Re: The Malthusians Are Back
Written by Olivia Nater | Published: April 7, 2023
The Atlantic recently published another deeply misinformed opinion piece on population concern that misrepresents Population Connection (“The Malthusians Are Back,” March 22, 2023). We sent a letter to the editor on March 23rd, but as the editorial team did not publish it, we are featuring it below.
We encourage all our members and supporters who come across misleading media stories like this one to make their voices heard! See our media guide for advice on how to do that.
You can also see other common population myths busted on our Myths and Misconceptions page.
Alex Trembath’s and Vijaya Ramachandran’s article, “The Malthusians Are Back,” repeats the same tired, old myths and misconceptions about population concern. Modern, progressive population organizations like Population Connection strongly denounce all attempts to “control” population growth coercively and don’t engage in “scolding” large families. Bizarrely, Trembath and Ramachandran seem to suggest that even empowering population solutions — namely improving access to family planning and education so that everyone can choose their family size — are distasteful. Women’s empowerment is severely neglected and underfunded — acknowledging the science of how it also helps the environment is critical to the advancement of gender equality.
The article presents data on decreasing per capita carbon emissions in high-income countries, but forgets to mention that in most countries, and globally, emissions (as well as biodiversity loss and resource depletion) are still increasing. The reason? Rising living standards and population growth. Hopefully the authors agree that decreasing poverty is a positive development, which leaves population growth as the issue that needs to be tackled (alongside overconsumption in wealthy nations, which the article also ignores).
Technology is no magic bullet. Unfortunately, in the words of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), there is “no empirical evidence supporting the existence of a decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressures on anywhere near the scale needed to deal with environmental breakdown.”
Technological innovation has helped us avert catastrophic food shortages, yes, but technofix champions conveniently overlook that the Green Revolution came at a massive cost to the environment. Modern agriculture is a leading driver of deforestation, habitat and biodiversity loss, climate emissions and pollution. Not to mention that world hunger is steadily increasing again after decades of hard-won progress.
I warmly invite Trembath and Ramachandran to talk to some population professionals to find out what we actually think and do instead of judging us all based on the worldview of an 18th century clergyman.