Out of all the topics I discuss here at Life Without a Net, the one I’m most scared of is population growth. Oh, I’ve tackled it here and there, but it’s a tricky subject even within the scientific community. While everyone agrees that the population is growing, that it’s mostly in the third world, and that it represents a serious drain on natural resources, there’s little to no consensus about anything else. When will things get really critical? What can we do about it? Is too much meat the problem? Too much industrialized farming? Too little? And those are the easy questions. What if our growing population is accelerating global warming, and what if some sort of doomsday “synergy” is on the horizon when the two phenomena create a kind of “perfect disaster”?
This year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) featured a series of discussions on these questions. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, there will be 9 billion people on the planet. Said Jason Clay, of the World Wildlife Fund, “we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000.”
Unfortunately, we have two very big obstacles standing squarely between us and any kind of real solution. The first is easy for us skeptics to wrap our brains around — the Catholic Church is the dominant social force in much (most?) of the third world, and they are staunchly opposed to the use of birth control. There’s nothing subtle about this. Not content with localized suffering, as in the case of Mother Teresa’s little enclave, the Catholic Church is hell bent on a prescriptive course that will literally destroy the entire third world.
But the second obstacle is much tougher, and represents a real crisis for people of conscience. It stands at the crossroads between human empathy and sacrifice, where the needs of the many cross swords with the sympathies of the few. (It’s not so unlike the dichotomy between the Christian “culture of life” and the blatant disregard for anything that’s lived past fetal form.)
On one side of the fence, we have a heroic effort to save every single child that comes into the world. Scientists are still working feverishly to cure every early childhood disease out there. Save the Children urges us to send just ten or twenty dollars a month to help a starving child in Ethiopia or Indonesia or Haiti. We’ve all seen the pictures of abject poverty and starvation, and if we have half a heart, we are moved by them.
But there’s another side to the equation, and we who are possessed of conscience don’t like talking about it. Saving every child isn’t especially good for reducing population growth. We’re at a horrible impasse. We can’t talk the Catholic Church out of their barking mad opposition to condoms, and we can’t in good conscience let children die.
To make matters worse, in practically every discussion I’ve entertained on the subject, someone has inevitably interjected something like this: “The problem isn’t lack of food. It’s lack of food in the right places. We have enough money and food in the world to feed everybody comfortably.” Within ten minutes, the thing has usually devolved into a tirade about the evils of socialism, communism, or some other -ism, and everybody’s forgotten that back here in the real world, the food is still not in the places where people are starving.
Frankly, I don’t have all the answers, but I do have two answers that will definitely help. First, we must loudly oppose the Catholic Church. This isn’t an issue of religion. Any organization that opposes population control through condoms deserves ridicule, scorn, derision, and total opposition. Nothing less.
Second, the standard of living in third world communities must be raised across the board. This is tricky business, though. Especially in Africa, the deserts are growing. Arable land is at a premium, and no amount of cash flow can stop the climate changes. Real sustainable wealth requires resources, and the continent is fresh out.
When resources are limited, wealth increases as the population decreases. It’s morbid to say it, but the Black Plague was one of the best things to happen to Europe’s standard of living for a thousand years. As people of conscience, we can’t advocate plague. We are working hard to cure AIDS, and the human body is helping us by creating occasional resistant and immune individuals. And this is all good. So we’re right back to controlling the population at the front end. Fewer babies means fewer people means more resources per person means fewer dying babies means less strain on the earth.
The First World doesn’t have a problem with population. As affluence and education increase, birth rates drop. Sometimes, they drop so low that there’s actually a negative population growth. But you can’t increase affluence when there are too many people. So the population must be reduced. But there’s a juggernaut standing in the way, and riding squarely on its shoulders is the Pope in his souped up Mercedes Popemobile.
The only course of action that makes any immediate sense is ending the Church’s tyrannical dictatorship over the human body. No other choice sits well with a humanitarian. I will choose the well being of a million humans any day over the “right” of a billion sperm to swim unopposed in a human vagina. Call me any name you like, but I will also choose the prosperity of a single adult human over a thousand blastocysts.
The Catholic campaign against adults is unconscionable. It’s killing tens of thousands by starvation, and it’s very likely that it’s dooming your children, gentle First World Reader, to a world with precious few resources for anyone.