“There are too many people”. This is said to justify opposition to immigration or in despair in the age of global warming. In the last 60 years the number of people on earth has doubled to 7.6 billion: the world adds more people than the population of Britain each year.
But in Genesis 1:28 it is written that God said, “Fill the earth and subdue it.”
So what should the Christian response be? As Gandhi said, “There is enough for everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed.” At present we have enough food, but we in the rich nations throw away a third of ours; this is greed. As Shakespeare puts it in A Lover’s Complaint, “Want cries some, excess begs all”. In our own country the population is increasing mainly because many of us are living so much longer. It is those secure pensioners who enjoy over-large houses, or multiple cars or many holidays abroad who raise the carbon dioxide emissions in our country to more than eight tons per year per head; Ethiopians average emissions of carbon dioxide of 0.1 ton. 80 Ethiopians emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as one Briton. Our over-consumption of food and other global resources is utterly unsustainable.
But we in our country start from a secure base. Women in Britain on average bear 1.8 children: that means that our population will gradually decline unless we allow immigration to provide us with more young people. For Christians it is clear that, to benefit our country, we should restrict our family size to two children and allow some immigration. We have filled the earth and subdued it; now we have to understand again that “the earth is the Lord’s” as the Psalmist tells us. It is not ours to overrun with humans and our works. To have a child is God’s gift to us; to choose not to have a child is our gift to God’s earth.
Paul Ehrlich wrote, “People can be produced in vast quantities by unskilled labour [sic] who enjoy their work.” This is truer for men than women. The education of every girl in the world is the best contraceptive. Girls who have had even four years schooling bear, according to the World Bank, one third less children. Justice for women brings equity to the earth. In the last 30 years the average number of children born per woman has dropped by 28%. James Grant from UNICEF stated, “Family planning could provide more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race”.