What thinkers have said about population through the ages.
Stasinos - poet 776 - 580 BC
"There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed Earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing Earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and the plan of Zeus came to pass."
Confucius - philosopher 551 – 479 BC
"Excessive (population) growth may reduce output per worker, repress levels of living for the masses and engender strife."
Aristotle – philosopher 384 – 322 BC
"One would have thought that it was even more necessary to limit population than property...The neglect of this subject, which in existing states is so common, is a never-failing cause of poverty among the citizens; and poverty is the parent of both revolution and crime."
Tertullian – writer and theologian 160 – 220
"The strongest witness is the vast population of the earth to which we are a burden and she scarcely can provide for our needs."
Nicolas Machiavelli – writer 1469 – 1527
"When every province of the world so teems with inhabitants that they can neither subsist where they are nor remove themselves elsewhere… the world will purge itself in one or another of these three ways (floods, plague and famine)."
Otto Diederich Lutken – clergyman and economist 1719 - 1790
"Since the circumference of the globe is given and does not expand with the increased number of its inhabitants, and as travel to other planets thought to be inhabitable has not yet been invented; since the earth's fertility cannot be extended beyond a given point, and since human nature will presumably remain unchanged, so that a given number will hereafter require the same quantity of the fruits of the earth for their support now, and as their rations cannot be arbitrarily reduced, it follows that the proposition "that the world's inhabitants will be happier, the greater the number" cannot be maintained, for as soon as the number exceeds that which our planet with all its wealth of land and water can support, they must needs starve one another out, not to mention other necessarily attendant inconveniences, to wit, a lack of the other comforts of life, wool, flax, timber, fuel, and so on. But the wise Creator who commanded men in the beginning to be fruitful and multiply, did not intend, since He set limits to their habitants and sustenance, that multiplication should continue without limit."
James Madison - US President 1751 - 1836
"What becomes of the surplus of human life? It is either, first, destroyed by infanticide, as among the Chinese and Lacedaemonians; or, second, it is stifled or starved, as among other nations whose population is commensurate to its food; or, third, it is consumed by wars and endemic diseases; or fourth, it overflows, by emigration, to places where a surplus of food is attainable."
Thomas Malthus – clergyman and scholar 1766 – 1832
"Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence on the other hand increases only in an arithmetical ratio."
Ralph Waldo Emerson – writer 1803 – 1882
"If government knew how, I should like to see it check not multiply the population."
John Stuart Mill – philosopher 1806 – 1873
"There is room in the world, no doubt, and even in old countries, for a great increase in population, supposing the arts of life to go on improving, and capital to increase. But even if innocuous, I confess I see very little reason for desiring it. The density of population necessary to enable mankind to obtain, in the greatest degree, all the advantages both of cooperation and of social intercourse, has, in all the most populous countries, been attained. A population, may be too crowded, though all be amply supplied with food and raiment. It is not good for man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species. A world from which solitude is extirpated, is a very poor ideal. Solitude, in the sense of being often alone, is essential to any depth of meditation or of character, and solitude in the presence of natural beauty and grandeur, is the cradle of thoughts and aspirations which are not only good for the individual, but which society could ill do without. Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature; with every rood of land brought into cultivation, which is capable of growing food for human beings; every flowery waste or natural pasture ploughed up, all quadrupeds or birds which are not domesticated for man's use exterminated as his rivals for food, every hedgerow or superfluous tree rooted out, and scarcely a place left where a wild shrub or flower could grow without being eradicated as a weed in the name of improved agriculture. If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it."
Arnold Toynbee – economic historian 1852 - 1883
"We have been God-like in our planned breeding of our domesticated plants and animals, but we have been rabbit-like in our unplanned breeding of ourselves."
Albert Einstein – physicist 1879 – 1955
"Overpopulation in various countries has become a serious threat to the health of people and a grave obstacle to any attempt to organize peace on this planet."
Helen Keller – author, activist and lecturer 1880 - 1968
"Once it was necessary that the people should multiply and be fruitful if the race was to survive. But now to preserve the race it is necessary that people hold back the power of propagation."
John Maynard Keynes – economist 1883 – 1946
"If only Malthus, instead of Ricardo, had been the parent stem from which nineteenth-century economics proceeded, what a much wiser and richer place the world would be today!"
Jawaharlal Nehru – Indian Prime Minister 1889 – 1964
"Some of these (Asian) countries, like India, far from needing a bigger population, would be better off with fewer people."
Aldous Huxley - writer 1894-1963
"This is the force which in general terms can be called overpopulation, the mounting pressure of population pressing upon existing resources. This, of course, is an extraordinary thing; something is happening which has never happened in the world's history before. I mean, let's just take a simple fact that between the time of birth of Christ and the landing of the Mayflower, the population of the Earth doubled. It rose from 250 million to probably 500 million. Today, the population of the Earth is rising at such a rate that it will double in half a century."
Pope Paul VI – religious leader 1897 - 1978
"There is no denying that the accelerated rate of population growth brings many added difficulties to the problems of development where the size of the population grows more rapidly than the quantity of available resources to such a degree that things seem to have reached an impasse. In such circumstances people are inclined to apply drastic remedies to reduce the birth rate. There is no doubt that public authorities can intervene in this matter, within the bounds of their competence. They can instruct citizens on this subject and adopt appropriate measures, so long as these are in conformity with the dictates of the moral law and the rightful freedom of married couples is preserved completely intact. When the inalienable right of marriage and of procreation is taken away, so is human dignity. Finally, it is for parents to take a thorough look at the matter and decide upon the number of their children. This is an obligation they take upon themselves, before their children already born, and before the community to which they belong following the dictates of their own consciences informed by God's law authentically interpreted, and bolstered by their trust in Him."
Lyndon B Johnson – US President 1908 – 1973
"The hungry world cannot be fed until and unless growth of its resources and the growth of its population come into balance. Each man and woman and each nation - must make decisions of conscience and policy in the face of this great problem."
Sir Peter Scott – founder of WWF 1909 – 1989
“If the human population of the world continues to increase at its current rate, there will soon be no room for either wild life or wild places…But I believe that sooner or later man will learn to limit his overpopulation. Then he will be much more concerned with optimum rather than maximum, quality rather than quantity, and will recover the need within himself for contact with wilderness and wild nature.”
Kenneth Boulding – economist 1910 – 1993
(President Kennedy's Environmental Advisor 1966)
"Anyone who believes in indefinite growth of anything physical on a physically finite planet is either a madman or an economist."
Jacques Cousteau – conservationist 1910 – 1997
"We must alert and organise the world's people to pressure world leaders to take specific steps to solve the two root causes of our environmental crises exploding population growth and wasteful consumption of irreplaceable resources. Overconsumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today."
Sam Levenson - humourist 1911 - 1980
Somewhere on this globe, every 10 seconds, there is a woman giving birth to a child. She must be found and stopped.
Richard M. Nixon - US President 1913 - 1994
"One of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century will be the growth of the population."
Norman Borlaug – "father" of Green Revolution 1914 – 2009
"The green revolution has won a temporary success in man's war against hunger and deprivation; it has given man a breathing space. If fully implemented, the revolution can provide sufficient food for sustenance during the next three decades. But the frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed; otherwise the success of the green revolution will be ephemeral only...Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the 'Population Monster'."
"There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort."
Robert McNamara – President of World Bank 1916 – 2009
"Short of nuclear war itself, population growth is the gravest issue the world faces. If we do not act, the problem will be solved by famine, riots, insurrection and war."
Spike Milligan – comedian 1918 - 2002
"Overpopulation is a serious issue. The human race will soon have to get used to 12 in a room."
James Lovelock – environmentalist b1919
"Those who fail to see that population growth and climate change are two sides of the same coin are either ignorant or hiding from the truth. These two huge environmental problems are inseparable and to discuss one while ignoring the other is irrational."
Digby McLaren – geologist 1919 - 2004
"If an unseen intelligent being from somewhere else in our galaxy were to visit the Earth, perhaps the most incomprehensible phenomenon it could observe would be that the planet’s apparently wise and competent dominant beings are totally ignorant of the life-support system they are destined to live within. They are, furthermore, unaware that their uncontrolled reproductive capacity has grown to the extent that it is rapidly destroying this system, while they fight among themselves to preserve their freedom to do so."
Isaac Asimov – author 1920 – 1992
"...democracy can not survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies. The more people there are, the less one individual matters."
"Which is the greater danger nuclear warfare or the population explosion? The latter absolutely! To bring about nuclear war, someone has to do something; someone has to press a button. To bring about destruction by overcrowding, mass starvation, anarchy, the destruction of our most cherished values-there is no need to do anything. We need only do nothing except what comes naturally and breed. And how easy it is to do nothing."
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh – Royal consort b1921
"The more people there are, the more food we need, the more space we occupy, the more resources and consumer goods we wish to have and the more development has to take place in order to employ the extra population. (…) Who is going to be the first to face up to the need for self-restraint in the number of children brought into the world?"
James P. Grant – UN Under-Secretary-General 1922 – 1955
"Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race."
Professor Albert Bartlett – physicist b1923
"Can you think of any problem on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted or advanced by having larger populations at the local level, the state level, the national level, or globally?"
George H.W. Bush – US President b1924
"Success in the population field, under United Nations leadership, may...determine whether we can resolve successfully the other great questions of peace, prosperity, and individual rights that face the world."
Gore Vidal – writer 1925 - 2012
"Think of the Earth as a living organism that is being attacked by billions of bacteria whose numbers double every 40 years. Either the host dies, or the virus dies, or both die."
Queen Elizabeth II – British monarch b1926
"One must remember that (St. Vincent’s) resources are finite and cannot accommodate indefinite population growth. Families must plan their families just as the Government has to plan the Nation’s development. There can be no long-term stability when the rate of population growth exceeds the rate of job creation."
Sir David Attenborough – naturalist b1926
"The human population can no longer be allowed to grow in the same old uncontrolled way. If we do not take charge of our population size, then nature will do it for us."
"As I see it, humanity needs to reduce its impact on the earth urgently and there are three ways to achieve this: we can stop consuming so many resources, we can change our technology and we can reduce the growth of our population."
"All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people and harder and ultimately impossible to solve with ever more people."
"One thing you can say is that in places where women are in charge of their bodies, where they have the vote, where they are allowed to dictate what they do and what they want, whether it's proper medical facilities for birth control, the birth rate falls."
Gunther Grass – author b1927
"We already have the statistics for the future: the growth percentages of pollution, overpopulation, desertification. The future is already in place."
Bernard Chidzero – economist and politician 1927 – 2002
(Economy Minister of Zimbabwe 1985)
"Of course I know our economic growth can't match our population growth [then 3.5%] so of course I know we'll all get poorer until we get that number down – don't tell me, tell the other idiots!"
Maurice Strong – UN Under-Secretary-General b1929
"Either we reduce the world's population voluntarily or nature will do this for us, but brutally."
Martin Luther King – clergyman and activist 1929 – 1968
"Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims."
Douglas Hurd – UK Foreign Secretary b1930
"First, population growth is a devastating statistic. Even the best efforts to encourage growth will fail unless Africa’s population growth can be brought under control. The population issue must move much further up the African agenda. A basic shift of attitude is required. Second, and closely related to population pressure and poverty, there is the problem of growing environmental degradation..."
Sir Crispin Tickell – environmentalist b1930
"Population was a big issue about 30 years ago, now it’s not, but I suspect it will come back because it has to be discussed as one of the big environmental problems of our time, it’s one animal species out of control, and the awful thing is that if we don’t control it then Mother Nature will do it for us."
Professor Aubrey Manning – zoologist b1930
"Looking across the world at present it is obvious to anybody with even the slightest biological knowledge that human numbers are out of balance."
Karan Singh - politician b1931
"In 1974, I led the Indian delegation to the World Population Conference in Bucharest, where my statement that 'development is the best contraceptive' became widely known and oft quoted. I must admit that 20 years later I am inclined to reverse this, and my position now is that 'contraception is the best development'."
Paul Ehrlich – biologist b1932
"Overdrafts on aquifers are one reason some of our geologist colleagues are convinced that water shortages will bring the human population explosion to a halt. There are substitutes for oil; there is no substitute for fresh water."
"Solving the population problem is not going to solve the problems of racism... of sexism... of religious intolerance... of war... of gross economic inequality. But if you don't solve the population problem, you're not going to solve any of those problems. Whatever problem you're interested in, you're not going to solve it unless you also solve the population problem."
"Basically, then, there are only two kinds of solutions to the population problem. One is a 'birth rate solution,' in which we find ways to lower the birth rate. The other is a 'death rate solution,' in which ways to raise the death rate war, famine, pestilence find us."
“Each person we add now disproportionately impacts on the environment and life-support systems of the planet."
Baroness Shreela Flather – politician b1934
"With the global population reaching the milestone of seven billion, population size is starting to get the attention it deserves. One of the most effective contributions to solving these problems would be to enable women worldwide to decide their own family size and timing through funding universal access to family planning and through enabling them to exercise their social and economic rights.”
Jane Goodall – conservationist b1934
"It's our population growth that underlies just about every single one of the problems that we've inflicted on the planet. If there were just a few of us, then the nasty things we do wouldn't really matter and Mother Nature would take care of it but there are so many of us."
Professor Norman Myers – environmentalist b1934
"Many children face a prospect of a world which has been devastated of its forest cover and lost many of its species. Would it not be worthwhile to reinforce that enormous investment in the future, that grand gesture of hope in the future by chipping in just a little bit more, that one penny per day for family planning facilities? To insure that our children inherit a world worth living in. A world where population growth has been slowed to zero, with equity and fairness for all citizens on this planet, and where our environments are safeguarded and restored."
Tenzin Gyatso – 14th Dalai Lama b1935
"One of the great challenges today is the population explosion. Unless we are able to tackle this issue effectively we will be confronted with the problem of the natural resources being inadequate for all the human beings on this earth."
"The growth in population is very much bound up with poverty, and in turn poverty plunders the earth. When human groups are dying of hunger, they eat everything: grass, insects, everything. They cut down the trees, they leave the land dry and bare. All other concerns vanish. That's why in the next thirty years the problems we call "environmental" will be the hardest that humanity has to face."
George Carey – Archbishop of Canterbury b1935
"The overpopulation of this small island nation, already stricken with a mountain of debt that could blight generations, is the gravest crisis we face."
Jane Fonda – actor and activist b1937
"There’s lots to worry about these days but you know what worries me most: the news I read day before yesterday that by something like 2045 there will be 10 billion people on the planet or more! I’m scared. I’ll be gone but I am scared for my grandchildren and for the wild animals and for the whole human race."
Kofi Annan – UN Secretary-General b1938
"The idea that population growth guarantees a better life financially or otherwise is a myth that only those who sell nappies, prams and the like have any right to believe."
"Population stabilisation should become a priority for sustainable development, including a strong focus on the empowerment of women and girls."
"The principle of contraction and convergence with a population base year should provide the basic framework for global greenhouse gas emission reductions."
"...reproductive health (is) one of the key tools in the wider battle against poverty."
Margaret Atwood - novelist b1939
"The world is finite. For everybody in the world to have the same lifestyle that we [in the West] have now, at only six billion people, would take four additional Earths [in resources]."
David King - chemist b1939
"The prospect of nine billion people is a very big challenge. Basically today we are using the natural resources of the planet at a rate faster than they're being replenished."
Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta – economist b1942
"Population growth, poverty and degradation of local resources often fuel one another."
Stephen Hawking – physicist b1942
"In the last 200 years the population of our planet has grown exponentially, at a rate of 1.9 per cent per year. If it continued at this rate, with the population doubling every 40 years, by 2600 we would all be standing literally shoulder to shoulder."
Michael Palin – comedian b1943
"The greatest politically charged challenge facing our planet? Unchecked population growth."
Helen Mirren – actor b1945
"...I think still it is very fine not to want children. There are far too many people in the world. It is my contribution to ecology."
Joanna Lumley – actor b1946
"I don't think there's any denying the fact that there are too many people in the world. I know that's an awful thing to say, and people say you're Hitler if you say it, but the human population is growing now so fast, and they need so much more to keep themselves alive and indeed in developing nations, to reach a standard they would like to reach, i.e. with more cars, more TV sets. Which is completely understandable. But if a hundred people want a new car, that's one thing but if a million people want a new car... So I think the green issues which is the cutting down of forests to make more room to graze more cows to make into more beef burgers that comes from the quantity of people. And we've never addressed that."
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid – UN Under-Secretary-General b1946
"We cannot confront the massive challenges of poverty, hunger, disease and environmental destruction unless we address issues of population and reproductive health."
Ian Angus – Canadian socialist b1946
"Populationists are right that human numbers must be considered…We can’t possibly ignore population as a factor…There is a direct relationship between the number of people on earth and the amount of food required to sustain them. That’s a fundamental fact of material existence, one that no society can possibly escape."
Sara Parkin – activist and politician b1946
"...as the soaring demand for food, water and energy is exacerbated by climate change, it is no longer legitimate to leave policies for lowering birth rates off the policy agenda."
Michael Buerk – journalist and newsreader b1946
"Population is the invisible issue of the 21st century...the exponential growth of the human population...is already making life uncomfortable and threatens to make it impossible."
Hillary Rodham Clinton – US Secretary of State b1947
"...to reach our goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights."
John Gray – philosopher b1948
"...the root cause of mass extinction is too many people."
"A world of fewer people would be far better placed to deal with climate change than the heavily overpopulated one we are heading for now."
Al Gore – US Vice President b1948
"One of the things we could do about it is to change the technologies, to put out less of this pollution, to stabilize the population, and one of the principal ways of doing that is to empower and educate girls and women. You have to have ubiquitous availability of fertility management so women can choose how many children have, the spacing of the children… You have to educate girls and empower women. And that’s the most powerful leveraging factor, and when that happens, then the population begins to stabilize and societies begin to make better choices and more balanced choices."
Jeremy Irons – actor b1948
"One always returns to the fact that there are just too many of us, the population continues to rise and it’s unsustainable."
Babetunde Osotimehin - UN Under-Secretary-General b1949
"Population growth patterns are linked to nearly every challenge confronting humanity, including poverty reduction, urban pollution, energy production, food and water scarcity, and health....Evidence now shows that the voluntary reduction of unwanted fertility also helps to reduce poverty rates...Efforts...to protect women's rights to education and reproductive health...will create a world in which a stable population with a balanced approach to resource use and consumption will benefit families, communities, and nations."
Richard Branson – entrepreneur b1950
"The truth is this: the Earth cannot provide enough food and fresh water for 10 billion people, never mind homes, never mind roads, hospitals and schools."
John Guillebaud – medical doctor and academic b1950
"Should we now explain to UK couples who plan a family that stopping at two children, or at least having one less than first intended, is the simplest and biggest contribution anyone can make to leaving a habitable planet for our grandchildren?"
Jonathon Porritt – environmentalist b1950
"Population raises all these questions about religion, about culture, about male dominance in the world; and (people) get very uncomfortable about that."
Barbara Stocking - Chief Executive, Oxfam GB b1951
"...it is dangerously misleading to focus solely on population growth or solely on consumption, as we struggle to work out how we can sustain a population of nine billion people on the planet...."
Sir Bob Geldof - musician b1951
"I think the tipping point has been reached. There can't be more people on the Earth than we can feed."
Fred Pearce – environmental writer b1951 br> "Clearly, other things being equal, fewer people will do less damage to the planet."
Baroness Amos - UN Under-Secretary-General b1954 br> "Population growth puts increased pressure on everything else...Girls and women must be educated. Even a few years' basic education leads to smaller families."
Bill Gates – business leader b1955
"The problem is that the population is growing the fastest where people are less able to deal with it. So it's in the very poorest places that you're going to have a tripling in population by 2050. (…) And we've got to make sure that we help out with the tools now so that they don't have an impossible situation later."
Goodluck Jonathan - President of Nigeria b1957 br> "For us to plan properly, we must manage our population..."
Lionel Shriver – author b1957
"We need to recognise that slowing population growth is one of the most cost-effective and reliable ways of easing pressure on our environment and securing a sustainable future for us all."
Kate Humble - television presenter b1958
“There are far too many people in the world...”
Jeanette Winterson - author b1959
"Climate change, environmental degradation, overpopulation and war each threaten the future of our life on Earth. They are our own man-made Horsemen of the Apocalypse."
Rupert Everett – actor b1959
"...we've got too many children on the planet, so it's good not to have more."
James Gasana - agriculture minister b1960
"Rapid population growth is the major driving force behind the vicious circle of environmental scarcities and rural poverty. In Rwanda it induced the use of marginal lands on steep hillsides, shortening of fallow, deforestation, and soil degradation and resulted in severe shortages of food."
Stephen Emmott - scientist b1960
"...the worst thing we can continue to do globally is have children at the current rate...Only an idiot would deny that there is a limit to how many people our Earth can support...I think we’ve already gone past it well past it."
Chris Packham – naturalist b1961 br> "There's no point bleating about the future of pandas, polar bears and tigers when we're not addressing the one single factor that's putting more pressure on the ecosystem than any other namely the ever-increasing size of the world's population."
George Monbiot – writer b1963 br> "(Population is) an important issue...most greens will not discuss. Is this sensitivity or is it cowardice? Perhaps a bit of both."
"...if we accept the UN’s projection that global population will grow by roughly 50 per cent and then stop. This means it will become 50 per cent harder to stop runaway climate change, 50 per cent harder to feed the world, 50 per cent harder to prevent the overuse of resources."
"Even if there were no environmental pressures caused by population growth, we should still support the measures required to tackle it: universal sex education, universal access to contraceptives, better schooling and opportunities for poor women. Stabilising or even reducing the human population would ameliorate almost all environmental impacts."
Dan Brown - author b1964 br> "Overpopulation is an issue so profound that all of us need to ask what should be done."
Guy Pearce – actor b1967
"I don’t know that the world needs any more kids in it..."
Julia Bradbury - presenter b1970
"I’m passionate about the world we live in and the enormous burden of the population. We can’t keep using the Earth as a bottomless pit."
Cameron Diaz – actress and model b1972
"I think women are afraid to say that they don't want children because they're going to get shunned. But I think that's changing too now. I have more girlfriends who don't have kids than those that do. And, honestly? We don't need any more kids. We have plenty of people on this planet."
Prince William - Duke of Cambridge b1982
"(We're) thinking about having two (children)."