Should Catholics support population control?
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As Earth approaches 8 billion living persons, questions over how to manage our resources become pressing. Every day, 7.54 billion people eat, drink, produce refuse and waste, and need places to live, work, and relax. And when they have died, space is needed for their remains. How do we meet these needs on a planet with dwindling resources? One radical solution is population control. But is this a moral solution?
Should we support population control to save the planet?
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - In 1798, the English cleric and scholar, Thomas Malthus, published a book, An Essay on the Principle of Population. His purpose was to explain what he understood to be the problem of population growth in a nation. He explained that as food production increases, the population will use the additional food to grow, instead of improving their quality of life. Eventually, the population would outstrip food supplies, causing misery.
His ideas have long informed scientists, philosophers and more. Hollywood popularized his ideas when it produced the famous science fiction movie, Syolent Green, (1973) starring Charlton Heston. Malthus is quoted in the opening credits. In the movie, Earth is overpopulated and people live on top of one another in a perpetual state of misery and hunger.
Simple scientific experiments have also sustained Malthus' ideas. More than one biologist has put mice or rats into a confined space with abundant food, only to see the population explode and descend into chaos and cannibalism as space and food become scarce.
Some warn that humanity will face a similar fate in the near-future, unless drastic measures are taken. They point to global warming and other signs of pending ecological collapse, such as the extinction of many animal species, as evidence. Indeed, the data, including satellite imagery, support their claims that our environment is in crisis.
While it is clear our current trajectory of development is unsustainable, should we impose abortion, contraception, and mass sterilization on people?
The problem with these solutions is they are inherently evil. All human life is sacred, begins at conception, and is formed by the deliberate will of God. We have no right to destroy, or contracept, human life. There are no factors which can mitigate this, not even extreme hardship.
Given these circumstances, how do we proceed?
First, we must deal with the claim that our planet is overpopulated. The most fearful estimates are that our planet can sustain between 10 and 12 billion souls. We are far from that figure still, and will not reach it for several decades. Second, that figure assumes we keep our current means of food and resource production, and ignores the impact of invention and technology.
Already, new technologies are changing the way we produce food, and will soon revolutionize agriculture more than any change since the invention of farming. The greatest change is the development of vertical farming, in which crops can be grown indoors in controlled conditions, in virtually any location on Earth. This means crops can be grown from the frozen reaches of the Arctic to the wastes of the Sahara. Crops can be easily grown in the centers of sprawling cities. The development of these farms, which are more profitable than conventional farms, means the days of sprawling, cultivated farmland are numbered. The vast fields that consume forests and living space, and require massive quantities of water, will eventually become a thing of the past.
Likewise, ranching. The development of "clean meat," or lab-grown meats will revolutionize the ranching industry. Clean, new factories will render obsolete the need to have ranches that cover tens of square miles in many areas. While lab-grown meat will be cheaper and healthier, it will take some time for people to grow accustomed to the product. Its development is being resisted by the ranching industry in the United States, but ultimately, the new will win out over the old.
The adoption of these advancements is inevitable, as it is with all new things that are better and more efficient. The change may take decades, but it will dramatically boost food supplies, boosting the population which can be sustained on Earth.
Likewise, the land once used for farming and ranching will either return to nature, or be available for housing.
Combine this with the decrease in pollution and other social changes, such as the expansion of recycling and the banning of plastics, and our future is far from anything envisioned by Malthus.
Therefore, as Catholics we can comfortably say no to evil without the fear that we are somehow being irresponsible stewards of the Earth.
Our focus then should be on living responsibly, within our means, so long as doing so is moral. We can and should remain staunchly pro-life, and we should not be intimidated by those who cry that the end is near. Surely, long before the Earth passes away, Christ will come again, and that should occupy our minds more than the musings of scientists and governments with unholy agendas.
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