John Kerry’s misguided opinions on population growth are racist

John Kerry
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John Kerry, US special climate envoy and one-time presidential candidate, has told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the world’s population will not be tenable in 2050, when it is projected to hit nearly 10 billion.
The global population is now more than eight billion, more than three times the figure in 1950. According to Kerry and AFP, food supplies are stretched. But instead of pointing the blame at the Global North’s unsustainable food systems, Kerry blamed the people of Africa. He stated:

I’ve been to a number of African countries where they’re very proud of their increased birth rate but the fact is, it’s unsustainable for life today, let alone when you add the future numbers.

Kerry was quick to add:

I’m not recommending the population go down. I think we have the life we have on the planet. And we have to respect life and we could do it in so many better ways than we’re doing now.

Global warming is exacerbating the problem, which in turn exacerbates global warming. Producing food for eight billion mouths accounts for over a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.


But this is a low, racist blow from Kerry – essentially blaming the people of the African continent for population growth and unsustainable living. Not once does he acknowledge that the Global North has ravaged and pillaged Africa of its food and vital resources.

Africa is one of the continents worst affected by climate change, with devastating droughts and flooding. However, its citizens have had barely any impact on global warming compared to the Global North nations.

The US, with its all-powerful corporations, was key in leading the ‘Green Revolution’ after the Second World War. It forced industrial agricultural practices onto farmers around the world. The so-called ‘revolution’ imposed hybrid seeds, pesticides, fertilisers, and irrigation-heavy practices onto growers, contributing greatly to greenhouse gas emissions.

Read on...

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Another initiative, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), is now doing the same. According to the Canary’s Tracy Keeling:

AGRA’s ‘revolution’ reduces farmers’ autonomy, making them reliant on artificial inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides supplied by corporations, the civil society alliance says. Moreover, these agrochemicals ravage the natural world – from waterways to insects – and play a central role in the world’s environmental crises.

Corporate control

A recent Greenpeace report listed global corporations that wield “wildly disproportionate control” over global food supply chains. Cargill, Yara, JBS, and Nestlé have the most power. Unsurprisingly, they are headquartered in the US and Europe.

The corporate industrialisation of Africa has resulted in land grabs, the displacement of indigenous peoples and their cultures, and the destruction of indigenous biodiversity and ecosystems. Agribusiness corporations have huge influence over African governments, too.

It is the people of the African continent who lose out, while company directors in the US and Europe laugh all the way to the bank.

According to Greenpeace:

in Africa 20.2% of the population was facing hunger in 2021... Meanwhile in Europe and North America less than 2.5% of the population was affected by hunger. Updated projections suggest that by 2030 nearly 670 million people will still be undernourished – 78 million more than in a scenario in which the pandemic had not occurred.

Leonida Odongo, from the Kenyan social justice organisation Haki Nawiri Afrika, previously spoke to the Canary. She said that further spread of corporate agricultural practices will be destructive for Africa’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

Odongo said that industrial-scale production is unnecessary, arguing that Africa has enough arable land to feed itself and others, if only it was able to practice food sovereignty.

Eating fast food and steak

But Kerry would rather not dwell on Western consumers’ food habits: their addiction to red meat, their obsession with processed food, or the fact that they expect food on demand whether it’s in season or not.
While having the audacity to imply that the people of the African continent – whom he lumped into one mass group – should have fewer babies, he argued that those in the US don’t need to sacrifice their own lifestyles. He said:

I think that those choices are up to people on their own, what they want to do, how they want to do it.

Kerry even stated:

I don’t think you have to ask for a sacrifice of lifestyle in order to accomplish what we need to do.

He continued:

What I would recommend is that we change our practices of how we feed livestock and what we feed them and how we use farming.

According to AFP, Kerry is referring to new technologies in farming that supposedly reduce the negative impacts on the environment.

Food production is responsible for a massive one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The meat industry is one the most harmful industries for our climate, and one of its biggest consumers is the US. Emissions come from land clearing to create feed and pasture, as well as the use of farming machinery, the spraying of fertilisers, and the transport of meat products. On top of this, cows also produce massive amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when they’re alive.

Kerry did, however, concede that people in the US should stop wasting food. He said:

I think you can have a better lifestyle, and you can eat better food and we can feed more people if we stop wasting as much food as we waste.

Indeed, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), food waste is estimated to account for 30–40% of the food supply. The FDA said:

Food is the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills and represents wasted nourishment that could have helped feed families in need. Additionally, water, energy, and labor used to produce wasted food could have been employed for other purposes.

The planet is burning

As the world warms up, the man in one of the greatest positions of power around climate change argues that Africans should have fewer babies, while saying that the Global North can go on as normal. We consume what we like, while allowing our corporations to pillage the Global South.

When politicians like Kerry lay on their death-beds, will they spend their last hours reflecting on how they actively destroyed the planet?

Additional reporting by AFP

Featured image via World Economic Forum, Creative Commons licence 2.0, resized to 770 x 403px

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