You are here:   Environment > ONLINE ONLY: Overpopulation and the Reality of Grandchildren

  China's One-Child Policy: Does it do more harm than good? 

Half a century ago, when I was a sixth former, earnest chaps used to turn up at our school to lecture us on overpopulation, the world's greatest problem. A few years later, when I was a graduate student studying the politics of the environment the agenda was being set by the likes of Paul Ehrlich whose book The Population Bomb was published in 1968. By the mid-1970s I was in the same institution as Ehrlich, Stanford University, though his status as an agenda-setter was clearly being challenged by more immediate economic problems.

The debate continues to this day, as does Ehrlich, now in his 80s, but still relaying much the same message, in tandem with his wife, Anne. In the age of the internet, of course the debate continues because all debates do, but it is much lower in profile now. It is worth asking where it's gone on the agenda; you can instantly consult numerous "population clocks" which show the global population to be about 7.2 billion and still rising steadily, which is more or less what the Jeremiahs of half a century ago expected and were worried about. Have we stopped worrying for good reasons or bad?

View Full Article
Vera Lustig
June 18th, 2013
5:06 PM
According to Allison, I must be "psychopathological": I find overcrowded streets and transport systems unpleasant and even threatening. There is for me something threatening about huge crowds. To put it in perspective, I don't begrudge Allison his/her adorable granddaughters, and I find China's sadistically enforced one-child policy utterly repugnant. BUT, as "Anonymous", above, points out, we have made inroads into our planet's resources. Even damp South-East England has annual water shortages, and we are never more than a few days away from food shortages. Appealing to people to use less water/eat less meat isn't going to work. There is a global problem of youth unemployment, which isn't I believe, cyclical. Rather, it's the shape of things to come. Some countries' leaders (Iran, Russia,Chile) are anxious about decreasing fertility. The Chilean president is offering cash incentives to families to encourage them to have larger families. Meanwhile, in Spain, youth unemployment is above 50%. So, instead of putting yet more people on our planet, why don't the Chileans welcome their fellow Spanish-speakers to come over and work? Movement of labour is the answer to shortages of workers.

June 15th, 2013
7:06 PM
It is certainly true that human population cannot grow indefinitely century after century, until there is standing room only. There will be scientific advances and technical innovations. But does anyone want the whole globe covered in adjoining cities? Long before that we will have run out of food and fresh water. We do not know when overpopulation will become a significant global problem (as it already is in some countries), but the idea, propagated by some, that it could never be a problem is ridiculous. We live on a finite planet with finite resources, and we are already destroying the natural environment upon which all life, including human life, depends. Urban based politicians and business leaders seem incapable of understanding this basic fact about human existence on Earth.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.