Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Earth to Earthlings: Your Birthing Disorder Must End

It’s time to reiterate my post of April 3, 2007, “Global Birthing Fuels Global Warming,” but with new data and a more pointed thrust. Key points were:

1. For decades, population growth has continuously outpaced our technological ability to produce and deliver a long list of basic necessities to every person on earth.

2. Obvious remedy: “reduce the pace of adding bodies to the planet until we learn how sustain the lives of the ones we already have.”

3. Chief obstacle: refusing to factor climate change into its opposition to “artificial contraception,” the Catholic Church today is the primary global proponent of overpopulation, thereby giving population growth mistaken priority over planetary survival.

A recent column by Neal Peirce of the Washington Post and the Center for Local and State Solutions raises the question: is any growth in world population compatible with halting catastrophic climate change?

Peirce’s column is available at

Peirce was reporting on a global Urban Summit, assembled by the Rockefeller Foundation at the start of July in Bellagio, Italy. He highlighted presentations by Joel Cohen, head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller and Columbia Universities, and by Stephen Shepherd and colleagues at Williams College.

Cohen’s analysis:

World population in 1950: 2.2 billion, spread mostly across rural areas.

World population today: 6.6 billion, half crowded into cities characterized increasingly by slums, endangered water and sewer systems, local misery and potential pandemics.

World population by 2050 at present birthrates: 11.7 billion.

Even if we reduced birthrates and added only 2.5 billion people by 2050: the world will have to build one city of 1 million every week for the next 43 years.

Does anyone imagine that is remotely possible?

Novel techniques used by Sheppard and his colleagues yielded even more dire conclusions about specific cities. Comparing Landsat satellite images of 120 world cities taken in 1990 and 2000, and matching the images with census data from each city, they were able to pinpoint a very troubling pattern of growth.

The most significant pattern is not the increase of slum-dwellers in the city centers, but the exponentially greater relentless expansion of urban peripheries. Comparing “infill” of the space inside existing cities with “outspill” that expanded the cities’ geographic areas, they found seven times more outspill.

For example, just to keep pace with current rates, Sao Paolo, Brazil, would have to add 7.5 square miles of new development every year. Shanghai would have to add twice as much.

Debate about whether public policy should prefer infill or outspill has been going on in major U. S. cities for decades. Sheppard’s analysis suggests, however, that no matter how much we make it a priority to improve the quality of life in city centers, global population pressures will keep pushing cities to enlarge their limits exponentially faster.

It is painfully obvious that technology is nowhere near an ability to handle the additional global warming that will result if we attempt to provide food, water, sewers, waste disposal, electricity, air conditioning, transportation, flood control etc. to such rapidly expanding cities. The Minnesota bridge collapse left no doubt: even the richest country on earth cannot keep up with the infrastructure maintenance and repair required to sustain the cities it already has. There is no way we can bite off more.

Overpopulation contributes negatively to global warming more directly and immediately than any other human activity. Until technology catches up enough to provide basic necessities without making global warming worse, the burden is on those who favor population growth to show how any increase in global population can be justified—scientifically, politically or morally.

According to Genesis 1:28 (Jerusalem Bible translation), God’s injunction to humanity’s first parents was “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth…” Measured by global warming and the very direct ways that population growth worsens it, the earth today is beyond the number of humans it can accommodate. We must ask ourselves seriously if the humanity can survive unless we begin taking steps to put the global population on hold.

It’s news to no one that there are acts of sexual coupling that are not open to the reproduction of children—and that those which biologically can produce offspring are still subject to responsible human control. In light of global warming, insisting that there is some divine or “natural law” mandate that every sexual act must be open to the creation of new life is utter nonsense. Even the Catholic Church has recognized that human sexuality has other ends. At this point in the evolution of our planet, those other ends need to be given higher priority—and be valued more highly—than having offspring.

Perhaps the nations of the world need to consider if the Chinese were not onto something when they provided disincentives to having large families. The Chinese policy was too draconian in content and execution. But already with the largest national population in the world, they were first to recognize what is becoming more obvious globally: there are finite limits to a population size that technology and the planet can sustain.

If nothing else, nations might want to ask if using tax laws to encourage more children is any longer a defendable idea. At the very least, no concrete decision to increase global population should ever be applauded as fashionable, patriotic, ecologically sound or even preserving the human race. At this point in history, population growth accomplishes nothing positive.

The planet is telling us that our natural instinct to perpetuate our families has been perverted into a birthing disorder. Either we eliminate it, or it will eliminate us.

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