To placate its powerful allies on the extreme right, the Bush administration is once again playing political games with the fate of our planet.
The latest watershed global agreement the White House is sabotaging is a bold international accord the United States helped write that offers real hope for stabilizing the world’s exploding population.
In 200 years, the world’s population has grown sixfold. It could almost double again by 2050. Every second, two people die and five are born. And while population growth has always been a controversial issue, it is now clear that we have begun to severely strain the Earth’s finite resources.
Chaos is the increasingly real result of trying to support more than 6 billion people on this planet, spawning desperate mass migrations, wars over rights to fresh water, medical epidemics, bloody riots and crime waves nurtured in teeming shantytowns.
The war on terrorism, too, cannot logically be divorced from the struggle for population sanity. Refugee camps and hopeless slums steadily churn out alienated, landless young men and women who are perfect cannon fodder for ambitious religious and political zealots.
At the 1994 United Nations population conference in Cairo, nations with different religious, social and political makeups bravely acknowledged that the only proven way to slow the pace of the population explosion was to empower women by giving them reproductive rights, basic education and adequate healthcare so that they are capable of choosing a family size that offers them the best chance at being economically successful.
This was a revolutionary idea because for much of human history a large brood of children, particularly boys, was valued as a source of farm labor; the value of women was based on their reproductive capacity.
Modern sanitation and medical practices, however, have changed human death rates in the last two centuries, especially in terms of infant mortality. But rural cultures, fundamentalist religions and nationalist politicians have been slow to adapt to the reality that more is no longer always better.
It was such reactionary forces, led by a trio of odd bedfellows — the U.S. religious right, several repressive Muslim regimes and the Vatican — that have worked to put the kibosh on the final declaration of the U.N. conference, a carefully crafted pact supported by 179 nations. Now they have found their knight in shining armor in President Bush, who apparently wanted to shore up his right flank for the midterm elections and whose administration is now threatening to withdraw crucial U.S. support for the agreement based on some of its language.
One of the White House’s beefs, for example, is with a line that says that in societies where abortion is legal, healthcare should be provided to make the procedure safe. According to the National Right to Life Committee, which heartily praised Bush’s stance, statements like the one in the agreement are “code” advocating abortions.
But given that abortions are legal in the United States and are required to be medically sound, why would an American president seek to deny that standard of healthcare protection to the rest of the world?
Here’s why: Women in other countries can’t vote in U.S. elections, but the members of the National Right to Life Committee not only vote but also donate to candidates and political action committees.
More than any other in recent memory, this administration is marked by a foreign policy driven primarily by a domestic agenda.
To seek the votes of the right-to-life caucus by mucking about with the excruciatingly complex and difficult task of reining in world population is as dangerous in its effect as it is tawdry in its motive.
And, once again, our arrogant unilateralism will cost us strategically as well as morally. When overpopulated China, India and Indonesia, as well as nations in Europe dealing with myriad crises arising from immigration, all react bitterly to this latest American isolationism, can we be surprised that they are hesitant to support Bush’s jihad against Iraq?
Of course, this won’t bother the aggressive claque of right-wing think-tankers currently running the foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the existence of humanity, who seem to think that power makes us God.
We are not God, and our power must not be abused. At a time when the gap between the rich and the poor is dangerously increasing, when vast armies of the desperately poor are crashing through national boundaries, it is irresponsible in the extreme to sacrifice world population stability on the altar of domestic political advantage.