Pope Francis, recently appointed in the wake of Pope Benedict’s resignation, addressed climate change in his first sermon as the leader of the Catholic Church.
In it, he said:
“…let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”
His predecessor Pope Benedict also spoke of environmental causes and the need for addressing climate change and indicating that “creation is under threat.”
Excuse my skepticism, but I find it difficult to take these statements seriously, coming from the figurehead of a church that has fought to curtail reproductive choices and rights since its inception.
Overpopulation is the single greatest threat to our environment.
Over seven billion of us inhabit this relatively small planet, and our resources are limited. As per the Wikipedia definition,
“Overpopulation can result from an increase in births, a decline in mortality rates, an increase in immigration, or an unsustainable biome and depletion of resources.”
It’s a direct link, too. More people equals more consumption, more consumption equals more degradation of our fragile environment. Our other environmental concerns (fossil fuels, meat consumption, carbon emissions, deforestation, factory farm runoff, to name a few) are all predicated on the number of people on this planet.
The simplest and cheapest method to combat the destruction of our environment is to curtail the growth of our population.
The idea of population control became unpopular when linked with the decidedly inhumane tactics of India and China in the 1970s and 80s, but it’s time to bring the conversation back, in a compassionate and meaningful way.
Beyond coercive methods of population control that violate basic human rights, the only option available to us is birth control. Condoms, pills, IUD’s, spermicides, diaphragms…the choices are many. Make those choices available to most of the world’s population, and the birth rate will decrease accordingly.
Condoms have the added (or perhaps primary) benefit of protecting against sexually transmitted diseases—a scourge of illnesses ranging from Herpes to AIDS that affect people in every country and from all walks of life. Such diseases are devastating personally, and costly to treat.
“It is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about” said Professor John Guillebaud, co-chair of the Optimum Population Trust. “Unless we reduce the human population humanely through family planning, nature will do it for us through violence, epidemics or starvation.”
Professor Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey, voiced similar concern: “So if we believe that the size of the human ‘footprint’ is a serious problem—and there is much evidence for this—then a rational view would be that along with a raft of measures to reduce the footprint per person, the issue of population management must be addressed.”
In different terms, humans now use approximately 20 percent more resources than can be replaced, each year.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, because scientists believe that it is possible to support seven billion people on the planet, or more. But not preferable, or ideal, or healthy, or humane.
According to the New York Times,
“Nearly half the world lives on $2 a day, or less. In China, the figure is 36 percent; in India, 76 percent. More than 800 million people live in slums. “
In addition, “Some 850 million to 925 million people experience food insecurity or chronic undernourishment.”
And births? “Of the 208 million pregnancies in 2008, about 86 million were unintended, and they resulted in 33 million unplanned births.”
While unplanned births aren’t the whole problem, they’re the part of the problem that’s easiest to tackle though widespread availability of and education about condoms.
The Catholic Church, however, emphatically does not approve. Well, they approve of condoms to prevent AIDS, but not to prevent pregnancy (and when you can logic that one out, please let me know).
Perhaps if the church spent some of the resources they devote to spreading Catholicism in the developing world on distributing contraceptives, educating people in their correct use, and combating those governments that seek to limit reproductive choices, the Pope’s words about climate change would have more meaning.
Perhaps if the church advocated for the rights of the people of the world, rather than contributing to campaigns to limit them, the message of protecting living beings and God’s creation would ring true.
Full disclosure: I do not believe in God…but I do believe in ahimsa, and in honoring life. I honor other people by advocating for their right to make choices and pursue happiness. I honor animals by treating them with compassion. I honor this earth we’ve found ourselves on by attempting to limit my destruction of it.
I hope that with a new pope, and an ever-younger church population with expanding views of morality and justice, the Catholic Church can begin to use its immense power and resources to implement real, lasting, dramatic change in the world.
And they can start with condoms.
Lauren Acquaviva is a beginner in life: parenting, writing, yoga, loving, and learning from the ground up, with an eye towards mindfulness and compassion. She writes for the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and on her blog The Grateful Life. She’s on Facebook and loves to have lengthy debates with strangers.
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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger