Why We Should Not Introduce Population Control Policies - An Open Letter to Jonathan Porritt

Dear Mr Porritt, I heard you on the BBC the other day, and you had some interesting things to say about population control. I understand that you are the chair of the UK government's Sustainable Development Commission and so your ideas are not without consequence.

Your argument was thus: people use the earth's resources, and those resources are finite. If we increase the number of people, resources will decrease faster. If resources are finite and numbers of people increase, then at some point in time we will be in danger of running out of resources. Therefore, you conclude, we should limit the growth in numbers of people.

In essence you argue that our carbon footprints are not just too big, but they are fast becoming too many.

I read in your blog that you support the position of The Optimum Population Trust. They advocate governmental policy which limits fertility in its population. They believe this can be achieved by education, access to family planning and widespread use of contraception. You conclude with the OPT that families should “stop at two” in order to replace population, but not to increase it.

I want to persuade you to consider another perspective. I want you to reconsider the basis for your view of humanity, and then I want you to examine the consequences of the position you hold.

Firstly, I want to suggest that the foundation for your position is fear. Fear which drives your imagination to paint a bleak picture of our planet's future. John Davoll expressed this fear during his lecture to the Conservation Society in 1970 when he said:

“One simply feels convinced that someone—the government or God—will somehow stop it, before it disturbs our comfortable and settled lives… It takes a long time to realize that as far as looking after the future of humankind and the earth is concerned, there is no-one at the controls; but once achieved, the realization is remarkably disquieting”

I want you to know that there is someone at the controls. He is the sustainer of the planet. He proclaimed to Noah after the great flood, “I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:21b-22). Whether we can destroy the planet or ourselves by the use of resources is ultimately the decision of God. He is the sustainer of life and the provider of the harvest. There is a certain amount of arrogance in the assertion that man is capable of destroying God's creation without his say so.

Your response to your fear is to control. You fear the population running out of control, so you want to control it. I wonder how much this affects your life. If there is no God and we are all just lumps of particles, then we have much to fear for no one is at the controls. But there is a God and he loves you and me. He is in control and we can trust Him.

Secondly, God commands Noah to “be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it” (Gen 8:7). It is a command at the root of Christian ethics, not pragmatism. We are to trust in God's providence and to obey his command. Multiply my friend, not because childbirth is a right but because it is a gift and a command—not for all—but for those who are in covenant with a spouse and are able. So have children! Many. You have two. Perhaps God will grant you a third. If the measurement for the correctness of existence is whether or not they will use up too much of the earths vital resources, then the value of human life is changeable depending on whether they use more or less of those resources. Take a look at how the OPT describe people:

“If the world's mothers reduce the number of children they have, there could be 1.4 billion fewer climate changers in 2050 than projected” (Optimum Population Trust)

What does this tell us about the value of a person? That they are a burden on the rest of us? Should we therefore have carbon offsetting introduced to child rearing? Perhaps my wife and I could pay some other family to have only one child so we could have three. Also, I wonder if there are people who may need to use more resources than others. If a person is in need of extra power—as in many disabilities—are they to be less valued. Is there not also a snobbery factor? I use less, therefore I am better than those who use more?

I want you to consider the consequences of your ideas. You must know that by family planning, we mean organizations like Marie Stoppes International and Planned Parenthood. OPT even mention the former favorably. In order to reduce population, we are going to have to use contraception, but we will also export the abortion industry from the west to nations which don't currently have it. If the determining factor for fertility is the potential reduction of resources and damage to the environment, then on what basis do we teach parents and societies to value the “extra ones?” Children should be valued because they are “image bearers” not “climate changers” and that means “extra ones” are gifts from God who reflect the creativity of their maker. Does not the reduction of the value of humanity lead inevitably to some kind of eugenics? If we take away the idea of intrinsic value of humanity, we remove all constraint for our moral treatment of others.

You were once a child. You may or may not have been valued by your parents, but you are valued by God. A person is only valuable because they are valued. You are valuable to God, so is the unborn child (even the third, fourth, fifth or even sixth one to join the family). We should not limit population growth, but instead teach our children that, when they grow up, to marry and have children is a privilege and a gift from God. Sustainable development should respect the sustainer and depend on Him for our needs. I remind you of Jesus' words in his sermon on the mount:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt 6:26-34 NIV)

Johnathan Porritt is chair of the UK government Sustainable Development Commission. As such, he advises the government on policy related to population. You can read more about him at his blog: http://www.jonathonporritt.com/pages/

In one of his blog entries Porritt praises a report from the Optimum Population Trust which suggests increased use of contraception and family planning and proposes the reduction of unwanted pregnancies. See: http://www.optimumpopulation.org/index.html