Exploding? The Sensitive Issue of Overpopulation

By Daniel Isler

In his mesmerizing book “Freedom”, Jonathan Franzen delicately handles a sensitive but critical issue. He takes his protagonist to a journey into a large sustainability activists group, calling mainly for immediate actions to decrease the world’s population. Although being recognized as a genuine issue by sustainability scientists and social scientists – the subject of decreasing population is still a taboo in most parts of the world. Just think for a second about China’s one-child policy, forbidding more than one biological child for each couple of parents – and feel the repulse and intimidation we experience in light of such intervention to our personal decisions.

But this is by no means a new issue: warning signs were raised already over 200 years ago, namely by British scholar, Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. In a nutshell, he showed and argued that while population growth is exponential by nature (2-4-8-16…), food and other resources grow arithmetically (1-2-3-4…). This observation means that if untouched, the population will outgrow its own fuel needed to live, and will unavoidably extinct. Although debated intensively over the last 200 years and often dismissed by other scholars – Malthusianism remains a central notion in the debate about global over population.

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