National Catholic Register


Warming Up to People; Doubly Offensive

BY The Editors

December 13-19, 2009 Issue | Posted 12/4/09 at 4:46 PM


Warming Up to People

World leaders are meeting in Copenhagen this week to seek consensus on a United Nations climate-change treaty. Their goal is to reduce “carbon emissions” and alleviate the harmful effects of greenhouse gases.

But since the last major world confab on the environment, in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, environmentalists more and more have been going beyond the still-disputed idea that man-made greenhouse gases are killing the planet: Some seem to want to limit the number of people themselves allegedly producing those gases.

The latest example comes from an agency that is one of the “United Nations Partners on Climate Change” listed on the official website for the Copenhagen conference: the United Nations Population Fund.

A month before Copenhagen, the U.N. Population Fund released its annual “State of the World Population Report,” linking efforts to promote “sustainable development” and affect “climate change” to its “reproductive rights” agenda.

The report asserts that achieving “universal access to reproductive health” would both contribute to declines in fertility and “help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the long run.” It calls upon nations to “fully fund family-planning services and contraceptive supplies.”

This sort of thinking is more and more in the air. In August, the London School of Economics released a study recommending more “family planning” as a primary method of reducing the world’s “carbon footprint.” And in October, New York Times environmental issues reporter Andrew Revkin said that some people have recently proposed that there be carbon credits for having fewer kids. He himself proposed getting carbon credits “for having a one-child family when you could have had two or three.”

The attitude that people themselves are the problem has actually been around for quite some time. In A.D. 200, the philosopher Tertullian warned, “We are burdensome to the world, the resources are scarcely adequate for us. … Already nature does not sustain us.” Nineteenth-century mathematician Thomas Malthus warned of severe food shortages if too many more people were born. And in 1971, Paul Ehrlich wrote in The Population Bomb that “hundreds of millions of people will starve to death” as a result of overpopulation. All of them have regarded human beings largely as consumers — “another mouth to feed” — rather than resources themselves.

The Church, however, continues to see people as the world’s most important resource — not merely mouths to feed. About a dozen years ago, the late Father Richard John Neuhaus spoke about how the world was changed by man’s ability to turn a simple resource — sand — into silicon chips. Without man, he argued, sand would remain sand. But with man and his God-given ability to reason and invent, a grain of sand brought about the computer revolution.

Human ingenuity is finding new ways of harnessing renewable energy and to even use the things that could harm us to our benefit. Chinese entrepreneurs, for example, have found ways to reuse the carbon dioxide that allegedly is contributing to the Earth’s warming.

In fact, perhaps no nation-state has done a better job at making itself less dependent on fossil fuels than the Vatican, where a large solar-power generator produces energy estimated at 300,000 kilowatt-hours a year. Don’t take our word on that. Listen to Mark Hopkins, director of the U.N. Foundation’s energy-policy program. In June, Hopkins said that Vatican engineers are doing an impressive job trying to cut Vatican City’s dependency on fossil fuels.

“Conceivably, Vatican City could become the first state to be powered by renewable” energy and become the first carbon-neutral nation in the world, he said.

It must always be remembered that, far more than people being the source of the world’s problems, they have the potential of finding solutions. Environmentalism must never place the welfare of the planet over the welfare of man.

Doubly Offensive

In an advertisement released Dec. 1, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals features a nude woman grasping a large crucifix that barely obscures her chest and private parts. It bears the slogan “Be an Angel for Animals: Always Adopt, Never Buy.”

Despite the aim to get people to protect dogs from cruelty — a noble goal when pursued appropriately — the ad backfires in myriad ways, but here are a few:

First, it trivializes and mocks Christianity, juxtaposing the sacred (a cross on which the Savior of the world hangs) against the profane (a centerfold model in a seductive pose). Second, it offends and marginalizes women because it robs the female body of its inherent dignity, making it something to be gawked at.

Before Thanksgiving, another ad showed the same model topless and in a provocative pose holding a rosary. She attempted to articulate her own theology of the body after another topless photo session, “I think worrying about going topless in a photo shoot or film is really ridiculous. And the fact is, Pope John Paul said since we were born naked, it is art, and it’s just showing a beautiful body that God created.”

Pope John Paul II actually said (May 6, 1981), “But there are also works of art … which arouse objection in the sphere of man’s personal sensitivity … because of the quality or way of its reproduction, portrayal or artistic representation. … He becomes an object of ‘enjoyment,’ intended for the satisfaction of concupiscence itself. This is contrary to the dignity of man.”

The ad rendered its primary goal of saving dogs and cats secondary to shocking people. And, judging by the negative response to the ad, many people have been shocked into focusing on the One depicted hanging on the cross — the real reason for the season.