Attenborough, Eugenics and the Problem of Personality

Hi, this is Poet Etc. and you read the title and you’re probably going to hate this, so let’s just fucking do it.

We’re going to start by defining some terms, so that when I call David Attenborough a Social Darwinist, a Colonialist and a Eugenicist, you are absolutely clear on what I mean by that.

Social Darwinism: a political philosophy which views the fact that some people will suffer and die due to having less resources as natural, bordering on good. Applying Darwin’s theory of evolution to humanity, a species which took over the world by ruling at co-operation; Social Darwinism says that the “weak” (read: poor) dying will make us stronger. It’s Social Darwinism when a government allows homelessness to exist, for instance. It’s literally cheaper to house them for free or close to free, Salt Lake City and Finland have both proved this, but the social darwinist has ideological reasons to keep them on the street.

Colonialism: Way back actually not that long ago, the practice of a more powerful country dominating a less powerful one into servitude. China and Japan have dark colonial pasts, so its not exclusively a European thing, but when Europeans do it, they tend to do it to people a long way away who look different. The practice being supported through racist justifications (India is not fit to govern itself, the people of the Congo are savages who need the civilising effects of Belgian slavery). Also, I’m Irish, so y’know, I should note Europeans didn’t just do it to people far away, even if those were most of their targets.

More recently, it’s the continuing belief in the racist justifications for colonialism. Colonialism and Social Darwinism aren’t the same, but they do mix whenever a person from a coloniser state views famine, poverty and war in a former colony (theirs or another country’s) as natural and certainly nothing anyone should try and prevent.

Eugenics: Hardcore Social Darwinism, the belief that we need to actively remove those less capable of competing for resources from the gene pool through sterilisation or murder. The Nazi Germany campaign against the disabled as “useless eaters” is the most famous example but its practice continues more recently, such as forced sterilisation of black people in America (1972) and South Africa (1981-1990) and of (largely poor) men in India (1976, hold onto this, it comes up later). Eugenics crosses paths with Colionalism when the death or sterilisation of people in former colonies is presented not only as something to be accepted, but as something to be worked towards.

David Attenborough: he does nature documentaries which a lot of people like a lot. This transfers into people liking him a lot, which I have some problems with because he is all of the above, which I’ll lay out the case for…right about now:

David Attenborough Fucking Sucks, Bro

So, let’s start you on this journey the same way I did, stumbling across reports of an interview he gave to The Telegraph (ugh), about how food aid is “barmy” and famine in Ethiopia is natural and should not be prevented. Now, with anyone else, that’d be enough to call him what he is, but he’s sainted, so I’ll need to lay out a larger case. Luckily, he gives us a lot to work with. First though, let’s define Food Aid, because David Attenborough believes this to be “We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That’s barmy”

Food Aid: It’s not getting the UN to send bags of flour, you fucking nutjob.

Ian Angus, who runs the website Climate and Capitalism has a good piece on exactly how fucked up the Ethiopian example is, as that famine is caused by “an economic and political system that enriches foreign investors and a tiny urban elite, while nearly 80% of the people earn less than $1 a day. There’s lots of food, but they can’t afford to buy it.” This would be another example of something I’m going to ask you to remember going forwards.

For now though, let’s, for some reason return to The Telegraph, who gave him a follow up interview after his whole “let Ethiopians starve” thing, where he doubled down, saying “when you talk about world population, the areas we’re talking about are Africa and Asia, you know.

He doesn’t just talk the talk in The Telegraph mind, he is a spokesperson and patron for Population Matters. Who are Population Matters, you may ask.

Who Are Population Matters?

Population Matters is, legally speaking, a charitable foundation, though the real charity is calling them that! Ha, burn, gotcha! Ahem.

So, charities can focus on any number of things and most are pretty self-explainatory. Guide Dogs UK for instance, provides Guide Dogs to the UK, while Oxfam provides oxen with family and Haiti with sex offenders. Like I said, self-explanatory. What does Population Matters provide? An additional and unnecessary Sustainable Development Goal of population control! It wants resources and time diverted away from helping people and towards making there be less people! You know, charity.


So, how do they justify this bullshit? They’ve got a fun little graph on their website, it’s the first thing you meet on their page labelled The Facts

popmatters graph

Hello fun little graph! Who’s a cute little graph, you are! Yes you are, yes you are! Let’s get a closer look at what you’re saying! You’re a correlation = causation argument, aren’t you?

I’m going to stop talking to the graph like it’s a good dog now, because cursory research reveals it to be neither of those things.

You might recognise from internet funny page Spurious Correlations that correlation is not actually the same as causation, unless you’ve got a really good explaination for how Nicholas Cage films cause swimming pool drownings (or swimming pool drownings cause Nicholas Cage films, I’m open to either)


So let’s actually look at the things that the graph and Population Matters argue population increase causes, shall we? Each section is headed up with a link to the primary evidence I’m using.

CO2 Emissions: China has a huge population density and it does lead the pack with 27%. But this academic source mentions something dirty, something Population Matters don’t want you thinking about. It mentions per capita emissions, meaning emissions per person. And oh, oh, fuck. The big per capita emitters are the US, Canada and Australia. If we’re controlling populations for CO2 Emissions, we want to force sterilise famous Afro-Asian nations America, Canada and Australia. David Attenborough and Population Matters are perfect, I take it all back.

Freshwater Usage: So, here’s a nice little six page infographic from the UN about how freshwater is used in various parts of the world. If you go the third page, at the bottom you’ll see freshwater usage by continent. Africa uses up much less than Europe does and devotes a much higher percentage to agriculture than Europe does.

Now, hold that information in your head, alongside a 2020 census showing Ethiopia with 83 people per square mile, while the 2010 UK census has it at 660 people per square mile. Let’s dig back to Attenborough describing this famine as natural. What he is describing as natural is a famine in a massively less densely populated country that uses significantly more of its freshwater for agriculture. That’s not natural, that is a construct of capital.

Fertiliser Consumption: I don’t really have strong opinions on this one. Like, the data source I used showed that its kind of the countries you’d expect. One or more of the following is true of countries that use a lot of fertiliser

1) the soil ain’t great (e.g. Kuwait, the country with the least access to freshwater in the actual world, Population Matters. Sometimes your data points intersect to prove you ultra wrong, Population Matters.)
2) they produce a lot of food (e.g. Ireland)
3) the amount of land used for arable purposes is small (whether for reasons of physical geography or economic policy) and thus intensively farmed (e.g. Hong Kong)

Like, Population Matters big argument here is that the more people there are, the more fertiliser gets used. Not specifically chemical fertiliser either, they’re including literal horseshit in their website full of figurative horse shit. They’d…rather horse shit wasn’t put to good purposes, I guess? They’re certainly putting it to bad purposes. I guess if I have to feel something about fertiliser, it’s that if you’re going to use it to blow up a government building, make sure there’s not a daycare for the employees’ children on site, Tim.

Marine Fish Capture: yawn, the majority happens in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean, which services Russia, Korea, Japan and China. Within the Atlantic, we’re looking at the Northeastern Atlantic, which services the affluent parts of Europe. Despite the large population of India, the Indian Ocean is the site of the least Marine Fish Capture. It services the Indian subcontinent of Asia and the eastern coast of Africa. “Asia and Africa, you know”, the ones we need less of, capturing the least fish. (Slightly muddied by the heavy fishing of industrial Pacific Asia, I admit.)

Tropical Forest Destruction: well, this is an easy win for them! That’s happening in the places with tropical forests, which are the global south! Exterminate the brutes, says I! Wait, that’s a reference to a book about the Belgian Congo. I wonder, I wonder who is profiting from the destruction of, oh, say, the Amazon. Oh, shit, it’s the same people funding it, which is us. Aw, nuts! Brazil nuts! Humour?

IPAT, Neil! They included IPAT! You’re not being fair to them!


Okay, so IPAT, or, more accurately, I = PAT is a formula authored by Paul Ehrlich (patron of Population Matters), Barry Commoner and John Holdren suggesting that

I (impact on environment) = P (population) x A (affluence) x T (technology)

Let’s dig into the who’s who of that formula, shall we? Let’s first note who Population Matters says authored the formula


(screenshot taken January 23rd, 2020)

They treat Barry Commoner as if he didn’t exist! Isn’t that interesting? I wonder why. We’ll look at the people they’re okay with

Paul R. Ehrlich:

(there’s a Paul Ehrlich who lived in Germany at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century who is credited with curing syphillis, so I have to always specify Paul R. Ehrlich as the dickhead eugenicist. The syphillis curing dude is cool.)

Ehrlich’s the most significant to Population Matters, as a patron he actively supports the group financially and with publicity, something they somehow brag about (side note: oh no, Jane Goodall? I really liked her. I regret everything about looking into them. Okay, here’s one of their notable patrons and, I presume, an equally notable Monty Burns cosplayer presenting powerpoints with three fonts in three colours on one slide about how sex is the most dangerous human activity, I regret nothing, this is amazing)

Ehrlich’s also the most notable author of the I=PAT formula. He and his wife wrote The Population Bomb (which I read without paying the eugenicist fuck for and would like to thank my friends Lib and Gen for hooking that up), a book which advocates

1) forced sterlisation by stealth, adding “temporary sterilising agents” to water and staple foods and having the government ration out the antidote. The Ehrlichs bemoan that no such agent exists, curses! (p.130-131)

2) a non-retroactive child tax. They have had one child in their life, born before the publication of the book. It is very important that this tax be non-retroactive, don’t think about it. (p.131-132)

3) luxury taxes on fucking diapers. They’re American, I’m not. Luxury taxes on bloody nappies. That felt more natural, cool. (p.132)

4) positive financial incentives for being child free or for men who take on vasectomies. (p.132) You’ll notice that the points that aren’t sneaking sterilising agents into the drinking water would directly target those with less money so that working class people are even further priced out of having children with both carrot and stick. It’s about to get even worse.

5) “encourage more research on human sex determination, for if a simple method could be found to guarantee that first-born children were male, then population control problems in many areas would be somewhat eased” (p.132). Let’s just look at the UN definition of Genocide, shall we? “Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;” (article II.d)

Actual legal definition genocide against women. This fucking book.

6) writing off some countries as too far gone in population to merit any food aid whatsoever and allowing mass starvation to occur (p.147)

7) The forced sterilisation of Indian males with three or more children (p.151), which the Indian government…did? Except they didn’t even pay attention to the number of children, they just started rounding men up and cutting into their genitals. Remember when I said to remember what India did in 1976? This book is from 1968. The Ehrlichs advocated for it in an incredibly popular and influential book and it happened.

That’s…enough. It’s not all, but it’s enough. Gynocide and potentially inspiring mass forced sterilisation.

Did I mention that he’s a patron of the group, providing financial and publicity support? Because he is.

John Holdren

In addition to co-authoring the formula, several articles and a book with Paul and Anne Ehrlich, he served as the senior advisor to Barack Obama on science and technology, which doesn’t feel like a thing that should have happened, but did. Here’s an article from Vox at the time on how US child benefit policy (give ’em no support!) generates massive child poverty in America, because of course it does. Pay nothing was the policy before he took over and not his department, I just want to note that he served in a government where things he advocated resulted in massive child poverty.

Barry Commoner

The good one! The one who spent much of his life arguing that the cause of Environmental damage was poverty and arguing that we could only save the planet through radical wealth redistribution and abolishing capitalism and replacing it with socialism. Also an incredibly respected climate scientist specialising in the negative effects of nuclear radiation who frequently used his platform to highlight medical problems endemic in indigenous populations as a result of industry. He died in 2012, on my birthday, incidentally. The other two are still alive, so that’s nice. Great. As it should be.

Okay, so he forms the formula (more detailed, resource use and pollutant emission = population x amount of good being produced per capita x environmental cost (resource use + pollutant emission) of producing the good) with Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren and sets about testing it whereupon he finds that resource use was overwhelmingly about the level and type of industry, which modern sources bear him out as right on. (see above).

He wrote a book on this, named The Closing Circle, which Ehrlich and Holdren attacked for not saying that population was the reason . As part of the growing scientific feud, he wrote a lengthy piece taking apart their arguments in the Bulletin Of Atomic Scientists.

Now, the Ehrliches wrote not just for the general populace, but for the members of it racist, stupid and hateful enough to be fooled into supporting eugenics (like David Attenborough, who we’ll return to, I swear) and while Commoner wrote books for public consumption by non-eugenicists, here he’s writing for the Bulletin Of Atomic Scientists, which I’m lead to believe is largely read by Atomic Scientists.

What I’m saying is that this assumed a level of knowledge that I lack, so I’m going to try and summarise, but I may well miss something. Paul R. Ehrlich was the one of the Ehrlichs who participated in the argument in public, so whenever I refer to Ehrlich singular, he’s the one I mean.

1) Ehrlich and Holdren keep asking him not to discuss his findings (that level and type of industry were the main factors) or disagreements with them on whether population is The Thing, which isn’t what scientists should be doing with knowledge or when they disagree. He has a letter from them noting in their own words their continual attempts to dissuade him from talking about his findings, since it distracts from population. To quote how he feels about this

“In my view, the environmental crisis involves very grave and complex social problems that ought to be solved through public decision and not determined by the force of private agreements between scientists as to which issues are to be openly debated and which are to be hidden from public view.”

2) Ehrlich said that Commoner hadn’t had his book rigorously peer reviewed prior to publication, which is funny since
a) Commoner lays out the peer reviewed journals he submitted to

b) Commoner held a symposium to discuss criticism, which he invited Ehrlich to attend and Ehrlich did and gave a speech

c) Ehrlich had, by this point, published The Population Bomb without any peer review.

In summation: Paul R. Ehrlich: liar, hypocrite

3) The rigorous peer review process (in which Ehrlich, et. bootlickers participated and then claimed never happened) bore out that technology is the main factor, to a degree of 85%.

(I didn’t fully grasp the mathematical proof, but I was able to fact check that the scientists who did grasp the proof concurred with it).

4) Ehrlich and crew invent things that he never said in The Closing Circle and then attack him on that.

5) he quotes a scientist (Sir Eric Ashby, noted botanist and educator) reviewing his book and commenting that population fears are the field of “the run of the mill Cassandra”, which I love as shade throwing at the eugenicists. This isn’t terribly important, though the positive reviews from scientists who don’t have their own books out about killing the browns to save the planet is significant. (In fact, no other scientific reviewer of the book reaches the conclusions that run of the mill Cassandras Ehrlich and Holdren do).

6) In a 1970 interview, Ehrlich says that if his advice isn’t taken on by 1972, everyone should give up and just enjoy “the little time they have left” and Commoner would very much like people to get about “sustained social action to remove the economic and political barriers that keep entire nations and peoples in poverty” (poverty being a large factor in population growth, very bad in its own right).

A Gentle Reminder Of Who Population Matters Say Authored The I=PAT Formula And Of Who Is Among Their Patrons

2020-01-23 (1)

The Problem Of Personality

Okay, so we’ve laid out evidence that David Attenborough is a eugenicist who supports a eugenics charity, that their eugenics would not even be effective for their stated goals and that they are willing to obscure scientific history in order to conceal that fact.

Here’s where the big issue stands for me: that Attenborough’s nature documentaries, watched and loved by millions make him above this criticism for large sections of environmentalists/left-leaning people. These obvious racist and colonialist eugenics (which wouldn’t even work) can’t actually be what they very obviously are, because it’s David Attenborough saying them. The issue isn’t that David Attenborough is protected from a full understanding of him as a eugenicist, David Attenborough is one person who will die soon.

The issue is that David Attenborough protects the eugenicist statements which he makes from being understood as the (again, ineffective) eugenics that they are. If it is okay to make these arguments if one is David Attenborough, there exists a risk of eugenics rhetoric becoming normalised and of eugenics being widely practised once more.

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