Saving the Planet for Whom?

Toni Vernelli works for an environmental charity.
At 25 years of age, Toni became pregnant and aborted the baby
in order to “save the planet.”

To prevent any future threats against Earth, Toni searched for a doctor to sterilize her. Finally, at 27, she found a doctor willing to perform the procedure. Toni’s goal? To reduce her “carbon footprint” on the planet. Whew. That was a close one. Planet Earth saved from another infant.

The article in the UK’s tells us,

“While some might think it strange to celebrate the reversal of nature and denial of motherhood, Toni relishes her decision with an almost religious zeal. ‘Having children is selfish. It’s all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet,’ says Toni, 35.”

OK, so the planet has been saved from Toni Vernelli’s carbon footprint and genetic stamp. But this incident is set within a wider trend of low birth rates in the west and in the world. The world’s population will reach some 9 Billion by 2050 but will then plateau based on current trends. Ben Wattenberg, in his book, Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape our Future, tells us that the west is in a bit of a death spiral in terms of population growth. In a thumbnail, Westerners just aren’t having kids. Wattenberg writes: ”The Total Fertility Rate is the keystone calculation of demography, and I would argue that it is the single most important measurement of humankind.”

One guess I’ve been toying with — the West has stopped having children because it has lost it’s sense of pride and it’s sense of the importance of their cultural contribution to the world and history. In other words, the west may have lost the feeling that it has something of worth to share with the next generation. (Read my short take on Fewer here). Take as a symptom of this  the few but vocal (or visible) Americans that hate America.

Friends of mine in the EU tell me that in an attempt to curb the population decline, governments (Germany for example ) have offered to subsidize your family if you’ll have another child. Interestingly enough, the common wisdom seems to be that, in general, this policy would only encourage those cultures that are having lots of babies anyways — in Germany it would be the Turks. It would be interesting to have some data on how that’s working out.

Let’s step it up a bit.

Alan Weisman’s new book, The World Without Us describes what would happen to the Earth if Humankind were to disappear. Who would care, right? Wrong. His book is doing amazingly well. It seems there are those who relish the idea of saving the planet at the expense of the human race. They don’t seem to stop to ask, who will enjoy the pristine planet? Or, gasp, who will man the Green Peace offices? Weisman isn’t necessarily in that camp, he’s just asking and answering a very interesting question. What would happened to the Earth if we were gone. (For a fascinating look at the future of New York City and of the World without us, check out his site at

So let’s recap:

  • Extremists who sterilize themselves to “save the planet”
  • Radicals who in a contest between humankind and the planet Earth, would cheer for the planet and against their own species
  • Birthrates dropping below replacement rates in the west

What does this —

  • fascination with the eradication of the human race
  • hate that many Americans (in particular) have against their own culture
  • the lack of interest in having children

— say about Western Culture?

It may say that the west is on the downward side of the historical arch as a culture. Titles such as, From Dawn to Decadence and The Twilight of American Culture, indicate that cultural observers sense that Western Culture may be at the end of an era culturally. By analogy, Islam may be to Western culture what the Goths were to the Roman Empire. Rome eventually disappeared but the world survived. So cheer up.


Here are some questions to think through:

  • What are the deep issues of the human heart that emerge here? How does the story told in scripture speak to these deep needs?
  • What aspect of the gospel, of the biblical message speaks to someone like Toni, who sterilized herself to eliminate her carbon foot print? What would turn her from a hater of her own species to a lover of the human race?
  • How can the biblical story turn those who feel inspired when they think of a pristine world without man from a false depreciation of man and an over appreciation of the earth?
  • What would need to happen for young couples to feel the anticipation and joy of receiving children as gifts from God?
  • How must we talk about the biblical story in a way that cherishes the earth and the human role in caring for her?
  • How would Western Culture need to be engaged with the Biblical Message in such a way that it would be revitalized with a sense of destiny, stewardship and leadership?

What do you think?

See you in the Mystic.


8 responses to “Saving the Planet for Whom?”

  1. Tom Avatar

    As always Alex, very interesting and thought provoking. As I read, Proverbs 29:18 kept running through my mind. It was the King James which I’m normally not a huge fan of, but it says what I was thinking:

    “Where there is no vision; the people perish…”

    Could it be that as a species, especially in the West, that we are losing sight of who we are? A nation (America) that has it’s origin identified with God as it’s source of strength and provision drifting from Him and His guidance?

    And slowly, but surely, we begin to think that we can affect and “save” a spinning mass in space that we didn’t even create. I believe we would be better served to remember who we are, Whose we are, and especially who we aren’t.

    I personally don’t believe for one second that I could save myself, let alone this planet.


  2. John Avatar

    Lets see now.,who is really being selfish here? It appears to me that Toni is the selfish one.

    Having aborted this child, and been sterlized, she fails to recognize that this child could/would have an enormous influence on his or family, friends and colleaques from birth to adulthood, and maybe unselfishly make this planet a better place to live.

    A sad story for sure. My prayers are with you Toni.

  3. tony sheng Avatar

    I agree with John – her whole story is very sad.

  4. petert Avatar

    It is very sad. However to be fair, Toni’s example is a (misguided) attempt at stewardship (of the environment)…..without a God-she is free to do whatever she believes. People like Tony need an example of stewardship (of the environment, etc.) WITH a God. Has the Church provided this example to the world? In other words, what would it look like for the Church, in response to a society that is in anxiety over an earth that is apparently falling apart, to provide Biblical leadership on Global Warming to the rest of the world? Since all that God creates is good, I’d like to see us (God’s people) be examples of what it means to love people and steward His creation. Be men on a mission, then maybe people like Toni will ask questions.

  5. Parepidemos Avatar

    This is possibly the most important set of issues that the current generations of “Westerners” face. Alex, Tom, Petert, you guys nailed the same basic point in different ways. Here’s my shot, from the hip:

    It took about a thousand years for the center of gravity of Western culture to become judeochristian, so that the general aspiration of the whole culture was defined by God– sure, only a tiny minority of all Westerners actually strove Godward in a way that we might admire today. But that Godward aspiration was the benchmark by which Westerners measured value and purpose: in contrast to it perhaps, and it was frequently redefined to suit baser purposes, but it was always there, providing an impetus for growth and cultural confidence. So for the next thousand years (1000-ish to 2000-ish AD), Western culture and civilization flourished and grew. In all its mess and excess and transgress, it grew.

    But since the Enlightement, Western cultural architects (philosophers, scientists, artists, musicians, politicians, authors, teachers) began in earnest to cut off God from Western culture.

    We are seeing the results of decapitation.

    If that’s true, here’s the next question: Can Western culture be revived? Should it be? Or are we so far into the twilight, that the best next step should be a requiem for what’s dead, and begin anew?

    Anyone for “Humana 2.0”?

  6. Ryan Avatar

    I think these extremes of environmentalism that we see presented here are a result of being let down. Let down by their country, by a government, by feeble prior attempts by humans to save the planet. People put too much stock in the abilities of various organizations, institutions, and entities to save themselves and others and miss the fact that it is God that redeems and saves mankind and all of creation, not us.

    When people are let down by someone or something, they tend to react against that person or thing. “America haters” feel as though they have been let down by a country that was supposed to save the world. “Human haters”, or the ones who would cheer for the earth over their own species feel they have been let down by the species that was supposed to have enough intelligence to save the planet. Good stewardship of the earth is essential, but when it comes down to it, God is the only place where we can put our hope in the future that will not let us down.

    just some humble thoughts…

    Thank you for this blog!
    See you at Humana

  7. Andy Avatar

    Population is declining in Japan at an alarming rate, so what makes this a “Western” and not a trend in so-called developed countries. If “postmodern” was born out a the failure of the modern era, then perhaps this is “post-development” (a rejection of the notion that humans are making things better).

    I would argue that Toni’s story is a bizarre case that isn’t worth analyzing too much, but the issue of population decline and your questions are very thought provoking.

    My sense is that the failure of development (including the failure of Christian religion) is manifest in the examples you are citing, but it’s also manifest in a renewed hunger and searching for spiritual truth.

    I’ll take a stab at question #1. People want to be significant, but they find themselves less and less significant. They need to know that they are loved by God regardless of how they perform.

    The separation between church and culture is keeping both in slavery. People are hungry for spiritual truth in society. In church clubs people are pretending, and they are searching for significance through performance. I’ll take a risk and say most don’t know the reality of God’s love.

    It’s time for us to know the reality of God’s love and the resulting freedom (that Paul describes well). We can let go of failing religion with nothing lost and enter the culture as fellow travelers — humbled yet joyfully secure in Christ — and offer the reality of love to people who will receive it gladly.

    I suppose this includes laying down confidence in being American, or Western, or developed, etc. I would name all that stuff with the choice adjective that Paul used in his letter to the Philippians, but the purest translation may not be appropriate. I would gladly lay down all these things to better know Christ’s love and to share his love with my friends — including or especially those America/human/god/Christian-religion haters who I find that I can relate to and often agree with.

  8. Claire-Elizabeth Avatar

    It is really both sad and interesting to see Humanist ideology used to eradicate humanity. What a poignant example of what happens when love of the earth exceeds love of mankind, obviously a scrambled order of values in God’s hierarchy of creation. But what else can we expect from a society that treats children as expendable resources? If the only reason that we are still populating an overpopulated planet is to see our genetics continue, a sort of eternal life for those without hope, then having children would then be purely selfish.
    My question is, what is this choice doing to Miss Vernelli’s humanity and those that are like-minded? If we are made in God’s image then when we deny a part of ourselves, worse, when we remove part of our purpose- we become something other. How then do we live?
    The whole process of procreation is this great ecstasy, a fullness, a loss of control. Sadly society limits this to the sexual part of procreation. But even birth is a(n albeit painful) joy. There is something new and beautiful and precious held in a new baby, a hope for the future. There is God’s reflection in sex and pregnancy and birth. The whole process is a kind of Divine overflowing of life, a great grace. The loss of a child, before or after birth is a devastation, a brutality- the loss of that gift, that fullness, is the repetition of creation halted in a freeze frame and thrown out. For Miss Vernelli to willingly suffer the death of a life and remove any hope of life beyond her own in the name of saving the planet is a pushing back from God’s banquet table of blessings. The decision of sacrificing one part of God’s creation to save another is rather illogical when, as it was mentioned, there will be no one left to benefit from the sacrifice.

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