By Edd Doerr | 12 November 2014
Americans for Religious Liberty journal, Voice of Reason
Hope on Earth: A Conversation, by Paul R. Ehrlich and Michael Charles Tobias. University of Chicago Press, 2014, 188 pp, $20.00.
Philosophy for a Better World, by Floris van den Berg. Prometheus Books, 2014, 293 pp, $23.00.
The Family Planning Fiasco: How the Vatican Subverted Family Planning in the Developing World, by Dieter Ehrhardt. Copydruck Roth Wuerzburg, 2014, 219 pp.
Climate change is real and threatens us all. It is linked to atmospheric carbon dioxide buildup, fossil fuel overuse, environmental degradation, resource depletion, toxic waste accumulation, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion and nutrient loss, biodiversity shrinkage, and increasing sociopolitical instability and violence. All this, in turn, is linked to human overpopulation, tripled since 1945 to well over 7 billion. The overpopulation problem was spelled out in the US government’s 1975 National Security Study Memorandum 200 report, signed by President Gerald Ford and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. The NSSM 200 report, mysteriously classified and buried until 1989, recommended universal access to contraception and noted that overpopulation could not be reined in without widespread legalization of abortion. The report noted that about 30 million abortions were performed each year worldwide, most of them illegal and dangerous. Alan Weisman’s 2013 book Countdown (reviewed in Americans for Religious Liberty’s journal Voice of Reason, No.126) reported that the annual world abortion figure is now 40 million. For details on the NSSM 200 report see VOR issues No. 41 (Spring 1992) and 50 (Summer 1994), accessible online at arlinc.org.
All three of these books deal with the overpopulation issue. Environmental scientists Paul Ehrlich, author of the important 1968 book The Population Bomb, and Michael Charles Tobias put much of the blame for inaction on the Vatican. Ehrlich writes that the main source of opposition to contraception “is that of the Vatican and its bishops. Yet Catholics use contraception as much as non-Catholics, and they have abortions with even higher frequency. But the reason that the hierarchy fights against both is that the higher-ups don’t want to admit that the Protestants and Jews were right.” He adds that the “God-fearing” people’s “rigid opposition to something so basic, so critical to the future of life on Earth, as controlling reproduction [is] just as unethical as any major affront to the environment or terrorist act. They’re working to kill people – women who need safe abortion now, and our descendants who are likely to have much higher death rates related to the decay of human life-support systems as a consequence of overpopulation. The pope and many of the bishops are one of the truly evil, regressive forces on the planet, in my opinion, interested primarily in maintaining their power.”
Strong stuff, that. A great many Catholics and others are hoping that Pope Francis will do the right thing for our planet, rescind Pope Paul VI’s 1968 ban on contraception that was promulgated in defiance of the advice of the overwhelming majority of his own advisers.
Dutch philosopher and ethicist Floris van den Berg agrees with Ehrlich and Tobias on the importance of dealing with the overpopulation issue. But beyond that he proposes an ethical system, called “universal subjectivism”, that “can be adopted by anyone regardless of religious or philosophical orientation”. He is concerned with the sustainability of our environment and offers practical advice. “Eating lower on the food chain, by eating cereal and vegetables, instead of feeding these to animals as feed and eating the animals, is much more efficient in the use of water, food and energy…. Voluntary reduction of the ecological footprint (voluntary simplicity) is a moral duty, not just a nonobligatory choice.”
Dieter Ehrhardt, a retired official of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and later the UN Fund for Population Activities, with years of experience in the West Indies and Africa, brings his informed perspective to this issue. He praises Catholic theologian Hans Kung and Catholic officials, such as Vatican demographer Rev. Arthur McCormack, who defied the Vatican on contraception, but hits the Vatican hard for its obstinate opposition to progress in slowing population growth. He cites Carl Bernstein’s report that with regard to the 1984 UN Mexico City conference, “In response to concerns of the Vatican, the Reagan Administration agreed to alter its foreign aid program to comply with the church’s teaching on birth control.” Bernstein reported in Time magazine on February 24, 1992, that Reagan’s top advisers, such as Secretary of State Alexander Haig, “regarded the US-Vatican relationship as a holy alliance: the moral force of the Pope and the teachings of their church combined with the American notion of democracy.”
Ehrhardt’s book so far has been published in only a limited printing in Germany and awaits an American publisher. It was reviewed favorably in the No. 3 issue of Conscience, the quite excellent journal of Catholics for Choice. Ehrhardt is one of the few who point out the enormous importance of bureaucratic enertia by big governments for new directions of decision making such as increasing funding for international family planning, and with his lifting of the ban the Pope should encourage immediate funding increases by donor governments. It is too late for the world to afford slow movement in this regard – too much is at stake for mankind.
Overpopulation and climate change are top priority issues that will not go away.
National Geographic – Living Among the Dead
Chatting with Paul Ehrlich
Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?
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