/superstructure model of causality, except in "last instance", and, as I said, it all overdetermined anyhow. Western Malthusianism as much responsible for WW2 as Axis desire to create empires to rival British & French. Obsessing over limits is used as a justification for status quo. Elites seem to be more prone than the poor; who experience limits daily. Rich have both "we have so much to lose" and "spending is wasteful" mentalities (e.g. opposing N/S high speed train rail link).

      Last thing: Green movement is very helpful to old capitalist money.
      1) It confuses and divides the left & opposition to status quo.
      2) Distracts from real social problems. Especially in terms of causality.
      3) Proposes impossible, and actually unpopular solutions (e.g. "build local economies" but oppose national GDP growth!). So will never be anything but a marginalized.

      PS: There's never really been a 'real left' analysis of the green movement. Even something like James Heartfield's "Green Capitalism" is flawed. Reading more like a collection of blogs than a book. Even this Marxian review of Heartfield's book agrees with me: