Population Explosion – a time to act
Colin Jarvis, a supporter of Population Matters and Friends of the Earth, sent in some thoughts for discussion. This issue will also be addressed soon in Green Christian magazine.
When I was a student in Bristol during the early 1970s I noticed a simple campaign message outside Bristol Cathedral – ‘LIVE SIMPLY SO OTHERS MAY SIMPLY LIVE’. It neatly outlined the action we should aspire to and it linked into developing concern for the environment at the time. Living simply would mean using fewer resources such as materials and energy. Its simple message combines consideration for others whilst living more ‘lightly’ on the planet.
If ever we could achieve a utopia with more or less equal use of resources needed to live, we still could not escape a fundamental issue; excessive population. It undermines anything sustainable that we do. Eventually as more and more people are living in the world, a finite planet will remind us of just that. We cannot outgrow our planet earth and yet this is exactly what is happening. There are too many births.
When I was born in 1953, the world population was approximately 2.5 billion. Now, it is almost 3 times that size, over 7.2 billion. Sir David Attenborough, well-known naturalist and Population Matters patron sums it up: “All environmental problems become harder and ultimately impossible to solve with ever more people”. As long ago as 1969 U Thant, former Secretary General of the UN recognised the problem developing when he warned the world of the arms race and the population explosion. The warning was left unheeded and we are paying the price today.
Many countries, the African nations in particular, are experiencing difficulties now in their ability to support the population they have. The population of Africa is expected to grow four fold this century unless starvation and conflict prevent this. One result is mass migration. There is worse predicted, as Climate Change really takes hold. It is a pitiful sight to see migrants making difficult journeys, but most are fleeing their countries because they have been hit by droughts, food shortages, lack of work and conflict. When it is closely studied Climate Change has been found to be an aggravating factor along with their population size in many cases. These countries cannot support the sheer numbers of people, and it all becomes unsustainable and states fail.
Surely family planning and contraception on a large scale is needed but this may be difficult for some cultures and faiths. However, it might offer the only viable response to the need to reduce growth in population. In 2012, a Royal Commission report stated that 222 million women in developing countries do not have access to family planning; improving education opportunities for women is also known to reduce family size.
It is a mistake to think that we can escape the effects closer to home. Already the burgeoning population in the UK is creating an unsustainable demand for housing, and leading to overcrowding in hospitals, surgeries and schools. Last year our population grew by almost half a million people to 64.6 million and looks like reaching 70 million by 2020. The growth is caused by net migration and net births.
Obviously we all need food but already we cannot grow enough to feed our existing population and approximately 40% is imported. We are deluding ourselves if we think that we can go on relying on other countries to sell us their food. These countries themselves will need their food to feed their growing populations.
A major UN climate report IPCC 2014 stated that climate change was already affecting food supply and suggested that wheat yields will drop initially by 2% per decade but could be as much as 25% down by the 2030s. There are recent warnings from the UN that global food demand will push prices up by 10% to 40% over the coming decades. Our food security is also compromised by building houses on farmland. All across the country many acres of food growing land are being built on. House building is one of the most visible aspects of a rising population. It is laughable to hear politicians saying that immigration has nothing to do with the demand; the high birth rate, immigration and people living longer all contribute to the demand for new houses. We surely must question just how secure and environmentally sustainable we really are with such huge issues with our population.
The chief executive of Population Matters Simon Ross said “This growth will put enormous pressure on housing, services, utilities, amenities and biodiversity. If we are serious about sustainability, slowing population growth is a good place to start”.
So what can be done? We need commitment and action to lower net migration and promote smaller families. That will mean restrictions on immigration and tax incentives for having smaller families for example. Doing nothing is not an option because when we lose farmland to housing, rising seas and flooding, those supermarket shelves might not look like they do now. We might feel over whelmed by the global scale of the problem. However, we can write to our MP to suggest a higher amount of aid for example goes into family planning in developing countries. We can debate the issues and educate ourselves too. Our attitudes to family size need to adjust to a changing world. Christians and people of goodwill will be faced with dilemmas which will touch the core of their beliefs. The only way forward I think is to consider sustainability in all of our decisions. Is my decision going to leave the planet in the same state or better or will it leave the planet in a worse state for future generations, in other words are you compromising their future to survive?
After 40 years, that message on the banner in Bristol is no longer enough for ourselves and the planet. It is very much a challenge for people of all religions and goodwill to recognise that population growth must be taken seriously and co-ordinated action taken now.
Comments on "Population Explosion – a time to act"
Not one of the replies about population explosion which I have read mentions the fact that most of us are living far too long. I am now 79 years old, but would have died from appendicitis at the age of twelve. In fact, I would probably never have been born at all, because my mother had the same condition at the age of fifteen. But here I am still cluttering up the planet, depending on theNHS to keep me alive. As one horrible disease is conquered by the abuse of millions of animals (many of whom are bred specifically for the purpose) another even worse disease rears its ugly head. Surely the answer is not simply a matter of birth control, important though it is, but we seem to want to live for ever.
I have yet to hear any Catholic give a practical solution to overpopulation. What does this pope (who seems to be more in touch than many recent popes) say, I wonder?
Further to Colin Jarvis' letter regarding Population Growth. It is great to find Christians discussing the important issue of population and its consequences for sustainable living on the Earth. I agree with Sally and Melanie that the vast majority of people I meet do not 'feel' for the future of the Planet ..... and unfortunately many Christians fall into this category. Indeed in Green Circles it is often said metaphorically that 'people have ' lost contact with the Earth '. Rob Bell, the American Pastor, has launched a set of e-courses to help people re-energise their 'spiritual experience' of life. For me, this approach could be a way forward as it might re-kindle Christians connection with the natural world and help them realise the important part they can play in conserving God's beautiful creation. The e-courses are available at www.oprah.com for those are interested in considering new ideas. Andrew Tinsley
A few very good points but as with many topical subjects there are deeper issues . Farmers are having to diversify with land rather than producing crop due to the supermarkets buying power and lack of government intervention to set decent guidelines ensuring the farmers are making a profit. Land is being turned into houses instead of crop. Milk yield!!!!! How can any buinessman (farmer) run at a loss? As for biodiversity pfft sorry but once again the government let farmers down. Bio fuel was a relisten way forward for many farmers to grow on their land but we sold out our bio plants to the Chinese for pennies so once again it left farmers with little options. Do we as consumers really look at what we are buying and eating? I think not . We could be vigilant in supporting local grown produce but we are a predominately lazy culture who find supermarket shopping easier regardless of the fact the majority of food is imported. Schools rarely promote farming and gardening which leaves future generations with no idea about how and where their food could and should come from. How many students in schools have working allotments or school farms? If we do not teach our children in tge beginning are we not failing them for the future? Over population and under sustainability has long been an issue and will continue to worsen until we follow a basic path of education . Knowledge is power and knowledge builds more knowledge. To be ignorant due to lack of knowledge is the fault of previous students not being taught. We can change if we teach change surely that is a simple task ?
Hi Ian, thanks for your comments. I am not a Catholic but I think you are mixing up the teaching against abortion within the Catholic church with that about contraception. As most forms of contraception act prior to conception occurring (leaving aside abortion as a form of contraception which it sadly is in some parts of the world) the question is not about the soul within the embryo. I'm not sure exactly what is the basis of the teaching on contraception; I do know that 'natural' methods of contraception are allowed, meaning the rhythm method (not the most effective form of contraception known however!) so in theory, contraception is already allowed. I like your idea that this theology could be effectively challenged sooner or later from within the Catholic Church. I wonder if there is already a group within Catholicism calling for a change in the teaching on contraception. I would be surprised if there wasn't.
sectarian and could do some careful responsible thinking?
I agree with some of what Colin Jarvis says about population, but feel he has skipped the hardest question. Firstly it seems beyond doubt that if the containment of climate change occurs in time, it will have to occur within the 21st century. In this regard it will make a very great difference if we have 8 billion urban people later in the century or 9 billion. To have an extra billion people, many poorly educated and possibly unemployable, would be an enormous encouragement to all our worst nightmares of massive destruction of the biosphere, and vast violence being unleashed. So I very much agree with Colin’s commitment to warning about this. But in writing for a green Christian audience he avoids the most difficult question: the biggest Christian Church in the world is undoubtedly Roman Catholicism. And what is to be done about De Humanae Vitae – the encyclical from 1968 which forbids artificial birth control? Firstly am I correct in thinking that the position of the Church on this derives from their doctrine that the human soul enters into the new embryo at the moment of conception? If so, we have a hard problem: it is as plain as noonday that the Church will flatly refuse to discuss evidence against this doctrine. To admit that it might not be true would be institutional suicide. So what could be done? My proposal is that the church be urged to set up a committee of thinking people to firstly set out the theological steps that led to the conclusion of De humanae Vitae; I don’t think that encyclical itself does this. The next question is to examine whether perhaps the step in going from their doctrines to their conclusion wasn’t perhaps over zealous? That perhaps a way could be found to keep their doctrines, but not come to Pope Paul VI’s conclusion? For contrary to how unthinking critics imply, the church’s doctrine on infallibility is not so silly as to claim that no Pope has ever erred. It can accept that, and indeed its acceptance that Galileo was wrongly put on trial amounts to such acceptance of the Pope in 1637. So it may not be totally impossible that they could retrieve the situation. Maybe the green-Christian movement could assemble a group who are not stupidly
I think you are right to allude to the fact that this issue is either a long way down most people's agendas and if they have (like me) had their children when they begin to appreciate the problem, it's too late. Also, thinking more globally we don't want to label people as 'unthinking' when having children in some places is an economic necessity, is culturally important and there may be no contraception available anyway. It's certainly true though that, in our culture, environmental aspects of family size are rarely discussed - though is occasionally mentioned. Maybe awareness is changing in the younger generation....any young people reading this??? Can you comment?
I agree with Sally, there are far, far too many people who either don't care about the future or don't even think about it. You only have to look around the immediate area where I live and the "non thinkers" outnumber us 5:1 So far no amount of talking has made the slightest difference, they either look at you blank or just brush it off.
Colin's item suggests that it is "Time To Act" on population growth. The questions I struggle with are how should I as a "Green Christian" act to try to live more sustainably and how can Green Christians help promote sustainabilty at home and in the wider world? There is much we can do to live more sustainably. The resource use of a person living in the more economically developed world is typically many times that of somebody living in an economically less developed country. In richer countries there is much to be done to reduce the environmental impact of our unsustainable lifestyle. While we in the UK enjoy our consumer lifestyle it is unjust to argue against improving standards of living in the economically less developed world. News coverage of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean and the desperation of migrants camping in the sand dunes outside Calais are a challenge to all Christians - how do we love our neighbours as ourselves? As with so many real-life issues it seems there are not any easy answers but here are a few questions of my own: The controls on immigration into the UK do not reduce the world's population so should this be the main focus for "action"? When population grows because fewer people die young in economically less developed countries isn't that a good thing? How should you (or I, or we) "act" to persuade people on the other side of the world to have smaller families? ..and one more - What would Jesus do? I disagree with Sally about "thinking people". I know there are many many thinking people in the world, including Green Christians, who do give a damn about the future.
Colin Jarvis sets out the truth very succinctly. The trouble is, you have to be a 'thinking' person to absorb the message and, sadly, the world is full of 'non-thinkers' who couldn't give a damn about the future. Which is exactly why we're in such a mess now.
This commentary is exactly right. I lived for some time in Africa and over a forty year period observed that however much the economy of the "developing" countries developed, the population developed faster, leaving increasing numbers of human beings afflicted by abject poverty. Now these people know through modern social media that they have been betrayed by their leaders and by us. It is also selfish in our own society to cause the population to grow, as that exacerbates the exhaustion of finite resources and the production of carbon dioxide and methane which many scientists cite as the cause of global warming. We must gradually reduce our population, rich as well as poor if in the long term humans are to live in harmony with the rest of life on earth and not extinguish it and ourselves.
Sadly this clearly reflects the major problem that we have for the future of our families and our world as we know it.