Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Catholic Understanding of the Population Problem

Disagreements on population issues are about 300 years old. And knowing the truth on these controversial issues is not easy, since much of what is accepted as fact is not supported by honest and objective research.  The Catholic Peace Weekly, in its series of articles on the culture of life, discusses the issue of overpopulation in a recent article.

The writer tells us that the debate on birth control came to the fore toward the end of the 18th century, with the beginning of the industrial revolution in England. Dependence on workers gave way to the use of machinery, and the discussion began on what is gained or lost with an increase in population. Most experts agreed that we had a problem of too many people and this had to be dealt with by restraining births. So 'birth control' came to mean suppressing births. The refrain often heard was "the food supply was increasing mathematically while the population was increasing geometrically.

In 1945, the recommendations of the UN  Population Council  spread to the developed countries and into the political and economic thinking of the world. International meetings were held to discuss the merits of suppressing births to raise the underdeveloped countries out of poverty. This interest continued with the book, published by the Rome Club, "The Limits of Growth," in 1972, which led to Korea's efforts to decrease population.
Population policy, the columnist says, originally had to do with the efforts of individual countries trying to solve the problems dealing with the quantity and quality of life within each country. It involved not only births, but also deaths and migration. But starting in 1960, it was primarily the reductions of births that was a concern. Ironically, the countries that accepted this thinking are now dealing with the fear of a decrease in population, lack of workers, and aging. 

It is not the poor countries of the world that have seriously harmed the world's environment, says the columnist, but the rich countries with their excessive production and consumption.  Looking back,  it is readily seen  the dangers from  the population increase predicted by  politicians and experts  were  greatly exaggerated.

Experts in the Catholic Church  have made it clear the  dire predictions were not based on a careful understanding of the facts.  The columnist goes on to say that though there are understandable problems with overpopulation in some areas of the world, this should not be handled artificially and with force, but with education. Families should be helped to carry out their duty to foster love, and make their own  decisions on the number of children they feel able to raise. Countries that are well off should help the poorer countries and concern for distribution and sharing should be part of our thinking. He concludes the understanding of the Catholic Church on these matters has been justified.

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