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12 November 2022: eurASP conference in Brussels

Brussels, Saturday November 12: outside it is sunny and warm. Unusually warm for a day in November. Global warming? Inside the ‘Best Western Hotel’ on the Brussels ‘IJzerlaan’, a handful of remarkable organizations come together of whom the vast majority of Belgians, Europeans and other world citizens have never heard of: European overpopulation organisations. United in eurASP since 2021: the “European Alliance for a Sustainable Population”.

The 8 member organizations are the Swiss ECOPOP, the Dutch ‘Stichting OverBevolking’, the French ‘Démographie Responsable’, the Hungarian ‘BOCS Civilization Planning Foundation’, ‘Nätverket Population Matters Sweden’, ‘Prosperity through Sustainable Population’ from Germany and from Belgium the French-speaking ‘One Baby’ and the Dutch-speaking ‘MinderMensen’.

Organizer of the meeting: Fons Jena. At the end of 2021, he published the first Belgian book about overpopulation: ‘We zijn met te veel’ (‘We are too many’). Jena also founded the non-profit organization ‘MinderMensen’ with an accompanying excellent website www.mindermensen.be. In addition to his job as a municipal official, he also found the time to become chairman of eurASP.

The afternoon started with Martin Rott, a German living in France. He first proposed the oldest European overpopulation organisation: the trilingual Swiss ECOPOP (‘Ecologie et Population’). Founded in 1971 and not only active in raising awareness, but also supporting family planning projects in Africa (Togo). Their biggest project was a referendum on immigration and more support for family planning, which failed with a turnout of only 49.1%.

In France, as Martin Rott went on to explain, ‘Démographie Responsable’ is very active. Coincidentally, on Saturday 12/11 they had a big gathering. Founded in 2009. They emphasize the huge ecological deficit of the current world population and they organized an opinion poll that showed that 72% of the population considers overpopulation as a problem. 14% thought not. Another 14% had no opinion.

“Do you think that our planet is overpopulated?”
YES: 72% ; NO: 14% ; No opinion: 14%

“Has population growth played a major role in biodiversity loss, climate change, … ?”
YES: 66% ; NO, only small or no role 19 % ; No opinion: 15%

From the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ from a few decades ago, I remember a similar result of a population survey: a majority thought it necessary to limit the number of children.

There appears to be a great gap between public opinion on the one hand and media and politics on the other. Why is the widely shared vision of the population not discussed in the media, in politics, in NGOs, at climate summits? Why the censorship?

The next speaker was Jan van Weeren from ‘OverBevolking’. Formerly ‘the Club of 10 Million’. Before the meeting, I had a conversation with another member of the organization in which we discussed how, due to the large immigration, the Netherlands is evolving not to a population of 10, but one of 20 million people. Migration was one of Van Weeren’s themes and he also talked about how the Netherlands is facing a major land shortage problem, due to sea level rise. The Dutch are also struggling with all the ‘advantages’ of being an industrialized trading nation: heavy pollution of land, air, water … And the ecological footprint of all the Dutch is much too high.

Gyula I. Simonyi from Hungary was the most humorous speaker of the afternoon. His organization – ‘BOCS Civilization Planning Foundation’ – started in 1975. They work in various international associations and their main goal is to help prevent ‘unintended pregnancies’. Also because that’s the way to have rapidly an impact in terms of CO2 reduction. After all, with every child that comes along, an extra economic merry-go-round starts to turn. BOCS supports schools in India and develops instruments to measure, for example, the effect of having one child less.

In the Hungarian Parliament there is now a ‘Future Generations Ombudsman’, on the initiative of BOCS. Gyula I. Simonyi naturally believes that women have every right to say no to sexual relations. But that’s just the beginning. Couples thinking about having a child should also think about the rights of the future child. The speaker quoted Gandhi as saying that no one can simply usurp the right to father children. The child does have rights:

Only future child has right:
To be conceived by responsible decision
Of a well prepared couple
With mature personality
In a stable relationship
To a loving home and community
To a healthy nature, livable Earth
Where they will be given the mental and the material resources for a happy life’’

Subsequently, the Swedish organization ‘Nätverket Population Matters Sweden’, who was absent due to Lucia Tamburino’s illness, was briefly introduced by Fons Jena. An association that publishes many articles and, among other things, tries to orient more government support towards ‘family planning’.

Then it was up to Elena Albrecht from Germany to present ‘PTSP – Prosperity through Sustainable Population / Initiative für Nachhaltige Bevölkerung’. Among other activities, they held a petition to get the cost of vasectomy reimbursed. Their main mission is to break the taboo, raise awareness and stimulate the transition from an anthropocentric (people-oriented) to an ecocentric culture among the Germans, who are often ecologically aware.

From French-speaking Belgium, Michel Balieus from Brussels came to present the oldest Belgian overpopulation association: ‘One Baby’. (www.onebaby.be)

Fons Jena and I got to know Michel when we had our first contacts with French-speaking Belgian population activists a few years ago. As I told Michel with a broad smile at the end of the eurASP afternoon, we thought at the time he was a bit extremist with his ‘One baby’ approach. But funnily enough with his exposé he managed to convince us that if you let women choose, they often choose for only one child. Look at China, Michel said, where the government is doing everything it can to increase the number of births again, but it is not succeeding. (With its one-child policy, which is rightly criticized in terms of approach, China has proven that you can quickly lift a country out of the poverty spiral.) In fact, fertility is declining just about everywhere in the world. If one were to remove all incentives to have children, it would be clear: the population, the women in the lead, are for ‘One baby’!

OK Michel, but still one more question : is it so funny/interesting to grow up as a single child ? Without brothers our sisters with whom you learn to share things and secrets ? Don’t parents tend to spoil only children too much? Wouldn’t it be better for some couples to have two or more children, and others none; but that they do help each other in raising them ? Remembering the African proverb: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”

The Flemish input on the afternoon came from the non-profit organization ‘MinderMensen’, which we founded in 2021, inspired by Fons Jena, but for which we have been meeting regularly since 2018. We held our first public action with a large banner during the climate demonstration in Brussels on 17/1/2019. To raise the awareness, with ‘MinderMensen’ we’re writing and publishing articles, also on different other (mostly leftist) alternative media websites.

After this round of presentations of the organizations, it was up to Dr. Jan van Weeren to give a lecture on ‘Human Welfare and Human Numbers’. Oh yes: despite the absence of the British ‘Population Matters’, English was of course spoken all afternoon…

Let’s listen now to what our Dutch friend came to explain. The most important insight he wanted to convey is that even with a very austere lifestyle, with a very limited footprint per person, we would still exceed the ecological carrying capacity of the earth with our current 8 billion. On the screen a world map was projected, showing us the limited number of countries that remain within their ecological limits. Among others, the D.R. Congo belongs to this, as does almost all of South America.

The last maxim that Jan put forward is this: ‘No population growth if in surplus’. Something I previously referred in writings, to as the pursuit of ‘regional ecological demographic balances’. Each region on the planet can only be inhabited by as many people as that region can more or less house, feed and provide everything else a population needs. Otherwise, a region is living on the hood of other regions. What the ‘global north’ is now doing extremely with the ‘global south’, for example by emptying the coastal fishing waters around Africa.

From his experience in Thailand in the early 1990s, the Hungarian Gyula I. Simonyi then came to explain us – in his lecture entitled “Family planning is the most effective climate protection” – how you can make campaigns quite funny. You can introduce contraceptives such as condoms with cheerful slogans such as “pleasure planning” and “liberation of love and nature”. The big question that people should ask themselves more, according to Gyula, is this: “Does a child really want to be conceived?” “Can we offer that child everything it needs ?” To my comment that we should be careful that not only the rich can afford children, Gyula replied that most of the conditions he sets, are of a non-material nature.

Meanwhile, it is a fact that about half of the pregnancies worldwide are unintended (‘An unseen crisis‘ UNFPA called it in early 2022). Every day about 100,000 children are born that were not ‘planned’ and all too often are not wanted. What kind of life awaits them?

Gyula discussed it all in a light-hearted yet warmly sensitive way, also mentioning the 1970 book ‘The crazy ape’ and pointing out that we need to be more aware of how our brains fail to understand major evolutions.

The good news is that, as Michel Balieus states, there is an evolution towards 1 child per woman. But it’s a pity that international development organizations do almost nothing for ‘family planning’. If they were to invest more in this, enormous health gains would be made for mothers and children. “Invest in contraceptives and calculate your health benefits,” Gyula concluded.

Then it was to the Swedish Lucia Tamburino to explain the findings of her academic work via a video link. She refuted the following common story: “Population growth is not a problem for climate change because population is mainly growing in poor countries, whose contribution to global emissions is negligible. Population growth is only a dangerous distraction from the real cause of emission increase: over-consumption in rich countries.”

This is not true, because many countries are in between rich and poor. And a high percentage of CO2 emissions come from those ‘in-between countries’ and that is rising rapidly. Africa as a whole, with a population that is yet twice as large as that of Europe (1,4 billion Africans compared to 748 million Europeans), already emits a lot of CO2. Consider, for example, working with ‘charcoal’, whereby trees are first fired up until a hard core remains – the ‘charcoal’ – which is then taken to the cities to be burned up for household consumption.

After the explanation of Lucia, which was somewhat difficult to follow via the video link, Martin Rott tried to summarize the afternoon in three decisions:

1/ Let’s look at the Ecological footprint of 8 billion people
2/ Family planning is important to reduce it, for the well-being of people and planet
3/ Let’s put the distinction between rich and poor countries into perspective. Many countries are in between.

Are these the three conclusions we can draw? Martin wondered.

Afterwards, the 20 attendees exchanged ideas about various themes such as that of the silence of the mass media about overpopulation and what could be the reasons fort his silence. The media often puts the emphasis on the economic and present aging populations as a problem. Our message must be: there is an ecological problem first and foremost.

The case of Japan shows that a country can both shrink demographically and remain economically prosperous. Partly due to robotization of a lot of work. After mentioning Japan, I couldn’t keep silent about the broad water problem, which is so much more urgent than the food problem. And then there’s the matter of how capitalism, as it is driven by the profit-seekers of big multinationals and their shareholders, needs a lot of workers and consumers. Our main enemy is there, I added at the end. Thus, we should never expect much from the mass media, which are mostly in the hands of capitalist groups. We will have to reach the public ourselves.

The final word is for our friend Michaël who, when he had to leave a little earlier, thanked those present for the pleasant atmosphere in which the meeting was held, for the great knowledge that appeared to be present in the group and for the high ethical level of the conversations. Michael may have thought of the kind of reproaches that people like a Belgian professor called Maarten Boudry send into the world. On TV Boudry was recently allowed to claim that “people who see population growth as a negative thing are misanthropic/misanthropists” and that “those who think that having fewer children helps the climate are old-fashioned people stuck in the populist ideas from the 1960s and 1970s.”

On Saturday, November 12, Boudry could have seen himself strongly contradicted in that Brussels hotel by both the beautiful mix of veterans and young people, and by the continuously expressed concern for the fate of future humans and other beings on the planet.

Fons Jena perhaps best summarized it when he wrote in a reflective mailing to the members of eurASP: “At a moment I even had a ‘Club of Rome’ feeling: a group of strange people gathering somewhere in a hotel discussing fundamental ideas and building something important.”

Pioneering work was indeed carried out here, but a lot of water will still flow through our European rivers before this will actually lead to important results.

Report: Jan-Pieter Everaerts; Photos: Lionel Artige

P.S. On Sunday 13/11, the open meeting on Saturday was followed up with a working meeting of eurASP. Again with ‘intense discussions’.


This report was first published in the ezine ‘De Groene Belg’ (‘The Green Belgian’), an independent publication of Mediadoc. For all correspondence: mediadoc.diva@skynet.be

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