Too often, environmentalists seem to see humans as a cancer mutilating the earth’s natural splendor, but the idea that fewer people is the solution to the earth’s woes ignores the incredible creative capacity inherent in the human mind. On June 12th, the Berkeley City Council unanimously voted to declare a state of “climate emergency.” The resolution, introduced by Council Member Cheryl Davila, calls for California governments to “initiate a just local, state, national, and global climate emergency mobilization to restore a safe climate.” The resolution further claims “halting the sixth mass extinction requires an effort to … humanely stabilize population.” This suggestion is only one line in a larger resolution, but it highlights the dangerously misguided thinking within the document.
The report claims that, by 2030, “climate change, population growth, and growing demand for food, energy, and fresh water” will all contribute to an impending “perfect storm of global events.” But human beings are more than faceless input values in a formula; they are distinct and independent individuals with inherent value. Human beings are not stray branches on a hedge in need of pruning; they are unique and unrepeatable beings, each created with dignity and purpose. Pope Francis, in an address in Myanmar in 2017, said that people are the “greatest treasure” and resource in solving national problems. This also applies to environmental issues. Human ingenuity has brought us solar panels, biomass technologies, windmills, and more. This is not a anthropocentric version of the Marxist notion of the inevitable Geist of history, merely a reminder that human beings are individuals with the ability to reason and solve problems through invention and innovation.
Fears of overpopulation and consequent mass extinction are not new. In the 19th century, Thomas Malthus argued the earth would run out of food by 1850 because human population increases in “a quick geometric ratio,” and food in “a slow arithmetical ratio.” Malthus warned that, without enacting “preventative checks,” (birth control, postponement of marriage, sterilization) nature would be forced to impose “positive checks” on humanity (famine, disease) in order to control the population. Richard Cantillon, a predecessor of Malthus, wrote that “men multiply like mice in a barn if they have unlimited means of subsistence.” Many people after Malthus have projected similar disasters, like Paul Ehrlich in his book, The Population Bomb. Much like the Mayan calendar apocalypse predictors, Ehrlich and his fellow doomsayers have been proven wrong again and again. Nonetheless, the myth of the neo-Malthusian population bomb persists in popular culture, despite declining birth rates across the developed world.
We are called to be good stewards of the earth and we should do our utmost to preserve and cultivate the gift that we have been given. But to thin out the human population in the name of “a climate-resilient society” would be the very definition of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The world was created for God’s glory and, as John Piper wrote, humans are made “to see [the world] and be stunned by it and glorify God because of it.” The idea that human beings need to stop having so many darn kids in order to save the planet from Armageddon denies our vocation to participate in God’s will that we “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth” with human beings created in His image.
We should focus on using our human intellect to preserve the planet God made for us, rather than flirting with government population control.
(Photo Credit: US Navy, Public Domain)