Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Pope Francis

Edd Doerr

By now, there can no longer be any serious doubt that climate change is real. About 97 percent of the climate science community agrees. There are uncertainties about details, of course, but overall the science is solid and indisputable. The change is anthropogenic. We, the people of Planet Earth, are responsible.

In May, the U.S. National Climate Assessment study essentially confirmed a recent global report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Land and sea surface temperatures and sea levels have risen in tandem. Arctic sea ice and glacier mass are declining. The West Antarctic ice shelf is falling apart.

As a practical matter, climate change is intricately related to “accelerating environmental degradation, deforestation, desertification, topsoil erosion, overexploited fisheries, declining freshwater reserves, nonrenewable resource depletion, increasing waste accumulation”—and, I would add, biodiversity shrinkage, atmospheric carbon-dioxide buildup, and widespread, increasing, sociopolitical instability and violence. The words in quotation marks are those I have been using of late in writings on climate change, but the quote is actually from an article I published in USA Today magazine in January of 1995. My review of Alan Weisman’s new book, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth, in the June/July Free Inquiry covered a lot of the background on this, as does Elizabeth Kolbert’s much-heralded new book, The Sixth Extinction (2014).

We know what we have to do. Conserve resources. Cut waste. Recycle. Reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Increase energy efficiency. Greatly expand use of solar, wind, geothermal, and other clean resources for electricity generation. Reduce reliance on animal protein, which uses far more of ever-scarcer land and water than foods derived from plants while also creating more greenhouse gases. Stop deforestation.

And above all, we must bring human population growth to a screeching halt. Now, not later. Access to contraception must be universal. Abortion must be available everywhere. That is a large order, but the future of our human species depends on it.

What are the barriers to universal access to contraception and abortion? Conservative religious leaders across the spectrum: Christian, Muslim, Hasidic, and so on and on. Yet this problem is seldom discussed.

There is, however, one guy who can make a big difference with the stroke of a pen. He is Pope Francis. He could and should rescind the Vatican’s absurd ban on contraception, carved in stone by Pope Paul VI in 1968 in defiance of nearly all of his own advisers, a ban that most Catholics ignore anyway. But politicians the world over are afraid to be perceived as anti-Catholic. The bishops wield enormous power, and too few people are bold enough to yell “But the emperor has no clothes!” Francis should also have the Vatican give up its position as the only religious body in the world to enjoy nonstate permanent observer status at the United Nations, which it has used for years to impede international efforts to advance women’s rights regarding contraception and abortion.

Francis’s good words about helping the poor will be meaningless unless he backs his church away from its stance on family planning.

New Orleans’ Post-Katrina Disaster

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina smashed New Orleans to pieces, destroying most of its beleaguered public schools in addition to myriad homes and businesses. To add injury to calamity, Louisiana politicians have conspired to finally eliminate public schools altogether in what is left of the city. Now, New Orleans has no public schools at all, just charter schools and voucher-funded church-run schools not answerable to local taxpayers and voters. As The Washington Post reported on May 19, “After Katrina, the [so-called] recovery [school] district fired more than, 7,000 employees—nearly all of them African Americans—while the charter schools hired scores of young teachers, many of them white recruits from Teach for America. The fired teachers sued for wrongful termination and won a judgment that could total more than $1 billion.”

What conservative politicians, corporate interests, and various hucksters and pseudo-reformers have done to New Orleans is a preview of what these interests would like do nationally and are pushing steadily forward to achieve. Far too many Americans are blissfully unaware of what is being steamrolled through that, unless stopped, will destroy the great American public-school system, wreck the teaching profession, and splinter society along class, ideological, religious, ethnic, and other lines.

Fortunately, a number of serious and experienced educators have recently published excellent, must-read books exposing the privatizers, pseudo-reformers, and special interests working to undermine our public-school system. Let me recommend some: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education by Mercedes K. Schneider (2014); 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools by David Berliner and Gene Glass (2014); Fear and Learning in America: Bad Data, Good Teachers, and the Attack on Public Education by John Kuhn (2014); The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools by Christopher and Sarah Theule Lubienski (2014); Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch (2013); and Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education by Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine (2012). Also check out my monograph “The Great School Voucher Fraud” online at

The clock is ticking. The two issues discussed in this column require top-priority attention.


Edd Doerr is the president of Americans for Religious Liberty and the author of numerous books and articles.

Edd Doerr

Edd Doerr is a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He headed Americans for Religious Liberty for thirty-six years and is a past president of the American Humanist Association.

Daring Pope Francis to reconcile his church to today’s world; New Orleans loses its last public schools.

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.