I remember in the early nineteen seventies whilst studying sociology at university there were new theories warning about over-population in the world. Dr David Suzuki was one of these theorists warning the world of an impending catastrophe if population growth was not stemmed back. The theory was based on the view that the environment could not sustain an increase of people, as it would cause the outstripping of resources and alter the balance of nature.
Dr Suzuki’s views posed a real problem for me as an Orthodox Christian. Most importantly, his theories of catastrophe were not consistent with God’s law. For as it is written, God blessed man and said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
The doomsday prophecies of the population theorists hit a chord with many people which are upheld to this very day. For implied in their message was the view that sustainability of the earth’s resources could only be achieved through our good management involving population control. (Throughout the world 50 million abortions are performed every year.)
My difficulty with these theories is that they supposed knowledge beyond God’s providence and blessing and eventually leading us on to the wrong path in direct opposition to God’s will. I can not accept that any man’s thinking, no matter how plausible, can perceive beyond God’s providence in a world that is certainly time limited and perishable. It goes without saying that we have a responsibility to manage the earth’s resources and environment; but man wants to play god.
“Behold” said the Lord, “I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Genesis 1:29-30)
The warnings of the population theorists whilst legitimately raising concerns about the management of the environment went a step further to promote neutral or negative population growth, the direct antithesis of God’s instruction to His people. Among other things the timing of the world’s end whom God alone has knowledge has a great bearing on what is understood to be sustainable. The population theorists talk of a sustainable world seemingly without end. But we know that the world is perishable and we are invited by Christ to prepare ourselves for the eternal Heavenly Kingdom. The world’s ending will come and its timing is known by no one as it will come upon us “like a thief in the night.” (Matt. 24:43 & Rev. 16:15)
The essential difference for us as Orthodox Christians is that we must listen with faith to God’s instruction who has knowledge over all things. Otherwise we are left to hear the words of men who are incapable of foreseeing the things that are before them. God’s instruction to “be fruitful and multiply” is all embracing in that it also includes the fixed time allotted to the earth and its inhabitants.
But now thirty years from the time when David Suzuki originally prophesied an impending world population crisis, those who followed his warnings now face another catastrophe, not the one that they foresaw, but the complete opposite to it, surprisingly one of their own making. From the time the world endeavoured to contain its population growth, it became much more materialistic and pre-occupied with serving self interest. This reinforced a negative reductionist approach by many governments to curb population growth. Essentially the aim of this approach was to limit world population and improve the management of the earth’s resources. Fools we are who accept this folly for to “be fruitful and to multiply” is to live prosperously and according to God’s blessing; whereas to work against it is to prepare for our own demise. Fools we are to accept this advice for the perishable world was made only for a given and appointed time to prepare us for the eternal Heavenly Kingdom. The real fruit of the earth is to accommodate as many people as God has allowed to inhabit it given the allotted time, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4)
So what is happening now thirty years on from those false prophecies of the population theorists? The world is not facing a population explosion but a population implosion – a collapse of the world’s population with dire economic and social consequences ahead of us.
There are two very interesting statistical population trends in the world today to help us understand this. One relates to the ever increasing ageing population and the other, the ever-decreasing birth rate, which is now at such a record low that is below replacement levels.
Over the next quarter of a century Europe will be the oldest region in the world. Elderly people (60+years) currently represent 20% of the overall population and this will climb to 25% by 2025. The oldest country by 2020 will be Japan (31%) followed by Italy, Greece and Switzerland at 28% of the population. In Western Australia the current percentage of aged (60+years) is 14% climbing to 22% by the year 2021.
The countries with the highest proportion of elderly people are Greece and Italy with 23% of the population (60+years). By 2020 Greece and Italy will have 22% of their population over the age of eighty. With such a high proportion of the population coming to the end of their life expectancy a significant decrease of the population size is inevitable given the concurrent record low birth rates experienced throughout the world today.
To give some indication of fertility rates, every woman would have to give birth to 2.1 children (statistical fraction) to retain the same rate of population size in any given country. In Australia the fertility rate has fallen to just 1.8 births per woman and in Japan the rate is just 1.4 births per woman. In Italy and in Greece the birth rate has fallen below the rate of replacement and given the significantly ageing populations there, there is a real danger of rapidly decreasing populations within the next 15 to 20 years.
In Japan and in other developed and developing countries the alarm bells are now ringing in the opposite direction to the population theorists of thirty years ago. The imminent danger now is not population explosion, but significant population collapse. The work force in Japan as in other developed countries is shrinking rapidly. Significant population decreases will have a profound effect on the economies of the world and their prosperity as demand contracts with their contracting markets.
We ignore God’s blessings thinking there is no consequence to our actions and our indifference. We have sacrificed having children in support of pursuing materialistic life-styles. I fear the consequences for us all are very serious indeed.
Fr Emmanuel Stamatiou