Prince William stirred controversy last week after suggesting that population growth was responsible for the endangerment of wildlife in Africa.
Many took to social media to share their frustration at the royal figure’s sentiment, with some connecting the statement to “eco-fascism” – a theory that argues humans are overburdening the planet and that some populations are more responsible than others.
The ideology has racist connotations – in short, Black, Brown and marginalised people are blamed for overpopulation and consequently the environment’s demise.
The idea’s origins can be traced to an essay by the English 18th-century economist, Thomas Robert Malthus, entitled “The Principle of Population”, which lays the foundation for eugenics in the arena of climate change.
Malthus argued that due to unchecked population growth, food production would not keep up and would result in disease, famineand war.
It was Malthus’s essay that helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory on natural selection.
But, speaking at the Tusk conservation awards in London, the prince said that the increasing pressure on the African continent’s “wildlife and wild spacesas a result of human population,” was presenting “a huge challenge for conservationists as it does the world over.”
He said it was “imperative” that the natural world is protected, “not only for its contribution to our economies, jobs and livelihoods but for the health, well-being and future of humanity”.
Experts have weighed in to the debate, suggesting that the prince’s understanding of the situation is misguided.
Heather Alberro, a lecturer in global sustainable development at Nottingham Trent University, told Al Jazeera that equating population growth with climate change, or conservation, is a complex issue.
“Focusing only on human numbers functions as a red herring,” she said. “What research increasingly shows is that extreme poverty, socioeconomic inequality and capitalist systems predicated on endless growth for maximising shareholder value are greater predictors of ecological decline.
“Is it any wonder (then), that a poacher, driven by poverty and the lucrative price tag associated with ivory, would be compelled to kill an elephant?”