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Cursing condoms: population overload

The Vatican calls them "evil", "sinful" and "intrinsically disordered". Satanic rites, perhaps? Child molesters? Actually, something far more prosaic: condoms. Equally condemned is any other artificial contraceptive - even as a means to check the spread of HIV.

The global impact of the Catholic church's antagonism to contraception has been magnified by the resurgence of moral conservatism in the US, under the administration of George W. Bush. The US used to be the world's biggest and most effective donor for condoms and other contraceptives, but Bush slashed funds for such services, and replaced them with ideologically inspired programmes proffering abstinence as the sole means of reproductive planning for the unwed.

Faced with these draconian measures, many non-governmental health organisations now refuse or are excluded from US funding, and their programmes are suffering as a result. In Panama, where I live, and where the median income is around $15 a day, condoms are a luxury item.

This US policy has drawn much criticism, particularly because of its tragic implications for the spread of HIV. But we shouldn't forget that contraception is crucial for addressing many of the other major challenges that face humanity today. Our planet, already staggering under 6.5 billion people, is expecting to add another 2 billion by 2030, and perhaps 2 billion beyond that by 2050. Nearly all of them will be born in developing nations.

Our planet, already staggering under 6.5 billion people, is expecting to add another 2 billion by 2030, and perhaps 2 billion beyond that by 2050.

Consider just four implications. My colleague Joseph Wright, a tropical ecologist, has demonstrated a strong inverse relationship between human population density and forest cover in tropical countries. As nations grow in numbers, they lose their forests, and the most populous countries, such as the Philippines, Honduras and Madagascar, have become severely denuded. This threatens the survival of countless plant and animal species.

Razed rainforests are also an enormous source of greenhouse gases, dumping around 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. Indeed, without implausibly deep cuts in per capita emissions it is inconceivable that efforts to slow global warming will succeed as long as the population keeps expanding.

Read page two.

Published on 30 October 2007

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