Everyone with whom I have spoken this week seemed very pleased, as was I, that Pope Francis published a new Encyclical calling on the world to do something about global climate change and environmental destruction--to "care about our common home." But, I was also disappointed (albeit not surprised) that he chose to set aside any concerns about population growth. Here is what the Pope writes on pp. 35-36:
Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development” [with a reference to an internal church document]. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.It is genuinely unfortunate that he fails to see that the very same science on which he is relying for his opinions about destroying the environment is the science that gave us the death control technology that has propelled population growth. These are not separate issues--they are two sides of the same coin. Just as we no longer live in a Biblical ecological environment, we no longer have a Biblical need to be fruitful and multiply beyond two children per woman.
And, of course, as I discuss in Chapter 11 of my text, we can support a larger population if everyone is willing to dramatically lower their level of living. While this is consistent with Christian teaching, and seems essentially to be the Pope's overall message, it is not the path that most humans seem to want to take. Limiting population growth, and limiting the production and consumption of animals would both be much more beneficial paths for the future.