I will say, that, as pro-life as I am, and as religious (I am currently practicing as a Lutheran although raised Catholic with a devout mother, to whom I am very close), time and time again, I come back to the realization that the way population biology works, is that there are boom and bust cycles, with the busts driven by intense competition for resources, die-off and predation.It seems to me that there are at least two distinct questions here:
I acknowledge and understand the terrible consequences of the Pill, as it renders females utterly available and at the mercy of the intense male libido, however I maintain that, within a committed marriage, non-abortive birth control methods make sense.
Also, to your point about the slowing of world birthrates, and the low birthrates in developed nations: true...but this has been achieved not ONLY via women's education and later marriage, but significantly through widespread contraceptive use and sadly, abortion. If you could show me a nation where the TFR hovered around 2.2, and all or most participants practiced NFP as the sole method of limiting births, then I might reconsider. Again (I have been on your site before as mary lee I think), I have no qualms whatsoever with any specific couple lovingly, and honestly deciding to bring many children into the world, but my view is shaped by an understanding that many other couples will contracept while others never marry. I live in a state with a European-style TFR (Massachusetts), so a large family here and there is a beautiful thing to see.
If you read the comments section for the article I sent you, you see an unrelenting hatred of people who have many (or even several) children. Many seem ill-informed and ignorant, but many others truly believe that abortion and contraception are absolutely necessary to keep our numbers in check.
Also...many Catholics I know urge early marriage, as a way to stop the ridiculous prolongation of adolescence in our culture through the twenties (something I agree with), and to place the intense erotic desire of the twenties where it belongs--in marriage--rather than let it drift through numerous premarital encounters.
1) Is it necessary for us to engage in some sort of conscious fertility management in order to avoid a boom and die-off cycle?
2) If it is necessary for us to consciously manage our fertility in order to avoid this kind of boom and die-off cycle, is it possible for a society to do this using the means approved of by the Catholic Church, or is artificial birth control necessary?
I'll do my best to deal with each of these in turn.
In dealing with 1), I think it is worth pausing to consider whether the boom and die off phenomenon which we see among many animal populations is in fact something we see or are likely to see among humans. At first pass, it may seem odd to ask this. We know that a human population can reach a point in which it is unable to continue to exist on the resources it has available. If resources available to human populations are limited, wouldn't we expect to see humans subject to the same population boom and bust dynamics that other animals are?
I'm not sure, however, that this is as much the case as it would at first seem. We humans are far, far more adaptable than animals. While a gazelle can eat only certain plants, and live only within a certain range, we change our ranges and our food sources radically based on need. Since the '70s we have reached a point in which world food production significantly exceeds what would be needed to feed the entire population quite healthily -- famines tend to be the result of political manipulation (some people keeping others from getting food) or from crop or climate catastrophes in those areas of the world in which people are still living on the basis of subsistence agriculture rather than participating in the global food marketplace. The NY Times author refers to this obliquely when he observes that the Earth can in fact support a population even significantly larger than 7 Billion -- just not necessarily in what we in the US consider a "normal" lifestyle. Because people tend to move around or come up with new innovations when they come under resource pressure, it seems to me that it's particularly hard to sit down and form expectations about what our problems will be in 50 years or 100 years based on population growth. Back in 1900 or 1950, deciding that we needed to radically limit our fertility would have been one "out" from what looked like a lot of space and resource pressures. However, modern technologies and the green revolution have done far more to improve living standards across the world than simply assuring that people bred less would have done. And all those innovations were the result of people who were born. The greatest resource of all, for humanity, is human beings themselves.
Starting to deal with 2): The same consciousness and flexibility which makes it far easier for humans to move to other regions or seek other sources of food also renders the question of what is "conscious fertility management" much more difficult. In our current society, with artificial birth control as an assumption, we tend to think within the context of most people entering into sexual relationships around the time they reach cultural adulthood, and we assume the main question is whether those people will have lots of children or instead use birth control or abortion to avoid that. We assume that like animals we will virtually all become sexually active at a certain point in our physical developments, and that the question is simply whether we will, like them, continue to reproduce until we exceed our resources, or whether we will use artificial means to limit our fertility.
However, when we look back to times and places where human populations found themselves under serious resource pressure, what we see is not just changes in how people comport their sexual activities, but changes in a host of cultural norms and structures that determine whether people enter into sexual relationships at all. People often married later, and a lot more people didn't get married at all. This could mean going into the religious life, or some other occupation which ruled out marriage, but often it simply meant extended families in which unmarried siblings or uncles and aunts were part of the household on a long term basis. This is how a lot of Western European countries (particularly resource poor ones like Ireland) maintained fairly steady population for long periods of the late Medieval, Rennaissance and early Modern eras. It wasn't just that people died earlier and child mortatily was higher in these societies, people made life decisions about marraige based on their perceptions of their ability to support a family. I'm short of Googling time to uncover the reference again, but I seem to recall that Ireland pre 1800 was one of the more extreme examples with an average marriage age for women around 27 and less than 50% of reproductive age women being married at any given time (as in, of the woman at any given time between 15 and 40, less than 50% were married).
Now, I'm betting that none of this is sounding like much fun. Most of us want to get married, we want to have our own households, we want to have kids. I tend to be something of a technological optimist, and so I think that our ability to provide for ourselves with the resources available will tend to grow with our needs. However, I also think that our expectations and culture are shaped a lot by signals that we get from our circumstances without even thinking about it. Things that seem standard (whether living in a stand-alone house, driving a car, or eating a meat heavy diet) will start to seem unnecessary luxuries if our society really comes under resource pressure. Getting married young would start to seem a lot less attractrive, and living with your parents while working would start to seem a lot more attractive, if we really were strapped for the resources to maintain current lifestyles.
Given our flexibility and our inventiveness, I think that rather than maintaining an unsustainable lifestyle right up to some sort of population catastrophy, we'd tend to see our lifestyles and culture change due to resource pressures being felt and responded to.
How does all this relate to Catholic prohibitions of birth control and sterilization? Well, I think that we tend to adapt to circumstances using whatever tools we think of as available. If, culturally, we think of sterilization and contraception as available, and they may form part of a "solution" to certain pressures that seems more attractive than Catholic suggestions. However, I think that taking them off the table we're still very much able to adapt as individuals or as a society to circumstances of tightening resources.
Those of us living as Catholics in the modern, secular West have a slightly different problem. We face a society in which certain coping mechanisms (contraception, sterilization, abortion, cohabitation) are often used in order for people to balance their desire for pleasure and relationships with their desire to lead a certain kind of lifestyle. Our society as a whole is built around those assumptions, and so as a small minority those who eschew these find ourselves working uphill. Many in the Catholic subculture solve this disparity by simply having more children than the norm, and accepting the lifestyle trade-offs that involves. But I don't think that necessarily means that a culture in which most people were Catholics faithful to Church teaching would look like our culture, but with most people marrying young and having 4+ children. I think such a culture would look, overall, a lot different from ours, and would achieve its own balance between resources and population through other cultural means than "just add birth control".