Resources: Overpopulation

The debate about “overpopulation” is less about numbers of people than about rights (to land, water, food and livelihoods, for example), about markets, private property and inequality, and about relationships of power between different groups of people.

16 results
Some reflections
The Corner House

5 December 2009

Overpopulation arguments in climate debates serve to delay making structural changes in North and South away from the extraction and use of fossil fuels; to justify increased and multiple interventions in the countries deemed to hold surplus people; and to excuse those interventions when they cause further environmental degradation, migration or conflict. Population numbers, in sum, offer no useful pointers toward policies that should be adopted to tackle climate change.

The Scientific Manufacture of Fear
Elizabeth L. Krause

30 July 2006

36. Supposedly scientific demographic reports and alarms about low birthrates, ageing and immigration in Italy, and the catastrophic societal consequences that are predicted to flow from them, enable racism by stimulating a climate of fear and anxiety toward immigrants. They reinforce xenophobic notions in which racism is "coded as culture" rather than on supposedly objective somatic or visual differences.

Private Pensions, Corporate Welfare and Growing Insecurity
Richard Minns with Sarah Sexton

1 May 2006

35. This briefing outlines the different ways in which countries have financed both social security for older people and economic production. It describes the rise of the private model of pensions and the influence of pension funds on capital flows around the world. It then summarises and critiques the main justifications given for expanding private pension schemes, and analyses the motivations of the groups that perpetuate this model.

Larry Lohmann

2 November 2005

This book chapter explores the connections between the dark, often racist, scare stories of Malthusianism over the past 200 years, and the reliance of the stories on a particular economic model about how society must be analysed and organised.

Reflections on Three Hanging Children
Nicholas Hildyard

6 June 2005

"Scarcity" -- not enough food or water or land and so on -- does not explain what it says it explains. Hunger, for example, is rarely the result of no food at all, but of not enough food in a certain place for certain people because those with more power deny them access to it. This may be conceded, but the claim that there will not be enough food in future because of future population growth still seems plausible. Future resources crises, however, will caused by the same imbalances of power as they are today.

The Political Uses of Population
Sarah Sexton and Nicholas Hildyard

9 May 2005

By analysing who is considered 2too many" as Malthus's theory of population has been put to different uses, the presentation shows that population theory is in practice a political strategy employed to obscure relationships of power between different groups in societies. These relationships are critical to the use of "resources" as they determine how people are managed and in whose interests.

Constructing a New Population Threat
Anne Hendrixson

2 December 2004

34. 'Youth-bulge' theory refers to the large proportion of the world's population under 27 years old who are supposedly prone to violence. Images of angry young men of colour as potential terrorists and veiled young women as victims of repressive regimes support the theory. The implied threat of explosive violence and explosive fertility provides a rationale for US military intervention and population control initiatives in other countries and justifies government surveillance of Muslims and Arabs within US borders.

Women's Health in a Free Market Economy
Sumati Nair and Preeti Kirbat with Sarah Sexton

16 June 2004

31. This briefing evaluates the 1994 UN International Conference on Population and Development. It assesses several processes that affect women's reproductive and sexual rights and health: the decline and collapse in health services; neo-liberal economic policies and religious fundamentalisms; and development policies underpinned by neo-Malthusianism.

Larry Lohmann

31 March 2003

28. Disputes about human population increase are less about numbers than about rights, as is suggested by an analysis of the historical context in which Malthus wrote his first story about overpopulation.

Markets, States and Climate
Mike Davis

30 December 2002

27. A revised understanding of nineteenth cenutry famines illuminates many current challenges of 'development' and questions the wisdom of development policies still pursued today.

Poverty, Politics and Population in Capitalist Development
Eric B. Ross

31 July 2000

20. The goal of Thomas Malthus, the 19th century originator of a theory about population, was to absolve the state and wealthier segments of society from responsibility for poverty. The briefing explores the theory’s subsequent uses in eugenic, anti-immigration, environmental, Cold War and Green Revolution interests. It explores how population thinking is used today in discussions of globalisation, violent conflict, immigration and the environment.

A review The Malthus Factor: Poverty, Politics and Population in Capitalist Development by Eric B. Ross
Sarah Sexton

1 June 2000

The Malthus Factor makes a significant contribution to breaking out of the population framework, paving the way for a wider and potentially more fruitful exploration of poverty, development, deforestation, pollution, national security, social stability -- and of women’s self-determination in their lives in general, not just their fertility.

Genetic Engineering and World Hunger
Sarah Sexton, Nicholas Hildyard and Larry Lohmann

30 October 1998

10. The biotechnology industry claims that genetic engineering in agriculture is necessary to feed a growing world population. Yet, far from preventing world starvation, genetic engineering threatens to exacerbate the social and ecological causes of hunger by forcing farmers to pay for their right to fertile seeds, threatening crop yields, undermining biodiversity and reducing the access of poorer people to food.

The Social Generation of Food “Scarcity” and “Overpopulation”
Nicholas Hildyard

1 November 1996

Discussions of population and food supply that leave out the relationships of power between different groups of people will always mask the true nature of food scarcity -- who gets to eat and who doesn’t -- and lead to “solutions” that are simplistic, frequently oppressive and that, ultimately, reinforce the very structures creating ecological damage and hunger. 

The Politics of Contraceptive Research
Judith Richter with Sarah Sexton

2 April 1996

For the past 25 years, scientists have been developing a new class of birth control methods -- immuno-contraceptives, also known as an anti-fertility “vaccines” -- which aim to turn the body’s immune system against reproductive components. Immuno-contraceptives are likely to be unreliable as far as an individual is concerned and to entail an unprecedented potential for abuse; severe health risks cannot be discounted. They are a clear example of the impact “population control” has had on contraceptive research.

Nicholas Hildyard, Sarah Sexton and Larry Lohmann

31 May 1993

“Carrying capacity” is a term derived from the biological sciences, where it denotes the optimum number of a given species that a specific ecosystem can sustain. In the context of people and the planet, however, it is a means of preventing social change and of removing the concept of “overpopulation” from the realm of moral criticism and debate.