Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Population bomb defused?

For the first time in human history, more people live in cities than outside them. The world’s population has been rising steadily, from 3 billion in 1960 to nearly 7 billion now, and in forty years more it may reach 9 billion.

The numbers sound huge, but Paul Ehrlich’s alarmist prediction in his 1966 book The Population Bomb that in the 1970s hundreds of millions would starve to death has been proved false. Advances in agriculture (the “green revolution”) enabled the world to double its grain supply to compensate for increasing demand. Continued expansion of our population may similarly be offset by further advances in technology. This should not lead us to ignore the possible impact of such a huge increase of numbers on social, political and economic systems, as well as the environment. But Catholics, who are frequently confronted with arguments in favour of contraception based on the “population bomb” thesis, can take some heart from a recent study by National Geographic that emphasizes how hard it is to predict the effects of the population explosion. The real issue, it turns out, is not numbers (which in any case are due to level out by the end of the century) but the use of resources. A person in the developed world uses 32 times as many resources as someone elsewhere, and emits 200 times as much carbon dioxide.

What are the implications? You can have bigger numbers, but people have to stay poor. Or the consumption of the wealthy has to be reduced. Eliminate poverty, and educate third-world women, and population growth will cease. But eliminate poverty, and everyone will be consuming more resources. There is another way, one that allows bigger numbers while combatting poverty, and it goes by the name of “sustainable development”. That is where Catholic social teaching really comes into its own, based on an appreciation of the natural laws written into the created world. This is where we need to devote more research, to find ways to promote development without destroying the earth around us. For more on this, see the earlier post commenting on Caritas in Veritate. See also the book by Fred Pearce, Peoplequake.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Theology of the corporation

This term in Oxford, our colleague and adviser Michael Black will be giving a series of important lectures at BlackfriarsThe corporation is a dominant institution of modern society. Our economic, political and cultural life is almost inconceivable without the corporation as the legal, commercial and financial foundation for human association. And it is an institution that affects us all intimately as participants, partners, observers, and victims. Yet it is an institution that is frequently misunderstood in terms of both its history and its function in society. What ‘good’ does the corporation actually provide? Are there defensible reasons for the evolution corporate law and the conventions of corporate life? What does it mean to be ethical as part of the corporate way of being? These lectures will explore the history, practices, and prospects of the corporation from a theological perspective. Theology, it will be shown, is not something extrinsic to the corporation, yet another point of view among many from which to analyse the corporate character. Rather, theology is a basic constituent of the social relation which we call corporate – in its design, in its legal expression, and in its particular logic the corporation is a product of theological categories of thought. Theology therefore is able to help uncover the hidden form and potential of corporate life, and to suggest fresh approaches to its membership, management, regulation and evaluation. Students of law, economics, and business as well as theology may find the material relevant to their courses of study and are welcome to attend.