Population Bomb(ers)

On Monday the Environmental Politics group met for a lively discussion sparked by the following articles on the perils of overpopulation:

Smith, T. (1990) “The population bomb has exploded already: Twice as many people are alive in 1990 as were in 1950” British Medical Journal. 301. No. 6754. 681-2.

Ehrlich, P. R. and A. H. Ehrlich (2009) “The population bomb revisited” Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development. 1:3.

Valentine, S. V. (2010) “Disarming the population bomb” International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology. 17;2, 120-32.

Goldstone, J. A. (2010) “The new population bomb” Foreign Affairs. 89:1, 31-43.

I have to confess to always being a bit nervous when population is tabled for discussion, it seems to bring out the worst qualities: fear and control (both of which appeared abundant in the articles listed). Of course, this take on the matter is not without its own bias…Monday’s discussion though was far from closed or tense, it was open and stimulating. I’ll just review a few points that were made, but if I have missed out any, or you have something to add/comment, then may the conversation continue…

The assumptions underpinning these articles was the first topic tackled, and a number of people identified some of the problems with how the population issue was being framed in these articles. Goldstone in particular was an easy target in this respect, but this article was not the only one, the population story seemed to lend itself to a neat knitting of events into a grand narrative that aimed to heighten fear and garner support for control measures that applied to countries beyond North American and European borders where population is rising…These countries were the ‘problem’ in this respect and threatened international security as they strained the carrying capacity of the earth. At this point China’s one child policy came on the table, here was a country that wasn’t concerned with controlling the birth rate of others, but rather it’s own and has been successful in this regard. There may have been a few uncomfortable shuffles here, successful in regard to what exactly and at what cost? The answer to this seemed to come down to whether overpopulation was a problem or not, and if it is not an issue for the country we live in should we be concerning ourselves with addressing it, or should we concentrate on our own unsustainable practices and lifestyle choices?

One of the group members came from Ghana where the birth rate remains above 6, and this brought family, birthing and sexual practices into the conversation. The solution seems simple, educate women, let them decide what to do with their bodies. Yet we couldn’t help but reflect on the historical development of our own empowerment as western women and what this had done to birthrates in Western Europe. At this moment we had to question whether we were as free in this respect as we thought, or whether we had just given ourselves up to other social and economic structures.

It was a very interesting discussion and I am sure I have missed many an important point, so please feel free to continue below…


About Hannah Hughes

I am a lecturer in the School of Law and Politics. My research interests stem from my concern with environmental degradation and include: Climate change; knowledge and power; global environmental politics; environmental security
This entry was posted in Events, Population, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Population Bomb(ers)

  1. The BBC world service is running an interesting three-part documentary on population control in India and the role that Western thinking has played in the policy response:


  2. Thank you for the correction

  3. In this discussion, I pointed out that the fertility rate is very high in some developing countries such as Uganda where it is on average 6.69 children born per woman. This is very alarming and needs to be controlled. The country referred to is Uganda, not Ghana.

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