At the recent Rio de Janiero "Earth Summit", 20 years after the first one, world leaders reiterated their commitment to address global warming and biodiversity loss. This time, Rio+20 focuses on "sustainable development" and the "green economy" for the next 20 years, meaning more economic development - job creation, alleviating poverty - with a promise to use environmentally friendly technologies.
Rio-20 and Rio+20
But the problems lie in old unresolved conflicts. Poverty reduction is always in conflict with environmental protection. Powerful vested interests control governments, setting the fair market price for the exploitation of a country's natural resources which does not cover replacing depleting natural resources. But how do poor nations say no or bargain for more from mega bucks foreign investors if there are so many other poorer countries ready to say yes? Meantime, the number of the poor and malnourished increase while the global environment continues to deteriorate. The planet is dissolving faster than it can restore itself.
Financing sustainable transport
In fast growing regions, developing sustainable transport is a priority. But from an environment point of view, transport accounts for 23% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. This is projected to rapidly increase by nearly 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Asian cities suffer from world's highest air pollution levels, and this shows no sign of abating as Asia's share of the global vehicle fleet has grown from 9% in 1980 to 17% in 2005 and is expected to reach 46% by 2030. Traffic congestion causes lost time and higher transport costs estimated at 2-5% GDP in developing Asia. Yet developing countries, who badly need accelerated industrialization, resent the hectoring from the Old World as they point a finger back at them for having been the main source of pollutants since the Industrial Revolution. Recently, the Asian Development Bank and 7 other international development banks pledged $175B in loans and grants for sustainable transport in developing countries over the next ten years. But this is just a drop in the bucket against a projected required investment of $2.5 trillion for transport alone over the next ten years in the Asia-Pacific countries.
Heard it all before?
If any, Rio conveniently arms the pro-RH [Reproductive Health] Bill camp, as their politician allies resume championing their cause, post Corona Impeachment. RH Bill and sustainable transport? But of course; the more babies, the more future passengers and drivers, more traffic. Bombarded by all the views and dimensions about this RH bill life giving/threatening cause, it is not far fetched that population growth affects congestion. Regardless on which side of the divide you stand, we are all familiar with the caricatures one side chooses to characterize the other.
As in all contentious arguments, it all depends on assumptions that protagonists/antagonists can agree to find common ground. For the sake of Economists' one-handed-ness in assumptions, all agree that man and his life can be treated like a commodity, an accounting entry as Man and his life has a role to play as an element in both production and consumption functions/equations.
Forecast and guestimate
Where economists part ways is their vision of the future. The pessimists believe that a rapidly expanding population strains the earth's resources and every individual born beyond an ideal quota is just another hungry mouth to feed, a burdensome unemployment statistic that has to be expensed with public funds and covered with universal health care. Controlling population growth conserves resources and sustains the standard of living for a majority of the population – quality of life over quantity of lives. The optimists believe that the earth's resources are far from being fully exploited. They also believe that man, with his talents, will be able to invent technology to adapt to changing times and discover new ways to live a better life. Growing populations, expand the market of consumers and producers besides enhancing the probability of more talented people to be born from a larger sample.
The model nations
The Pro-RH bill camp would love to point to the example of impoverished economies where the poor, who constitute 70% of the population, live miserable lives. Limiting population growth raises the demand for workers, raising wages and so too the standard of living. Their models are the lightly populated and highly developed countries with high standards of living like the Scandinavian countries, Northern European countries, Singapore and Australia. The Anti-RH bill camp counter that these model countries with low birth rates are experiencing diminishing working populations and hence a shrinking pool of working individuals whose taxes will no longer support their government subsidized nirvana. A partial cure can be found in open immigration but racial selfishness and xenophobia prevent many of these model countries from "sharing" their treasured lifestyles. Ironically, these model countries thrived because they sold their products to billions of people in Africa, Asia and the poorer Americas. Think of how many Nokia phones have been sold against the 5.3M or so population of Finland? They wouldn't have become a rich society without such a large world market to sell and outsource manufacturing to.
Traffic and euphemisms
In terms of quality of life, anyone who has witnessed the exponential worsening of traffic over the years will find the RH bill a compelling argument. On the other hand, those who argue on moral grounds, could dramatically and correctly suppose that if we lived under an RH bill regime, we wouldn't even be sure – given the luck of the draw - if we would live to see the light of day much less experience traffic if our parents chose not to bear us. Pro RH Bill supporters have assuaged moral doubt with pleasantly sounding euphemisms like Pro-Choice, Planned Parenthood, or Reproductive Health Rights which the Anti RH Bill supporters caustically point out as birth control, the morning after pill, abortion and eugenics masquerading under benign marketing aliases.
When does human life exist?
The onus on the RH Bill being passed in one of the last bastions of pro-Life in the world lies essentially on us, the presently living. We will be making a decision for those who would be living in the future. That is, if one considers the moment of procreation as the beginning of life. This is an unresolved argument as almost all the pro-RH-bill, pro-choice, pro-planned parenthood do not consider a human being a human being, with human rights and all, until the child leaves the womb. As a state matter, the Church really has no say on how the State or other non-believers, i.e. pagans, wants to define human life. Neither does the Church today have a vote in the affairs of State. But the Church can always tell its loyal followers - take note - loyal followers, that to support and practice RH Bill is a sin and there will be the devil to pay. That's all there is to it. Some politicians don't like hearing this from the Church as they want to have their cake and eat it too.
Morality and the Church
Naturally, when it comes to life, the Church will always want to have a say as the Church believes it represents the Author of Life. And yet the Church does not deny that God gave Man a free will; i.e. not even God rescinds man's individual freedom to choose. Even during the time when there was no separation between Church and State, Man's free will was always free other than the times when other men, usually more in number or more powerful usurped that right to impose their will on others. Later, this right of free will was enshrined and called democracy where, in practice, it becomes a contest of who wins the majority to savor the right not only to free will but to also impose their will on the rest, by wielding law making powers
Theocracy, alive and well
Conversely, the Church, whether separate from the State or not, is not some exclusive club like the Polo Club where members have a say in policy. The Church is a kingdom where the King is king and all loyal subjects are expected to obey in exchange for the reward of passage to a happy after life. However the Pro-RH's want to ridicule today's Roman Catholic Church, opposing ridicule is not the Church's concern in the sense that the Church has laws and a system of rewards and punishments which only apply to its bona-fide members who are willing to obey. All the Church has to do is remind its loyal subjects of these rules. Naturally, like any exclusive club, there are those who would want exceptions for themselves; many members believe that they can opt out of some commands of the Church and still be loyal subjects in good standing. The Pope and the Bishops counter if one is not an absolutely obedient subject, one is a sinner. The Church has a very simple argument when it comes to preventing birth; one has taken into his/her hands what belongs to God.
Shaming the Church
Despite its dogmatic and difficult-to-swallow stand on what is sin and what isn't, what the Church says has a powerful bearing in a Christian majority country like ours. That is why some politicians, under the guise of championing human rights and, of course, with their eye on votes and the extensive lobbying of businesses who will benefit from the RH Bill, are pushing for the RH bill in a partisan anti-clerical manner. Some versions of the bill in its draft stages even made it a violation of the law to publicly express opinions contrary to the RH Bill- the constitutional right of freedom of expression takes a back seat when it comes to the Reproductive rights crusade. But the Church and holy men in particular, are not strangers to state persecution. While this was going on, Bishops were hauled to a public investigation on their acceptance of motor vehicle donations from State gaming agencies. Soon after, Bishops were challenged by law makers to debate on the RH Bill, a debate that cannot have any common ground. Congressmen are not of the Religious profession just as Bishops are not of the legislative or political 'the art of the possible' profession. It's like having carpenters argue with welders on the merits of concrete.
Once upon a time
History shows us a kinder relationship between Church and State. Once before, the Church and State were like a married couple, with distinct duties to bodies and souls. The State, represented by the King, provided the environment where the subjects can live a fruitful life in pursuit of living. The King provided Peace and Order, Defense, social welfare and infrastructure in exchange for the payment of taxes. The responsibility of health and education of the subjects were given to the Church, and since it played a role in nation building, the King granted the Church land and tax free status. The King wanted more loyal subjects to increase his kingdom's GDP. The Church wanted more people to increase the souls they send to heaven. Famines, wars, plagues and Acts of God culled population whenever it happened.
How you say chop-chop in French
Things were working out fine until one day, the French King, Louis XVI, jealous of the British empire under King George III, conspired to support the rebellion of the 13 American colonies. Financing wars needed a lot of money so the King had no recourse but to tax the people. The nobles and the Church claimed that they have donated more than their share so it was left to the peasantry to shoulder the crippling taxes. All this was happening as the elite - the monarchy, the nobility and the clergy - continued to live blatantly luxurious lives. Naturally the peasants did not like this and so they took up arms, chopped of the heads of the elite and installed an elite made of themselves and the mob. This was the French Revolution. But it didn't end in 1789. Since power corrupts absolutely, the ruling elite ended up abusing the majority leading for more heads chopped in a cycle of violence, with the so called Reign of Terror lasting up to 1799, until Napoleon came to power. Nowadays, this tit for tat of chopping heads to change governments have been replaced by elections unless you relive the coups and counter-coups of Philippines circa 1986 to 1989. By the way, they had a nice name for this freedom to pursue one's will; democracy. Quite not exactly as the Greeks imagined it to be. Unfortunately there is a thin line between democracy and anarchy, the latter defined as imposing one's will over another. Democracy is always skirting that precarious precipice of choosing our right over another, or dictating what rights a neighbor can have.
Lo', how miserable
Ever since this bloody separation of Church and State, the Church and the State behave more like a divorced couple, with the State constantly sniping at the Church, trying to probe how far it can chip and wrest power from it. Like a cohabiting separated couple, they are forced to live together in an entente cordial for the sake of avoiding war.
For a moment, keeping the Church and Morality aside from this morass and just focus on economics, we can simulate how the RH bill can affect all of us in everyday traffic. Both sides can look at the same series of snapshots of traffic over time. Both sides will agree that its getting worse as more and more of the world's 9B people, more than 50% as per latest figures, reside in cities. We did not even need a Rio Earth Summit to be reminded of that other than the fact that every 20 years, more gale-force rhetoric will issue out from world leaders committing to "shared principles" another euphemism for agreeing to meet again, same time next 20 years. Everyone blames the government for not providing enough jobs, streets, mass transit, cities, etc. With the RH Bill, government can counter, essentially saying, if there were less of you out there complaining, there would less things to complain about.
Promoting population control measures is akin to the way so many new skyscraper owners invest in high tech security and beautiful reception areas only to let security guards block all the doors and let guests filter through a half opened door waving an inspection stick or an electronic wand with a polite but blankly address of “Ma'm-Sir!”. Remember the odd/even ban that morphed into coding? The government's rationale was since there are not enough streets for a growing population of cars and people, ban them once a week. Too many people complaining about inefficient government? Ban them from being born. Orwell would have loved that. Somehow, the Anti-RH Bill camp could counter with the secular film "Pay it forward" starring Kevin Spacey, which espoused the application of the Golden rule, advancing good deeds so that reciprocity transcend time and generations. That is a powerful argument as everyone who has been born wants a secure future. For Pro-RH Bill supporters, it comes at the expense of preventing future others the freedom to be born. It brings to mind the state of selfishness in the world ever since 9/11. Our access to life and the world for anything and to anywhere was severely curtailed in the interest of security, certainty, predictability. Ben Franklin said those who sacrifice liberty over security deserve neither.
Half full or half empty
You can curse traffic everyday and wish all those mouth breathers, stupid drivers, inconsiderate pedestrians, vacuous politicians, greedy businessmen, idiot urban planners, etc. were never born. Or you can just grin and bear it and think that among those out there stuck in traffic is a potential savior, messiah, inventor, miracle worker, etc. Or the next guy who would be serving your hamburger or cleaning your windshield. Which ever you choose, you are free to do so. Not even God will curtail your freedom of choice.
The four last things
Sustainable development? Sustainable transport? Population control to alleviate poverty? The Church points to Mark 14:7 where Jesus Christ is quoted to have said: "'For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them...". The poor are the occasions to practice charity. As for certainties, the Church proclaims four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. The secular world, pagans and Christians alike, used to have only two; Death and Taxes. In this day and age of longer lifespans, it looks like we can add two more: Traffic and the Poor. Amen.