Population Matters

Alan Weisman on population

Alan Weisman on population

Environmental apostles are only too ready to tell us what is wrong with society. But they go mum over the subject of people — specifically, too many people.


We are growing, noted author Alan Weisman, at the clip of a million people every 4½ days — tripling or quadrupling our numbers just in the course of one lifetime.

Yet environmentalists have been loath to say the obvious: The world needs to stop having so many babies.


“They don’t want to touch this. It’s very explosive, very sensitive,” said Weisman, who appeared on a panel last week at the Boston Center for the Arts to talk about population. “The idea of not reproducing feels somehow unnatural,” he noted. “And then there is religion.”

Weisman has given a lot of thought about the end-game of the population explosion. He wrote “The World Without Us,” a sobering description of how quickly the traces of mankind would be swallowed by nature if we ceased to exist. (He did not specify the cause of our demise; the suspects make a lengthy list.) Now Weisman has written “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?” a prescription for a planet-friendly and smaller population gotten there through birth control, education, and equality for women.

He appeared on the panel as part of a series of talks on “The Future of Nature,” sponsored by The Nature Conservancy.

Preaching for a smaller population leads immediately to the question of who is not supposed to have babies, and that quickly gets into electrified topics of class, culture, affluence, and racism, noted another panelist, Roger-Mark De Souza, a population expert with the Wilson Center.

“There is a history around population issues that is associated with eugenics, with population control programs, with forced sterilization,” he noted. “It brings up questions of abortion, of immigration, of youth sexuality. A lot of environmental organizations say, Why should conservation organizations deal with this? It’s too far from our mission. You have to be very careful.”


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