Religious Responses to the Population Sustainability Problematic: Implications for Law

By Coward, Harold | Environmental Law, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Religious Responses to the Population Sustainability Problematic: Implications for Law


Coward, Harold, Environmental Law


I. INTRODUCTION

In an Atlantic Monthly article, Charles Mann asked the question, "How Many is Too Many?" for the earth to sustain.(1) Mann argues that since the 1700s, the answers to this question have varied between those who believe that continued population growth will eventually lead to an environmental catastrophe (e.g., the economist Robert Malthus in 1798 and the biologist Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 book The Population Bomb) and those who argue that increasing technological efficiency and changing social and economic patterns will solve the problem (e.g., the Marquis de Condorcet in 1794 and Amory and Hunter Lovins in their 1991 essay Least-Cost Climatic Stabilization(2)).(3)

At the Rio Earth Summit, the developing countries of the South responded to the developed countries of the North on this issue. The developing countries argued that the problem is not one of overpopulation in the South, but of excessive consumption of the earth's resources by the well-off few in the North.(4) It is said that a baby born in Europe or North America, for example, will likely consume thirty times the earth's resources (and produce thirty times as much pollution) as a baby born in a developing country.(5) But even this generalization is too simple. It ignores the fact that there is an increasing number of well-off people in developing countries who consume at the same unsustainable level as their counterparts in developed countries.

The debate over how many is too many has ranged across the disciplines of biology, economics, ecology, anthropology, philosophy, and demography. Mann's brilliant summary of this long, complex, and crucial debate is particularly significant in that the role of religion is never mentioned. Yet, it is clear that religions can and do shape people's attitudes about the environment, practices surrounding fertility and reproductive health, and the just sharing of the earth's resources. This was evident at the 1994 Cairo United Nations Conference on Population and Development (Cairo Conference) where the human rights issues raised evoked a strong religious response. The views of the world's religions, especially Islam and Christianity via the Vatican, had a strong influence on the drafting of preliminary documents, the Conference discussions, and the resulting "Programme of Action."(6)

Unlike earlier UN summit conferences, the Cairo Conference opened the doors to input from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including religious groups. This was evident at the three preparatory meetings at which the agenda, themes, and drafts for the Cairo Conference were prepared. It was also true at Cairo itself, and at the subsequent UN meetings in Copenhagen and Beijing The views of the religions, along with those of scientists, social scientists, and secular thinkers, are now very much front and center as the world attempts to solve its most pressing problems. While the Cairo Conference was originally focused on the population problem and the developments (especially in the education, social status, and employment of women) needed to deal with it, the analysis quickly made clear that the issue of environmental degradation could not be left out.

Thus, the three-pronged problematic of population pressure, excessive consumption, and environmental degradation has emerged as perhaps the major challenge facing us today. Current trends in reproduction and consumption appear to threaten the well-being of both future generations and the ecology of the earth. The Cairo Conference taught us that target-driven population policies guided by demographers must be replaced by approaches which recognize that women's education, empowerment, and improvement of status are important ends in themselves. To respond to this challenge, the knowledge of the natural and human sciences are being called upon together with the wisdom and teachings of the religions. The Cairo Conference demonstrated that religions still exert a major influence in our struggle toward world solutions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Religious Responses to the Population Sustainability Problematic: Implications for Law
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.