In the previous article here, I called environmental writers to task for actively ignoring the subject of population growth. I responded to David Roberts who, in a piece on Grist, provided his own reasons for avoiding the subject. A fair number of other environmental writers seem to share those reasons. They’re afraid people associate responding to population growth with such things as eugenics and various draconian and totalitarian measures. They believe critics have effectively marginalized environmentalists by drawing such associations.
I rebutted that argument, I hope convincingly, and suggested the avoidance strategy had been a setback to the environmental movement. I urged environmental writers to embrace truth rather than avoidance. It should go without saying that truth is the more effective option, clearly superior to the alternative, now usually pursued, of creating an impression that florescent light bulbs, ethanol, or the latest green building material, deserves more attention than one of the fundamental drivers of our ecological crisis.
Two secondary but still important considerations are worth another quick post. Both concern the strategic or tactical wisdom of remaining silent on population. Roberts’s argument pits environmental writers against those who wish to marginalize them. Those include population growth promoters such as some on the libertarian right and the Christian right. He’s correct that we do have to be aware of the “opposition” and their tactics. But as someone who spent a number of years writing about and playing a game of strategy professionally, I’ll offer that in choosing the silence option (even if we pay lip service to talking about underlying social and economic issues ) we commit two fundamental strategic errors.
First, we deprive ourselves of an important option in our available ways to counter opponents’ propaganda and to inform people about the most important issues of our time. It’s like a chess player playing without her queen, or a poker player playing without the option of raising when an opponent bets. By determining to avoid the population topic, we handicap ourselves, playing against the opposition without our normal, full array of options. You can bet the opposition is not going to handicap themselves this way.
Second, in many games of strategy, one way to identify the right play is to try to determine what your opponent wants you to do. You then do the opposite. In poker, if you have good reason to believe your opponent wants you to fold your hand (as he would if he were bluffing) your play is to call his bet. In the case of environmentalists versus the folks who cheerlead and promote population growth, it’s obvious the latter want us to be silent on the issue of population. By staying mum on the topic, then, we play right into their hands. We lose.
So once again, I submit it’s time for environmental writers to deal in truth. And as long as they have opponents to contend with, they’d best become better strategists.
 How many environmental writers, including Roberts, take even his advice to talk instead about women’s and economic issues which influence population growth? With the occasional exception such as Betsy Hartmann, I don’t’ see see them doing that.
Image source: Alan Light, posted on Wikimedia Commons, under a GNU Free Documentation License