When I lived in the US, I got the idea that environmentalists there seem a lot freer with discussing the concept of overpopulation than they are here in Europe. There’s a possible reason for this. We have direct historical experience of a regimes that have practiced population control – not just in the Nazi era, but more recently in the Balkans.
European liberal politics equates the idea of population reduction with a kind of Malthusian misanthropy; shouldn’t we be looking for ways to feed the nine billion population sustainably, rather than to deny them? And there is almost always a subtle tang of racism and misanthropy in the idea of population control. But what if that idea of mass sustainability is impossible? Lovelock predicts the human population will collapse to one billion by 2100.
Jonathan Porritt sounds stung in his column A Sustainable Population on the Forum For The Future site that people should even dare question his motivation for promoting the Optimum Population Trust’s “Stick At Two” campaign:
You’d have thought I’d advocated compulsory sterilisation, emasculation, euthanasia, and baby-slaughtering all in one fell swoop. Melanie Philips likened me to Pol Pot and Hitler (who was “green” after all!), and when Fox News in the US got hold of the story, every religious nutcase with nothing better to do crawled out from under their stones to suggest the best thing I could do to help address population pressure would be to top myself. Instantly. Logic and sound evidence were not much in evidence.
He insists that it’s an issue we have to consider urgently. He’s right to suggest that it’s a taboo topic; maybe with good reason, givenits history.
Trying to think of how artists would respond to the idea of overpopulation I can only come up with two examples. The first is the Hungarian/Syrian artist Roza El-Hassan, who did a series of works over the last decade called R thinking dreaming about overpopulation, [above right] which included producing t-shirts that read “I Am Overpopulation”. Her works approach the topic from a feminist viewpoint, but also envisage it in terms of European racism. If there was any doubt about the latter element, El-Hassan participated in the billboard above with the artist Milicia Tomic. If you don’t recognise him, the person driving the Porshe in the photo is supposed to be the Islamophobic Austrian politician Jorg Haider. The peculiar artistic irony of the photo is that Jorg Haider died at the wheel of a fast car a few months ago while driving several units over the limit.
The other is the recently-mentioned Extreme Green Guerillas, who take even more provocative viewpoint by advocating – more accurately appearing to advocate – voluntary euthanasia at the age of 40.
Any other nominations for “art about overpopulation”?
Main picture: Milica Tomic and Roza El-Hassan driving in a Porsche and thinking about overpopulation by EXTRA-TERRITORIA, Vienna 2002; R. thinking dreaming about overpopulation by Roza El-Hassan, 1999