Social & Domestic Issues

Taxpayers Gave $2.6 Million to Panda-Studying Population-Control Advocate

One might expect the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to focus exclusively on advancing the health and development of humans—perhaps even with a special concentration on human children.

But since 2001, NICHD, a subdivision of the National Institutes of Health, has provided $1,178,450 to a "Fisheries and Wildlife" professor for research focusing at least in part on "giant panda habitats" in China’s Wolong Nature Reserve. 

NICHD, moreover, is not the only federal agency showering taxpayer money on this professor.  A National Science Foundation grant that runs from 2002 to 2006 is scheduled to give him $1,111,407 to study the panda habitat, and another NSF grant in the 1990s paid him $321,055.

The $1-million-plus NICHD grant is titled, "Human Population/Environment Interactions (China)."  "Since 1975," says the NIH abstract for the grant, "Wolong’s human population has grown 66%, but the number of households has increased 115%.  Each household garners resources needed to live, particularly fuel wood for cooking and heating, from the surrounding landscape.  In this study, we view population-environment interactions as the interrelationships among five major components: human population, forests, giant panda habitats, socioeconomic and institutional factors, and government policies."  The separate $1-million-plus NSF grant is titled, "Complex Interactions Among Policies, People and Panda Habitat in the Wolong Nature Reserve Landscape."

In total, U.S. taxpayers have granted the professor $2,610,912. 

Jianguo Liu, the scholar in question, holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Ecological Sustainability in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State.  (The chair is named for the late author of the anti-pesticides book, Silent Spring, whom former Vice President Al Gore cited as a role model and who is sometimes credited as the founder of the modern environmentalist movement.)  Liu also has been a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology, run by Paul Ehrlich, whose 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb, spuriously predicted "hundreds of millions of people" would starve to death in the 1970s and 80s as the world ran out of food. 

On his Michigan State webpage, Liu lists one article he co-authored with Ehrlich–"Some Roots of Terrorism," published in 2002 in Population and Environment—and another piece he co-authored with Enrlich and two others, "Effects of Household Dynamics on Resource Consumption and Biodiveristy," published in 2003 in Nature.

A 2003 NSF press release about the piece in Nature, noted that Ehrlich was "renowned for his population studies," and said:  "Additional support for the Liu team findings authored in the Nature paper came from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development." 

So what did taxpayers and their children get from this investment?  For starters, they got the services of population-control advocates. 

In their Population and Environment piece, which was not government funded, Liu and Ehrlich decried "a cultural fundamentalism [that] surrounds the use of automobiles and SUVs, especially in the United States," and argued for conservation and population control in the cause of rooting out terrorism. 

"In the process," they wrote, "the rich could create brand-new markets for the outputs of the new economy and speed the reduction of their own population sizes to more satisfactory and sustainable levels.  While setting an example, the United States could also increase its pathetic level of international aid, and carefully target that aid on efforts that would change social and demographic conditions (e.g. increase employment and help to lower fertility rates) in developing countries."

In their Nature piece—backed by NSF- and NICHD-funded research—Liu  and Ehrlich argue that the environment is endangered not only by an increase in the number of human beings but also by an increase in the number of human households, which, because of cultural trends, tend to proliferate even where population declines.  "Thus," they argued, "declining fertility rates are necessary but not sufficient to ensure reduced anthropogenic pressure on the environment and natural landscape." 

Credit them with consistency: Whether the issue is "terrorism" or the "environment," they see a threat in the proliferation of children. 

In the NFS’s press release about the Nature article, Liu says:  "Personal freedom and social choice may come at a huge environmental cost."  He suggests, in the NSF’s words, that "changes in government policies such as tax incentives for sharing housing and resources could be helpful to influence personal and household decisions and actions." 

In other words, what the taxpayers got for their money was research to support an argument that government should use the tax code to move people into more crowded houses and less affluent lifestyles. 

In an exchange of e-mails, I asked Liu why it was appropriate for NICHD to fund a study of panda habitat.  "Although there are pandas in the reserve," he said, "we have not studied pandas using the NICHD grant.  Furthermore, panda habitat is part of the human environment."  Not surprisingly, the NICHD, which made the grant, agreed on its appropriateness.  "Through its Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch, the NICHD supports research on population growth and change," said an agency spokesman.  "With the NICHD grant, Dr. Liu is studying the human population residing on a Chinese nature reserve.  The reserve also provides a habitat for the giant panda. . . .  research addresses how environmental factors affect the human population living in the area, and how human activities, in turn, affect the environment that people depend on for their survival."

His two grants from NSF and NICHD were "not redundant," Liu told me, "because the goals of the NICHD grant and the NSF grant are different although the two projects are carried out in the same location.  The NICHD project focuses on the interactions between human population and the environment, while the NSF project focuses on the interactions among people, panda habitat and policies." 

Citing his statement in the Nature article co-authored by Paul Ehrlich and others that "declining fertility rates are necessary but not sufficient to ensure reduced anthropogenic pressure on the environment and natural landscapes," I asked Liu, "Is it your belief that human population as well as the number of households must be restrained by government policies around the world to protect the environment?" 

"We think it’s very important to help people begin to understand how they might play a role in environmental issues," he said.  "This is ultimately about human well-being and empowerment.  Tax-supported research gives people tools to understand their world.  We are generating research results that help people understand that the choices they make—be it how many children they have, what kind of house they live in, or how densely populated their neighborhoods are—do have an impact." 

Wonder how many voters figured that when they elected an all-Republican government many of their tax dollars would go to fund research by a population-control advocate that was ultimately aimed at advising people how many children they should have and what kind of houses they should live in?


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