New Pope’s Environmentalism? Try Again. ~ Lauren Acquaviva

Via elephant journal
on Mar 22, 2013
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Source: via Evan on Pinterest

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.

Source: via Lynn on Pinterest

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.

Image: Liz Populational
Image: Liz Populational

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.”

Source: via Mikayla on Pinterest

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 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


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One Response to “New Pope’s Environmentalism? Try Again. ~ Lauren Acquaviva”

  1. Lauren says:

    I wanted to share a comment from my friend Peter, Director of Sustainability at the Kiski school. He commented on my link of this to Facebook, and his comments are an excellent commentary on and expansion of what I wrote above.

    "I have several immediate thoughts, Lester Brown and Paul Ehrlich are likely to agree with you that population is the biggest threat. More people de facto means more consumption so long as resources are available to support those people. Girl's and women's level of education correlates with birth rates – the more years a girl/woman spends in school the fewer children she will have. However, as she acquires more skills and can do more things, her affluence and its concomitant use of technologies and energy goes up too. Her individual footprint could, over time, become more than her unborn children's would have been. That isn't automatic but it is a goal of education. So though population is the simplest modifier, it may not actually be the most important.

    The biosphere could support 7 billion Ugandans with no danger of global resource overshoot. Of course their would be localized overshoots. There always have been. However, the typical Ugandan ecological footprint is a fraction of an American's, western European's, Japanese', Korean's, Aussie's, and all us "developed" people's. They eat less than we do. Their food is less processed than ours. They drive, fly, and ride buses less than we do. The total fuel and energy inputs into them is vastly less than ours. We can make this list go on and on. True, many of them live in conditions that we cannot imagine living in either because they are horrifying – war, child slavery, rape cultures, etc – or because we lack the imagination to think we COULD live with much less and be happy. Of course, Uganda is as much a part of our global economy as any peripheral and exploited country. So how about a different example?

    It's easy enough to change this to a typical Costa Rican. Costa Ricans are the happiest on Earth, live longer than Americans, and their footprints are 1/4 of ours (2.2 hectares per person) which is right on the line for a globally equal allotment. They are also at about 1/2 of a typical western European. Make all those "developed" people consume that way and we would not be in overshoot right now. All this is to say that consumption is at least as important as population. What's it mean?

    I think the discussion has to be on limits. And sad as it may be to say, the Catholic Church has railed against consumption for decades. Pope John Paul II talked about the dangers of materialism for his entire time as the pontiff. So did Benedict. The trappings of western/northern consumer culture and its focus on the subjugation of people and the planet for the purposes of increasing power do at least as much damage as simply adding people. We need an integrated strategy that a) limits births through many systems of incentives and disincentives, b) limits consumption per person, and c) enacts serious environmental and technological limits through the exercise of the precautionary principle.

    If we had 2 billion people living something like Swedes and Costa Ricans, what a world that would be."