What planet is the Pope living on given our climate crisis?

Pope Francis suggested last week that people who substitute pets for children exhibit ‘selfishness’. Colette Sheridan responds in her weekly column
What planet is the Pope living on given our climate crisis?

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Vatican on New Year’s Day. He said people having pets instead of children were selfish.

PETS versus children: What would you fancy?

Pope Francis suggested last week that people who substitute pets for children exhibit ‘selfishness’.

He was speaking on parenthood and raised hackles among those who either can’t have children or - horror of horrors - don’t want kids.

Yes, it’s perfectly possible to have a happy, fulfilling life without children.

As a celibate man, the Pope is not really in a position to be telling women to marry and have children. But given his role as head of the Catholic Church, he is obliged to promote the notion of family (not blended families or families with gay parents) as it has always been a numbers game for his religion.

With the church on the wane in the Western World, it desperately needs bodies to continue to exist.

But lots of people who call themselves Catholics don’t necessarily see having children as their most important function in life. They might not reproduce or might only have one child. Having just the one is also a problem for the Pope. 

“Sometimes they have one, and that’s it, but they have dogs and cats that take the place of children.”

The thing about having pets but no children is that animals can’t answer you back, won’t break your heart with their life choices, and cost a lot less than educating a child, often up to third level.

On a more serious note, the planet is over-populated and experiencing a climate crisis that is only going to get worse.

The 7.9 billion people on Earth are using more of its resources than it can provide. So it’s important that fewer people exist.

To state the blindingly obvious, the earth’s resources are finite. With our dependence on fossil fuels, more consumers makes such resources run out faster.

According to the Global Footprint Network, we are using renewable resources such as timber, clean water, air, healthy soil and fish consumed as food at nearly twice the rate that the earth can renew them. That rate has increased continually since the 1970s.

Unless we cop ourselves on, we’ll require three Earths to meet our needs by 2050 - less than 30 years away.

And given the inequality that is so prevalent in our world, it’s estimated that more than 800 million people currently do not have enough food to meet their daily nutritional needs. Meanwhile, 650 million people are obese.

The number of people experiencing hunger has actually increased in recent years due to development progress not keeping up with rapid population growth.

And we have a man living in splendour in the Vatican (although he does try to be modest in his worldly consumption, residing in the Vatican guesthouse as opposed to the palace) preaching to his flock that they go forth and multiply? What planet, exactly, is he on?

Given the perilous state of planet earth, it is arguably criminal to try and push people into reproducing more and more children.

For those who want children - and it is a deep-rooted human instinct for many - why not adopt? There are plenty of neglected and unwanted children in the world. A truly selfless act would be to give them a loving home.

To say that people who choose not to have kids are selfish is ridiculous, given our climate crisis.

Remaining childless could actually be seen as a modern sacrifice, denying yourself a family for the good of the planet.

On Woman’s Hour on BBC 4 last week, the whole issue of having / not having children was discussed in the context of the Pope’s comments. Cathy Adams, a journalist and mother-of-one (who refers to herself as ‘the ambivalent mother’), gave birth to her son at the beginning of the pandemic. She said it was possibly the worst time ever to have a child. While she loves her son, she said she is full of resentment towards “a man who remains celibate” and then tells women it’s their duty to reproduce.

Cathy is unafraid to express attitudes towards motherhood that are presumably experienced by other women, but which are too controversial to be admitted to.

They say a child brings great ‘joy’. But the ambivalent mother said on Woman’s Hour that “for me, having a child has brought me everything but joy... I do love my son... but he has taken a lot of what I found joyful about my life and about my identity. He has taken that away from me.”

A self-described privileged woman who is a travel writer, Cathy says that as much as her son has given her, “sometimes you do have to think is it actually worth it and my answer changes daily to that.”

Cathy Adams’s candour is refreshing. Throw in a climate crisis and over-population - and you have a good argument for remaining childfree.

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