A Need, No Specifics, and a Way of Life

What comes to mind when somebody declares the necessity of population control? Personally, my initial reaction is against a presumed totalitarian intent. Yeh Ling-Ling’s op-ed in the Providence Journal yesterday exacerbates that reaction, with its first paragraph urging presidential candidates to “learn from the Chinese experience.”
And no, the piece isn’t about the dangers of an oppressive government with little concern for human life. Still, it’s a strange bit of writing, making some points that pulled me back a hair from my suspicions:

Three decades ago, the Chinese government already understood that population growth would seriously impede its economic success. … China seriously limits immigration and welcomes only investors. It hands out no welfare checks and demands self-sufficiency of its people. …
… Instead of advocating sustainable immigration, many [U.S.] presidential candidates are promoting immigration policies that will further increase our population, thus adding more people using energy and social services to this country. … Why not seriously enforce existing immigration laws and give welfare recipients incentives to take jobs currently held by illegal migrants? Some growers in Idaho and Colorado are using nonviolent prisoners to replace illegal migrants. Why not make it a national practice? …
There were 757,000 teen pregnancies in the U.S. in 2002 alone. Can any country prosper with a growing semi-literate student population, swelling welfare rolls and burgeoning numbers of babies having babies? In recent years, the U.S. has massively exported jobs and imported workers. Furthermore, most new jobs created in this country are service sector, low-paying positions, not generating enough income to support a family or tax revenues to cover the cost of social services provided to those workers and their families.

But then another agenda emerges:

China is far from perfect and indeed has many problems. One of the most pressing is environmental degradation, caused largely by China’s exploding economic growth and increasing consumer-ism. But at least the Chinese leaders realize population growth’s contribution to global warming. They defended their one-child policy by arguing that it has helped the fight against global warming by avoiding 300 million births, as reported by Reuters this past August.
… to improve the quality of life for natives and legal immigrants already here, the U.S. must immediately adopt policies that would effectively lead to U.S. population stabilization, encourage self-reliance, cut consumption at all levels, foster a strong work ethic and train our youth to think critically and with foresight.

The unexplained hows make all the difference in this case. How do we “encourage self-reliance”? What policies would “effectively lead to U.S. population stabilization”? How do we “cut consumption”? One suspects that the “quality of life” thus slated for improvement comes pre-adhered to Ling-Ling’s personal definition, and that it would turn out to be more of a subset of “the war against global warming.”
I could be wrong, of course, but I can’t help but hear an echo in Theodore Dalrymple’s brief musing about news that divorces are bad for the environment:

The fact that there will be no demonstrations against environmentally destructive divorcees, who probably emit as much extra carbon dioxide as the average SUV, suggests that the desire to save the planet is not nearly as powerful as the desire to destroy a way of life.

The cliché is that the traditional approach of setting cultural expectations was oppressive, but it emphasized responsibility based on one’s freely chosen actions. The alternative — curiously applicable no matter the harm for which remedy is sought — is true oppression, with power of increasing numbers of decisions, even over life and death, seated in the hands of our ostensible saviors.

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