Prince William on Overpopulation – Hypocrisy?
I honestly don’t know whether to honor Prince William on the Wall of Fame or scold him a little on the Wall of Shame for his recent pronouncement about the “terrible impact” of rapidly growing human population.
I write today in response to this news:
In this story, Victoria Ward reports:
“[Prince William (Duke of Cambridge)], royal patron of the Tusk Trust, told the charity’s gala dinner in London that measures needed to be taken to save certain animal populations.
‘In my lifetime, we have seen global wildlife populations decline by over half,’ he said.
‘We are going to have to work much harder, and think much deeper, if we are to ensure that human beings and the other species of animal with which we share this planet can continue to co-exist. Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050 – a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month. There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure.”
Ordinarily we’d be glad a high-profile person is putting the spotlight on the problem of human overpopulation. In this case, that gladness is tempered by the apparent hypocrisy of conceiving a third child AND professing concern about human numbers. I first wrote about the Royal couple’s pregnancy on September 6 in Royal Couple’s Third Child a Missed Opportunity. Many sustainable population advocates hoped William and Kate might set a good example and stop at two children (one would have been the preferred number, considering the extreme state of overshoot emergency in which we find ourselves).
But alas, they chose not to stop at two children. And that makes it a bit perplexing the Duke would sound an alarm about human population. Some of the reaction was sharply critical. A few examples can be found in this Mirror piece:
Allow me to briefly unpack this apparent contradiction. Note that Prince William mentioned Africa in his human population remark:
“Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050 – a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month.”
That’s certainly true, and a concern. But the Prince doesn’t live in Africa. He lives in the UK, which is not forecast to double in population in the foreseeable future. The average fertility in the UK is 1.8, while some African nations still have fertility rates above 6. So it’s understandable that someone who isn’t really well informed on population issues might assume that population growth is only a problem in these high-fertility areas. Shall we forgive Prince William if that’s his thinking?
Forgiveness isn’t really at play here. What we need to do is enlighten Prince William, and millions of others around the world who leap to the same conclusion about the location of the population problem. This limited perspective is exemplified by one of the comments noted in that Mirror piece about the hypocrisy criticism:
“However, some jumped to the Prince’s defence, with one user posting: ‘The population growth in Africa is very different than he & Kate having a 3rd child.’ ‘Apples to oranges.”
In my conversations with everyday citizens about overpopulation, I frequently find this thinking – that the overdeveloped world has done its part by bringing average fertility to replacement rate (2.1) or below, and remaining population concerns need to be focused primarily on sub-Saharan Africa. There is no question in my mind that we should be supporting family planning services and small-family-norm projects in high fertility nations. But we also need to recognize that the impact of each child born in the overdeveloped world is at present far more damaging to the world’s life-supporting ecosystems than a child born in Nigeria. I daresay the ecological footprint of a child born to British aristocracy will be at least 100 times the footprint of that Nigerian child. I believe that fact is lost on Prince William. We need to be adopting a VERY small family norm in the overdeveloped world. (You can help with this by displaying a Small Family sticker on your auto.) If we aren’t working on this, then high-fertility populations have very little motivation to consider any advice we might offer.
We don’t need to shame him, or forgive him. We need to bring him up to speed on the nuances of human overshoot.
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