In John Holdren’s Own Words: the Inconvenient Truth About Population Control

Michael Egnor

In the growing public debate about coercive population control policies and Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren, it is important to read exactly what Holdren (and his co-authors Paul and Anna Ehrlich) wrote in their 1977 textbook Ecoscience. The question is this: were Holdren’s recommendations merely the academic exercise of listing other people’s recommendations (with disavowal or without any kind of endorsement), or did Holdren endorse any of these measures or counsel serious consideration of them.
Here are the relevant pages of Holdren’s book; there is much more than I can deal with in this post, and I will be reviewing all of Holdren’s writings in Ecoscience in future posts, word for word.
Let’s begin. Holdren bottom of first paragraph, p786):

In LDC’s [less developed countries] a childless or single lifestyle might be encouraged deliberately as the status of women approaches parity with that of men. Although free and easy association of the sexes might be tolerated in such a society, responsible parenthood ought to be encouraged and illegitimate childbearing could be strongly discouraged.

How could illegitimate childbearing be “strongly discouraged”? Holdren continues:

One way to carry out this disapproval might be to insist that all illegitimate babies be put up for adoption- especially those born to minors, who generally are not capable of caring properly for a child alone. If a single mother really wished to keep her baby, she might be obliged to go through adoption proceedings and demonstrate her ability to support and care for it. Adoption proceedings probably should remain more difficult for single people than for married couples, in recognition of the relative difficulty of raising children alone. It would even be possible to require pregnant single women to marry or have abortions, perhaps as an alternative to placement or adoption, depending on the society. [emphasis mine]

Holdren’s next paragraph is astonishing:

Somewhat more repressive measures for discouraging large families have also been proposed, such as assigning public housing …[illegible]…removing dependency allowances from student grants or military pay. Some of these have been implemented in crowded Singapore, whose population program has been counted as one of the most successful.[Emphasis mine]

“Somewhat more repressive measures”?. Holdren asserts that less repressive measures include forced adoptions, forcing a single mother to adopt her own child if she wished to keep it, and forcing single women to choose between marriage, abortion, or adoption, all of which may not be enough; withholding of government benefits may be needed! Holdren bizarrely views human rights atrocities such as forced abortions and involuntary removal of children from mothers as less repressive measures than…”removing dependency allowances from student grants”?
His next paragraph is even more chilling and more revealing:

All socioeconomic measures are derived from knowledge of social conditions that have been associated with low birth rates in the past. The more repressive suggestions are based on observations that people have voluntarily controlled their reproduction most stringently during periods of great social and economic stress and insecurity, such as the Depression of the 1930’s. In a sense, all such proposals are shots in the dark. Not enough is known about fertility motivation to predict the effectiveness of such policies. Studies by demographer Judith Blake and by economist Alan Sweezy for instance, have cast serious doubt on the belief that economic considerations are of the greatest importance in decline of fertility trends. Sweezy has shown that the decline of fertility in the 1930’s in the United States was merely a continuation of an earlier trend. If their views are correct, then severely repressive economic measures might prove to be both ineffective and unnecessary as a vehicle for population control, as well as socially undesirable. At the very least, they should be considered only if milder measures fail completely.[emphasis mine]

Holdren muses about the “effectiveness” of inducing economic catastrophe — economic catastrophe as policy — in order to control fertility.
Note that Holdren is making policy recommendations — “…should be considered…”. He is recommending (if “milder” methods fail) the intentional imposition of economic catastrophe such as a depression on overpopulated nations. The impact on sustenance farmers in the third world of economic catastrophe as a ‘policy’ would likely include famine. Holdren raises questions about such measures only because they are likely “ineffective and unnecessary”. He makes no mention of the fact that they are atrocities.
The use of socioeconomic measures against vulnerable populations to reduce their population has a long history. In 1948, the United Nations passed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It defined genocide:

[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.[emphasis mine]

Holdren’s advocacy of inflicted economic catastrophe to reduce fertility and removal of children from vulnerable families met three separate definitions of genocide.
He imposed conditions on the genocide:

At the very least, [policies that inflict economic catastrophe to reduce fertility] should be considered only if milder measures fail completely.

The “milder measures” that Holdren advocates include forced abortions, removal of children from families, and… removing dependency allowances from student grants.
Note again that Holdren is making policy recommendations — “…should be considered…”. The context is clear: Holdren is providing specific policy recommendations for which he clearly has sympathy; he is not merely listing the views of others nor is he expressing meaningful disagreement with those views. The few qualms he raises are pragmatic, not principled. He explicitly endorsed crimes against humanity and genocide.
But there’s something that is, perhaps, even more disturbing. Holdren’s advocacy of intentional economic catastrophe is in fact the kernel of his current ‘eco-advocacy,’ which is for radical limits on economic growth to curb global warming climate change. Holdren’s recommendations to curb climate change would have a profound impact on the economies of first world nations, but the most devastating economic impact would be on the (overpopulated) third world. Holdren’s current advocacy of draconian economic measures to curb population growth global warming climate change are really the same measures he advocated in 1977. The measures are the same — induced economic catastrophe; the pretext changes.
Induced economic catastrophe from draconian reduction of carbon emissions in third world countries is population control– for millions of sustenance farmers. Holdren’s climate change policies dovetail quite nicely with his ‘population control’ policies.
Holdren’s belated (by 30 years) assurance during his confirmation hearings that he does not and did not support coercive measures to control population growth is obviously a self-serving lie. His record is remarkable for his failure to repudiate his clear endorsement of genocide, and for his long-standing endorsement of radical measures and intentional economic catastrophe to address the climate change ‘crisis.’ He’s a fanatic, and ‘humanity-as-pestilence’ is his confession of faith. His pretext for culling humanity is the only thing that changes.
Holdren’s abhorrent recommendations were not merely academic; he and his eco-collaborators have spawned brutal violations of human rights, most notably in China (forced abortions, sterilizations and female infanticide over the past half-century) and Peru (involuntary sterilizations in the 1990’s) and even in the United States ( Parenthood’s targeted placement of abortion clinics in African American neighborhoods). Holdren and other population control eco-fundamentalists created an academic and political environment in which these policies were deemed acceptable. Holdren and his eco-colleagues — and their apologists — bear a direct and personal responsibility for these atrocities.
Holdren’s advocacy of crimes against humanity and genocide to reduce fertility is an inconvenient truth. It’s time that Holdren’s smarmy enablers in the science community face up to Holdren’s clearly expressed opinions and to the consequences of the policies he and others explicitly or tacitly endorsed. There have been too many weasel-words about the atrocities of population control. Ethical scientists and commentators need to openly denounce coercive population control ideology and disassociate themselves from the people and organizations that have advocated genocide.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.