We must make contraception and abortion universally legal and available

By Edd Doerr | Summer 2014
Americans for Religious Liberty

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. (Source: ‘1992 World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’ / Union of Concerned Scientists)

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, Henry Holt, 2014, 319 pp, $28. This review will appear in the next Americans for Religious Liberty journal. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Virtually no one thought that biological species could become extinct until the 1790s when French scientist Georges Cuvier showed that mammoths and mastodons were indeed extinct animals and not merely odd sorts of long dead elephants. In the ensuing years the science of the matter caught on and even influenced Darwin’s thinking. We now know that over the past 450 million years there have been five major extinctions, each one wiping out the vast majority of animal and plant species, the last event being the meteor strike in the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago that resulted in the end of the dinosaurs and subsequent rise of mammals and primates.

Science writer Elizabeth Kolbert relates this fascinating story in abundant, readable, scientific detail, showing how and why extinctions occur and explaining how geological, climate, and biological evolutions are inextricably intertwined. Finally, she shows convincingly that we are in the early stages of a sixth major extinction and that we humans are the main cause of it. She concludes that “we, too, will eventually be undone by our ‘transformation of the ecological landscape.’ . . . By disrupting these [biological and geochemical] systems – cutting down tropical rainforests, altering the composition of the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans – we’re putting our own survival in danger.” She leaves no doubt that we humans have been irresponsibly accelerating climate change, environmental degradation and essential biodiversity at an increasing rate.

Curiously, however, the author does not discuss human overpopulation, which is a major force driving our assault on our one and only environment. As I have often noted, scientists for at least 60 years or so have been calling attention to this problem, while world population has grown from 2.5 billion or so after World War II to over 7 billion today. And since she neglects to discuss overpopulation, she does not get around to pinning the tail on the donkeys responsible for our excessive population growth, the religious leaders and others who refuse to go along with or even acknowledge the recommendations of the Ford administration in 1975 that access to contraception and abortion be universal.

Humanity’s fate hangs on our willingness to recognize the problem and work on solving it by moving to clean energy, conservation, providing more education and freedom for women (which is not only right but also greatly lowers birth rates), and making contraception and abortion universally legal and available.

Edd Doerr was president of the American Humanist Association from 1995 to 2003, serving previously as vice-president and board chair under Isaac Asimov from 1985 to 1991. He has been executive director and then president of Americans for Religious Liberty since 1982. A former teacher of history and Spanish, he is the author, co-author, editor, or translator of twenty books, mostly on religious liberty and reproductive rights. He served on the governing body of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice from 1973 until 2004 and on the boards of NARAL, the ACLU of Maryland, and the National Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty. More than 3,000 of his articles, columns, reviews, and letters have been published in The Humanist and many other publications. For over ten years he has been writing a column in the journal Free Inquiry from the Council for Secular Humanism.

Professor Milton Siegel, who for 24 years was the Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization, speaks to Dr. Stephen Mumford in 1992 to reveal that although there was a consensus that overpopulation was a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future, the Vatican successfully fought off the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

Population growth as an issue has been given short shrift for several decades. Robert Engelman, president of Worldwatch Institute, outlines the reasons in this clip from an interview filmed for the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. To order the film or find a screening near you, visit www.growthbusters.org.

Last Call: The Untold Reasons of the Global Crisis is a film that shows the urgency of the message of warning launched by the authors of the most controversial book of the past 40 years: The Limits to Growth.

Critical Mass is a feature documentary about the impact of human population growth and consumption on the planet and on our psychology.

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