Fevered Fantasies

It seems that all the doomsayers of the world are gathered this week in one place: in Cairo at the United Nations' International Conference on Population and Development. But ironically, all the fevered rhetoric centers on the dangers of overpopulation, while saying precious little about development. On the opening day, Norway's prime minister urged all countries to cut their population rates "for the sake of the earth." A dark image looms of a world devastated by too many people. But is overpopulation devastating the earth? Are people the problem? The answer is clearly no. The densely populated countries of the world are not the ones destroying the environment. In fact, a dense population often brings together the knowledge needed to develop environmentally safe technologies. For example, Sudan is one the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Yet much of Sudan's farmland has been destroyed. Why? Because farmers there don't know how to take care of the land. They don't know how to control erosion. When the land becomes unfarmable, the farmers simply move on and leave the devastated land behind. But in a more densely populated country like the United States, farmers don't have the option of just moving on. As a result, they're spurred on to discover new ways to take better care of the land. For example, a new method of plowing, which cuts only a narrow slit in the ground to plant the seeds, has drastically reduced erosion. In another innovation, the use of satellite maps has enabled what is called "precision farming," allowing fertilizers to be applied much more accurately and reducing the rate of pollution from fertilizer run-off. The point is that a larger population can actually bring together more human capital to solve the problems we all face—to develop the technologies needed to take good care of the environment. Of course, people still do not always come up with environmentally safe technologies, which is why our air and rivers are often polluted. But that's not a matter of population per se; it's a matter of moral vision. Every nation must make fundamentally ethical decisions about what kind of technology to develop: We all must be willing to say no to harmful technologies and to invest the time and creativity to develop technologies that truly nurture the creation. If that word nurture sounds familiar, it should. In Genesis, human beings are commanded to nurture or care for the world God created. Christians ought to be at the forefront in strengthening our country's moral will to create technologies that enhance instead of destroy the natural world. And as for the U.N. conference on population and development, it should cease its inflammatory rhetoric on population control and focus instead on the real issue: the moral dimension to development.


Chuck Colson



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