The World Wildlife Fund recently issued a report claiming that, due to our prodigal consumption, we will deplete the world’s natural resources by the middle of this century. Part of the problem, as they see it, is that there will simply be too many people for the planet to support. Hence, part of the solution includes more robust efforts at population control.
Of course, predictions such as these have a long history. The classic example is Thomas Robert Malthus, who in the eighteenth century argued that because population increases geometrically and resources increase only mathematically, population would quickly outstrip resources. In the twentieth century, Paul Ehrlich made similar claims in his book, The Population Bomb. And as far back as the third century, the church father Tertullian wrote, “Everywhere there are buildings, everywhere people, everywhere communities … we weight upon the world; its resources hardly support us.” In each case, predictions of a doomsday precipitated by overpopulation were made. In each case, the predictions were wrong.
Why? In the main, because each made similar errors about the nature of human beings—namely, that they are despoilers and consumers only. A biblical picture of the human person, however, views people also as creators and caretakers. The first chapters of Genesis draw a portrait of human persons as stewards of God’s creation—fallen but created in the divine image nonetheless. People are not the problem; they are, rather, the solution. Human minds and hands are able to find more efficient ways to use existing resources. They discover new applications of old resources. And they can invent ways to utilize heretofore unused resources. Indeed, such creativity has been the rule, not the exception, of human history.
If we are to think rightly about political and economic questions such as population and the environment, we must begin with a correct view of the human person. The Acton Institute promotes such a view among our religious, political, and cultural leaders, and I thank you for the support that allows us to do so.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico