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Is the population bomb a fallacy?

By Lara J Carim, on 31 May 2011

Kelly Clarke, a student at the UCL Institute of Child Health, reports on the opening debate at the UCL/Leverhulme Population Footprints symposium, held on 24 May.

The human population quadrupled in the 20th century. It will reach 7 billion this year. There are 250,000 more people on the planet today than there were yesterday. But Fred Pearce, New Scientist journalist, speaking at the ‘My Vision of the World’ debate at UCL last Tuesday believes we should stop worrying about an exponential population.

According to Pearce there is “good news”. We are diffusing the “population bomb” and this is not the result of a one-child policy, nor has it come at the cost of human liberties. The population problem has been solved by poor rural women and their quiet “reproductive revolution”.

This was the theme of one of four thought-provoking talks at the debate in the Bloomsbury Theatre, providing a taster of the UCL/Leverhulme Population Footprints Symposium proceeding over the following two days. The seminar and the symposium aimed to provoke debate on issues such as population growth and global carrying capacity.

Click on the link below to watch the debate in full

The speakers were an eclectic bunch:

  • Dr Gil Greer, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
  • Professor Sir Michael Marmot, UCL Professor in Epidemiology.
  • Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist and well-known commentator on issues of immigration, diversity and multiculturalism.
  • Fred Pearce, journalist and Environmental Consultant of New Scientist and author of Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations, and the Coming Population Crash and The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming.

Proceedings were chaired by Sarah Boseley of the Guardian.

Dr Greer spoke around one central message; that women and girls are not puppets of public policy and must have the right to choose the number and spacing of their children.

Miss Alibhai-Brown, drawing on personal experience, discussed migration as a human right from the perspective of an Asian from Uganda living in Britain.

Professor Marmot emphatically and eloquently described health and economic inequalities on a global and national scale. Memorably, he stated that life expectancy in North Camden is 11 years higher than that in the south of the borough. He presented the issue of inequalities as a societal and moral battle.

But Pearce’s talk was indeed news to me. Once the villains of this saga, women in low and middle income countries are now the heroines. Today’s women are having half as many children as their mothers. The current global fertility rate stands at 2.5 children per woman, nearing the replacement level of 2.3. In Iran women were having 6.7 children in 1980, now they are settling for just 1.7. Women in Tehran are having fewer children than their sisters in New York, while the fertility rate in Brazil is currently lower than in the UK.

It is a misconception that women reduce the size of their family as a consequence of education, he says. So what is driving this reduction? Urbanisation? Conflict? Women choosing a career over childcare? These are viable causes but there seems to be no doubt that the population is set to shrink.

So can we relax? Will climate change reverse with a declining population? Pearce believes the “consumption bomb” is our real problem. The richest 7% of the world are responsible for 50% of global CO2 emissions whilst the poorest 50% are responsible for just 7%. We must stop blaming climate change on the children of Africa, he urged, and face up to the fact that we in the West are the true villains.

5 Responses to “Is the population bomb a fallacy?”

  • 1
    klem wrote on 31 May 2011:

    All I know is that when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s the global population was supposed to hit 40 billion by the year 2000. There seems to be complete silence about this bizaar alarmist prediction today, silence like it never happened. I remember.

  • 2
    sejjklc wrote on 1 June 2011:

    Certainly between about 1960 and 1963 the population increased at quite a rate but it was short-lived. If projections about the population were made based on that rate it could explain such an inflated prediction for 2000 however it is not representative of population growth over 60 years. Have a look at this website


  • 3
    choosing a school wrote on 4 June 2011:

    Is it such a bad thing for a woman to choose a career over child care.

  • 4
    klem wrote on 9 June 2011:

    Its not bad at all, but what the UN wants to do is make sure it controls how many children women will be allowed to have. It focuses on women not men. If you look a bit closer you find that the UN officials who really promote child control and birth control are middle aged men, coming from countries who tend to oppress their women. Just have alook at the UN sometime. Its creepy.

  • 5
    Dostava Cveca wrote on 30 September 2015:

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