Anita Singh, Telegraph (London), July 9, 2012
The human race is facing catastrophe due to rising birth rates but “population deniers” refuse to let the issue be discussed, according to Michael Buerk.
The BBC presenter, most famous for his 1984 television report on the Ethiopian famine, said politicians and broadcasters shy away from the subject because the population explosion is focused on Africa and Asia and they fear being branded as racist.
Buerk said the population of Africa is expected to triple by the end of the century, contributing to a “demographic disaster” in which nations have to struggle to survive with enough food and resources.
“Population is the invisible issue of the 21st century,” he said.
“We are supposed to think it’s almost immoral to question the idea of climate change — that we are responsible for it, that the overall consequences will be profoundly detrimental — without conclusive evidence, just on the shaky balance of scientific probability.
“Yet the root cause, the exponential growth of the human population that is already making life uncomfortable and threatens to make it impossible, does not seem to be up for discussion.
“The population deniers seem to regard the whole issue as bad taste, a kind of disguised racism.”
Buerk has spent years researching the subject and delivered a lecture at the Telegraph Ways With Words literary festival in Dartington, Devon.
He said: “Not much is off-limits these days — we wallow in the trite and the tasteless — yet the fate of humanity, the possibility that we may be breeding ourselves into extinction, or at least widespread misery, is somehow better left unsaid.
“I’m struck in particular by the great, well-meaning wedge of Guardian readers, the environmentalists, the guilt-mongers forever warning us how we’re putting the earth at risk when we ask for a shopping bag, but who shy away from the obvious conclusion that the more of us there are, the more demands are made on the planet.
“They shuffle their moccasins and look away.”
The birth of the world’s seven billionth baby last year “is a very significant landmark on the road to demographic disaster”, Buerk said.
He set out figures showing that the global population is increasing at the rate of 211,000 people per day.
There were 2.5 billion people on earth in 1950, which has almost tripled to seven billion today. By the end of the century, it is projected, the population will rise to 10 billion.
By 2100 — according to figures Buerk cited from the United Nations — one in three humans on the planet will be African. The population of India is expected to hit 1.5 billion in the next 20 years.
Buerk, presenter of The Moral Maze and The Choice on BBC Radio 4, said broadcasters and politicians would not tackle the issue.
“When I talk about it, I get three different types of answer,” he claimed.
“A very substantial number of my colleagues and also politicians say, ‘This is nonsense, it’s all going to taper off’. They act as if you’re being politically incorrect, some kind of racist, certainly anti-humane.
“Then you get the opposite attitude that is, ‘Yes, you’re quite right, but I just can’t raise the subject at all because it’s politically sensitive. It’s something that would put my political career at risk.’
“You get very few politicians saying, ‘Yes, I think that too and I think we ought to do something about it.’
“It’s either denial or keep your head down as far as the political classes are concerned, in my limited experience.”
Responding to those who say no over-population crisis exists, Buerk said: “Come to some of the places where I’ve worked — to the pullulating slums of Dhaka, to Mexico City where whole towns have been built on rubbish dumps… fly almost anywhere at night and see the orange glow of our metastasising cities.
“Try to get into London from Heathrow in the Monday morning rush hour and still say there’s no problem.”
Buerk’s powerful report on the Ethiopian famine brought the plight of the country’s starving to worldwide attention and prompted Bob Geldof to set up Live Aid.
But the presenter said that Ethiopia is now more dependent on international aid than it was in 1984.