Population Policy: A Valid Answer to Climate Change? Old Arguments Aired Again Before COP15

  • Bertil Egerö Dept of Sociology, University of Lund
Keywords: neo-Malthusian, population development, population control, Climate Change Conference, carbon emissions, demographic dynamics eugenics


Throughout the 20th century, population-development studies have had serious difficulties staying clear of cultural and political influences on Western intellectual thought. Since the 1950s, a “neo-Malthusian” orientation has supported the argument that a technical fix called family planning could initiate and speed fertility decline under pre-industrial conditions. A Western-financed “population control” movement carried the message to poor countries around the world, ostensibly in support of poverty reduction while primarily motivated by the perceived threat to Western interests of rapid population increase in its ex-colonies. The “population card” surfaced in the run-up to the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Kicked off by two contrasting contributions on the relation of population dynamics to environmental deterioration published only a few months before the conference, a scientific debate developed that mirrored the earlier neo-Malthusian arguments, where many participants saw family planning among poor communities as a cost-effective method of reducing carbon emission. This paper traces the roots of the debate, discusses the fallacies of such arguments and concludes that we need a social science of demographic dynamics and development free from any links to the eugenic movement of the early 20th century and its neo-Malthusian successor. Further, for demography to make a more useful contribution to environment/development studies, its examination of the dynamics of human numbers needs to be extended to measurements of differential impacts associated with humans and their way of leading their lives.
How to Cite
Egerö, Bertil. 1. “Population Policy: A Valid Answer to Climate Change? Old Arguments Aired Again Before COP15”. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 12 (1), 88-101. https://acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/953.