For over half a century, the population control movement has waged war on human fertility. Its ranks now include major international organizations like the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Population Fund, as well as the foreign aid bureaucracies of most of the wealthy countries of the world. Billions of dollars are at its disposal.
For those who believe in this agenda, population growth is the root of mankind’s problems. They claim that more people equals less . . . of everything: Prosperity, food supply, economic growth, social order. To hear them tell it, all the earth’s real and imagined woes—from too little food and fresh water to too much pollution of air and water—are a result of the same cause. They claim—wrongly—that the planet we call home is simply too crowded.
Pope Benedict XVI made the case for people in his recent encyclical, Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate), writing that “to consider population increase as the primary cause of underdevelopment is mistaken, even from an economic point of view” (no. 44). The Pope criticized “non-governmental organizations [that] work actively to spread abortion, at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries, in some cases not even informing the women concerned. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked to specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures” (no. 28).
For consistently defending human life, the Church in general and Pope Benedict XVI in particular are blamed for causing governments to shy away from taking the “overpopulation problem” more seriously. What population control activists fail to understand is that the Church’s stance is supported by hard science and not “just” traditional morality.
Science has shown that reducing the number of babies born does not in itself solve political, economic, or environmental problems. Rather, reducing births often creates grave problems. Take Social Security and Medicare, for example. In the United States and other industrialized countries, these programs are difficult to sustain unless each generation of taxpaying workers is larger than the one that went before it.
This is exactly the problem that we face now. Those who would reduce our numbers also forget that people are ingenious producers and problem-solvers, not just inert consumers.
In fact, population growth has been the primary driver of progress throughout history. Innovators and entrepreneurs can be drawn to extract resources and to produce and distribute more goods in ways that sustain the natural environment and contribute to human development. At the end of this creative process you will have more goods available at lower prices—precisely because of population growth.
People need to be understood as the answer to problems, and not the cause of all problems. Through efforts supporting sustainable development and economic growth, environmental indicators will also improve. As the late Julian Simon often remarked, children born today will lead longer, healthier lives than ever before. They will live in a world where vast tracts of land have been set aside to preserve their natural beauty, and where the ugly scars of early industrialization have largely been healed. The world is not an overcrowded human ark, but it is—as it was designed to be—a beautiful horn of plenty. And people, the pinnacle of creation, are the ultimate resource.
Steven W. Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of Population Control: Real Costs and Illusory Benefits (Transaction Press, 2008). He is the host of the EWTN series, “Promoting the Culture of Life around the World,” and frequently testifies before the U.S. Congress on population and human rights issues. This article appears in the USCCB Respect Life Program for 2010. For more information visit: www.pop.org