The taboo, or semi-taboo, or consensus on discussing population growth

1 March 2009

Some quotations…

“…in all the discussions during the past year on how to lift Africa out of poverty, the question of population has been conspicuous for its absence. It is no longer fashionable or politically correct.”
John Blacker. Demographer.
Centre for Population Studies, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Letter to The Independent. 23rd January 2006

The Horn of Africa. “Tony Blair’s report on Africa last year hardly mentioned population growth. ‘It’s the unmentionable,’ says a well-placed ambassador in Nairobi. ‘It’s the elephant in the corner of the room,’ says another. It is time to start talking about it now.”
The Economist. August 10th 2006

“No one is willing to address the accelerating growth in the world’s population. (The figures for world population increase are staggering)… is incredible that there is not even a debate about limiting and maybe one day reversing growth. The biggest obstacle to debate is the matter of possible solutions…birth control is objectionable to many on moral, religious and libertarian grounds. It is not surprising that green groups and politicians, worried about offending supporters, stay silent…It is understandable then that people are worried about discussing population, but fear of misrepresentation, offence or failure are not good enough reasons to ignore one half of the world’s biggest problem: the population effect on climate change.”
Juliette Jowit. Sunday March 18, 2007. The Observer

“There is still a lot of taboo around population, and I think one indication of that is that none of the mainstream development agencies nor the environment agencies, while invited to submit evidence, has done so.”
Catherine Budgett-Meakin, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population Development and Reproductive Health 2006, questioning a DFID spokesperson.

“According to its most vociferous proponents… population is ‘our number one environmental problem’. But most greens will not discuss it… Is this sensitivity or is it cowardice? Perhaps a bit of both.”
George Monbiot, January 29, 2008. The Guardian. Full text at

“‘overpopulation’ has become racially, religiously and ethnically sticky, and thus totally uncool. For decades no one in the population field has touched the word ‘overpopulation’ with a bargepole.”
Lionel Shriver. Sunday Times May 18, 2008

“Several readers have pointed out that the BMJ’s recent coverage of climate change has ignored a key issue—the need for population control. John Guillebaud and Pip Hayes give the same rebuke in their editorial this week. They may be right that ‘population’ and ‘family planning’ are taboo words.”
Editorial British Medical. Journal 31st July 2008

“Population control and family planning are rising up the development agenda, after decades in which they were taboo.”
Bronwen Maddox Chief Foreign Commentator, The Times, January 27, 2009

“Why this strange silence? I meet no one who privately disagrees that population growth is a problem…. So why does hardly anyone say so publicly? There seems to be some bizarre taboo around the subject. ‘It’s not quite nice, not PC, possibly even racist to mention it.'”
Sir David Attenborough speaking with HRH Duke of Edinburgh in the chair
RSA President’s Lecture 2011: People and Planet 10th March 2011

Because of this taboo, or semi-taboo, or consensus; because of this political correctness, this sensitivity or cowardice, or cold feet; because “no one” will touch overpopulation with a bargepole; because it is unmentionable; because birth control is objectionable to many on moral, religious, and libertarian grounds; because it is not quite nice; because it is possibly even racist to mention it, we are not only allowing the poor in developing countries to suffer extreme poverty, food and water shortages, social unrest and conflict, and the migration of millions of desperate people from their homeland, but we are also causing the biggest loss of species for millions of years, perhaps since the dinosaurs, and may be seriously damaging our earthly home. Political correctness and the other ideologies have a lot to answer for.