Thursday, August 20, 2009

The future of life

"The race is on," writes E. O. Wilson in The Future of Life, "between the technoscientific forces that are destroying the living environment and those that can be harnessed to save it. We are inside a bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption. If the race is won, humanity can emerge in far better condition than when it entered, and with most of the diversity of life still intact."

The central problem of the 21st century, he writes, is "how to raise the poor to a decent standard of living worldwide while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible."

A prerequisite to success is bringing population growth under control. The present trend toward smaller families, if it continues, will eventually halt population growth and then reverse it. This is Wilson's "bottleneck." If the population peak occurs, as predicted, sometime late in this century, we might just emerge on the other side with a bright future.

The estimated 80 million unplanned births each year is about the same as the global population increase. When given the means and freedom to choose, women worldwide opt for fewer children raised with better health care and education over larger families. Means and freedom to choose -- that is to say, readily available contraception and the empowerment of women.

In both matters, the church of my youth is on the wrong side. Even as the faithful in ever greater numbers embrace contraception and the equality of women, the patriarchy toes the line of hidebound tradition.

Of course, the RC Church is not the only religious institution that subjugates women and denies them access to family planning. But think what a splendid thing it would be if so powerful a body ("the mystical body of Christ") were to come down decisively on the side of equality and opportunity for women -- thereby helping "to raise the poor to a decent standard of living worldwide while preserving as much of the rest of life as possible."