In View

Populate or Perish

Twenty-five years ago Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae. Since it has to do with sex, it is the one papal encyclical nearly everybody has heard of. The document plunged the Catholic Church into a turmoil from which it is only now beginning to recover, and it was greeted by the secular world with a hostility which transcended the blank incomprehension normally attracted by the Catholic Church.

The indictment that still carries most weight in the popular mind was best summed up at the time in the full-page advertisement which appeared in the American newspapers, headlined, “Pope denounces birth control as millions starve”; the advertisement was placed by a body called the Campaign to Check the Population Explosion.

Twenty-five years later the Catholic Church is still public enemy number-one when it comes to explaining two things. First, why so many people are starving; secondly, the existence of an impending environmental catastrophe, allegedly as a result of what the green lobby amiably calls “popullution” — the human race itself now being seen as a form of environmental disaster.

Thus, the international network of aid dispensers are united in a nannyish disapproval of the Catholic Church. The Baroness Chalker herself was to be seen on television in the Lords, a week or two ago, chalking off the Vatican and announcing plans to see the Pope in order to change his mind.

Perhaps, in the traditional exchange of gifts, she will present him with a set of the works of Marie Stopes. I wish her joy of the encounter, but even her earnest tones are unlikely to prevail with the supreme pontiff, who is far too well-informed on the real causes of poverty and environmental degradation to be taken in by the kind of thing that Lady Chalker’s minions at the Ministry for Overseas Development will have given her to say.

Of that, more presently. But meanwhile, my Lady Chalker might reflect that the Pope is unlikely to abandon Humanae Vitae just at the time when it is becoming clear that such predictions as it contained have been vindicated. It said nothing at all, except indirectly, about world population “problems.” What Pope Paul did say was that the widespread use of artificial contraception would have certain effects. It would, inter alia, “lead to the way being open to marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.”

And indeed it has: if someone were to argue that easily available birth control has led directly to the collapse of the family as an institution, I am not sure how I would refute him.

The Pope’s final prediction took the form of a question: “Who,” he asked — approaching obliquely the possibility of state-enforced population control — “will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective?”

That these methods came to include forcible sterilization (as in India) and abortion virtually at gunpoint (as in China) is a matter of record; and it is not to be supposed that such methods are so repugnant that Western liberals of the type now running the Clinton regime will not tacitly encourage them. One of Clinton’s first acts was to rescind restrictions against giving U.S. funding to organizations that promote abortion as a means of family planning, and the U.S. has for decades made foreign aid dependent on the installation of birth control programs.

Abortion at gunpoint is another matter, but in the case of China, media propaganda tends to soft-pedal on human rights. In the words of one BBC-2 documentary on the Chinese policy: “It is harsh, but is there an alternative?”

Well, is there an alternative? Indeed, is there actually a problem in the first place? Even to ask this question in today’s climate is to invite disbelief in one’s sanity. And yet the simple fact is that the entire population control lobby has built up its multi-billion-dollar activities on a set of assumptions which are demonstrably untrue.

The first of these, to put it simply, is that people tend to be poorer where there is a high rate of population growth, or even a high density of population. In extreme cases, it is generally assumed, this actually leads to famine and starvation.

In fact, it is much easier to argue the reverse. Famine in Africa, for example, is confined to areas of sparse population, and is caused by various factors, including civil war and political interference with the market (such as the forcible lowering of food prices combined with compulsory government purchase of staple crops); this has led to a massive decrease in food production.

There is, in fact, a clear relationship between population growth and economic development. This is obviously true in the later stages of development. It is the densely populated Hong Kong which is an economic success, not the Chinese mainland, which is poor because it is communist and therefore incompetent, not because it is over-populated. Japan is now desperately seeking to encourage population growth; having bought Western birth-control propaganda lock, stock, and barrel after the war, it now has a severe labor shortage which threatens the economy.

But the received wisdom, it is becoming clear, is also untrue so far as less sophisticated economies are concerned. Barber Conable, president of the World Bank (one of the most influential backers of population control) recently admitted: “The evidence is clear that economic growth rates in excess of population growth can be achieved and maintained by both developed and developing countries.”

For instance, a recent Overseas Development Institute study of the Machacos district of Kenya found that since the 1930s the population has grown by more than five times, but that agricultural output per hectare has in-creased by more than 10 times; it further established that this increase was in part caused by the population in-crease, which made possible improved conservation of land and water resources.

This finding is important, for it bears on the second great argument of the population controllers: that an increasing population will lead to environmental disaster.

This argument, in fact, is likely to turn out to be just as dubious as that linking population growth with poverty. One of the most serious problems, for example, in countries like Ethiopia and Kenya is soil erosion: but solutions such as terracing in mountainous country can only be carried out if there is enough manpower.

Another argument is that the Earth’s resources are finite and at some point will run out: but according to a study published by the U.S. Academy of Sciences, “there is little reason to be concerned about the rate at which population growth is depleting the stock of exhaustible resources.” Back in the 1960s, Colin Clark, director of the Oxford Institute of Agricultural Economics, demonstrated that the Earth could feed any future population that could realistically be envisaged. And we are hardly likely to run out of space. The entire population of the globe could live comfortably in Texas.

There are, certainly, threats to the world environment from such phenomena as acid rain and carbon emissions into the atmosphere; but, as the environmental activist (and hard-line advocate of population control) Sir Crispin Tickell admits, the primary responsibility for these rests with the developed world: with those countries, in other words, where the population is shrinking and not growing.

All in all, the Pope could have quite a lot to say to Lady Chalker; on the other hand, he may not bother, having learned from long experience that on this subject the facts of the case come a long way behind the excitement of a really good doomsday scenario.

William Oddie

The  Mystery Master

Mystery readers (and lovers) will be pleased to learn that Ralph Mclnerny, publisher of Crisis and author of the famed Father Dowling mysteries, will receive the Boucher- con Lifetime Achievement Award at the twenty-fourth World Mystery Conference at Omaha, Nebraska, October 1-3. Charles Levitt, conference chairman, noted that Mclnerny drew upon Dowling Hall on the campus of Creighton University at Omaha in naming his cleric-sleuth. Receiving other awards at the conference will be mystery writers Ed McBain and Hammond Innes.

Uncovering Catechism Politics

An in-depth examination of “The Ambush of the Universal Catechism,” tentatively entitled D.O.A., will be first in a series of books to appear under the imprint of Crisis Books, and is expected to be available within weeks. Crisis readers will be the first to learn of the book’s contents, so be looking for notice of availability — possibly as soon as our next edition — November. Our author advises that the book will report on the “political” machinations swirling around the Church’s new universal Catechism.