After takeoff, as the aircraft gained height, Metro Manila gradually came into view: a grey jumble of human habitation punctuated by clustered skyscrapers, intersected by meanders of a noxious-looking, mustard-coloured river, sprawling across an enormous plain bounded on the west side by the sea and in other directions not at all, further than the eye could see, eventually obscured by pollution haze and clouds.
Making life bearable in this monster megacity is just one aspect of the problems faced by President Aquino's government. Already it is home to upwards of 15 million people and it is growing all the time as the burgeoning Filipino population drifts to the cities in hope of making a living. As it grows, so do the problems.
Is Metro Manila a premonition of things to come for our species? If global population growth proceeds as forecast, then yes. Population growth threatens to render all our efforts to tackle individual basic needs – food, water, housing, air fit to breathe, disease control – futile, and threatens to relegate our hope of improving quality of life for our species and conserving other species to mere pipe-dreams. Yet when I raised the issue of global population growth on the UK Liberal Democrats' Federal Policy Committee I was shut up: it has become politically incorrect to talk about it.
A shift in the spectrum of public debate has been engineered largely by the US extreme religious Right, whose support George W Bush courted during his presidency. Opposing contraception and abortion are key parts of their continuing agenda. And by silence, we are complicit in this shift taking place. Some think silence is the best policy, but it cedes this territory to the Right. Since when has not talking been an effective way to win a debate on anything? The territory of those issues needs to be fought over by vigorous debate. PC should not stand for political correctness, but for population concern.