Strictly speaking the Catholic Church has no "official position" regarding "overpopulation." According to the Catechism, "it is legitimate for it (the state) to intervene to orient the demography of the population." (2372) Our teachings regarding contraception and abortion can be separated from the population issue. Nevertheless, the fear of overpopulation is for many a potent argument for those practices. Let's take a look at those fears.
The popular case was made in 1968 by Paul Ehrlich. In Population Bomb, he argued we are packing too many people onto our small planet and predicted dire consequences. He called for easy access not only to contraception, but abortion. The specter he (and others) created in the public mind has much to do with the existence today of abortion clinics in our neighborhoods and the distribution of condoms in our classrooms.
Three decades later his predictions seem strangely off-base. For example, we are far from a food shortage. Not only the U.S. & Canada, but Europe (the most densely populated continent) still has to pay farmers not to produce so much food. In India the problem is not lack of food, but its distribution. The famine in Ethiopia was caused by the civil war. For documentation of these claims please click here.
But most Americans are not so worried about a food shortage. What seems to haunt us is the vision of being squeezed more and more closely together. There's a lot misinformation on this subject. Even the super-intelligent Marilyn Vos Savant calculated that there is only an average of 536 square feet of land for each person on the earth (cf. her 11/26/96 column). Click here for the correct answer.
Not too bad, eh? But then I seem to be doing OK with the few thousand square feet I share with three other guys in this rectory. But suppose we allowed each person on the planet just enough space to lie down without touching the next person into what U.S. city* could we fit the world's entire population? (Source: Population Handbook)
Of course, no one would want to be crammed into so little space. Well, almost no one. A few weeks ago thousands of folks paid a hundred, even a thousand dollars for that little space to watch Seattle's great basketball team go down to the Bulls.
In spite of some inconveniences, we prefer to live close to lots of people. The reason is clear. Human beings do not just make problems for each other, but much more important we create opportunities. Folks keep leaving places like Eastern Washington and South Dakota to come here to the Seattle area. They sacrifice the wide open spaces for the opportunities made possible by the presence of lots of people: jobs, libraries, schools, hospitals, shopping malls, not to mention theaters, restaurants, sports, etc. (of course you can find all these things in S.D. and E. Wash, but on a smaller scale and only where people concentrate).
These are some personal reflections. I do not put myself forward as an expert, but I have read and reflected a lot on the question of population. How we view that issue does affect how we look at abortion--and another issue I am much interested in: immigration.
*See letter from Gary: re the math of fitting world population into Jacksonville
What is Overpopulation?
Is Catholic Position on Birth Control Irresponsible?
Have We Already Filled the Earth? (cf. Gen 1:28)
Are We Destroying the Environment?
Unlimited Carrying Capacity?
The "Baby Bust" and the Future of Social Security
The amazing example of Hong Kong
Population Research Institute offers an in-depth study of these questions.
Population Reference Bureau "providing timely and objective information on population"
A letter from Brian Carnell who operates a popular website which discusses both sides of this issue.
Stem Cell Research: Teaching of Bible & Catholic Church
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)
Your comments or questions are welcome.