ROME — Talk of an “impending population bomb,” the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations said on Wednesday, has led to sometimes “draconian” policies, which ignore the complex nature of population growth.
Filipino Archbishop Bernardito Auza, speaking to the UN’s Commission on Population and Development, said “differing regional and even country specific situations” need to be taken into account when speaking about demographic changes.
Auza noted that populations are growing in some countries, while stabilizing in others, but pointed out some countries are experiencing a “spiraling demographic decline.”
Auza’s reference to a “population bomb” is a reference to the 1968 book of the same title written by Stanford professor Paul R. Ehrlich, who predicted that by the 1980s mass starvation and other consequences of food shortages caused by overpopulation would lead to social upheavals across the world.
Despite the inaccuracy of his forecasts, Ehrlich still supports the central thesis of his work: Massive government population control measures, including artificial birth control and abortion, are needed to protect the planet’s future.
Ehrlich was controversially invited to a conference earlier this year on Pope Francis’s ecological document Laudato Si’, sponsored by the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences.
Auza said the idea of a “population bomb” has led certain governments to adopt policies that encourage population control measures as the easiest response to the fear of resource scarcity and underdevelopment, adding that some of these policies are “draconian.”
The most obvious example of such a policy would be in China, where a “one child” policy has led to forced abortions, and the limiting of civil rights for anyone who has more children than the government allows.
The archbishop, while not naming Ehrlich in his address, countered his arguments by saying “demographic growth is fully compatible with shared prosperity.”
Auza said while “responsible parenthood and sexual behavior are always moral imperatives,” the use of “coercive regulation of fertility” undermines freedom and responsibility.
“Respect for life from the moment of conception to natural death, even in the face of the great challenge of birth, must always inform policies, especially when it comes to international aid, which should be made available according to the real priorities of the receiving nation, and not by an imposed will of the donor,” he said.
Auza also pointed out the trend to lower birth rates in the developed world began “before it had access to modern methods of contraception.
“It occurred with economic and technological advancement, as well as investments in education, infrastructure and institutions,” – Auza said – “It is well known that economic growth corresponds with lower fertility rates and, when accompanied by investment in education and health, increases productivity and the well-being of societies.”
The Vatican diplomat also said it was not a “healthy, growing population” which is causing entrenched poverty, but “corruption, protracted conflicts and other man-made disasters.”
Auza’s statement came just a month after Ehrlich’s appearance at the February 27 – March 1 Vatican conference titled “Biological extinction: How to save the natural world on which we depend.”
Despite his participation, the “final declaration” of the meeting stated increasing threats against biodiversity, unsustainable use of the earth’s resources, and accelerated extinction rates “are driven more by over-consumption and unjust wealth distribution than by the number of people on the planet.”