The myth of global overpopulation dispelled.


(from the Alphonsian Academy blog)

According to the Report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), as of November 2022, the world’s population has surpassed the eight billion mark, having more than doubled in the last 50 years, with the prospect of reaching ten billion by 2050.

While this figure certifies humanity’s progress in medicine, science, health, agriculture and education, it also generates some concerns. Among these, the two main ones are: 1) the fear of an overpopulated world and its impact on the climate crisis, struggling for ever scarcer resources; 2) the concern about the socio-economic consequences of the declining birth rate associated with an ageing population, particularly in high-income countries. Europe, for example, will see its population decline by 7 per cent between 2030 and 2050, the result of the drop in the fertility rate that began in the 1970s, so it will be faced with the problem of ensuring economic growth and the sustainability of the welfare system with few young people compared to the many elderly.

Undoubtedly, a link between population growth and climate change exists because the increase in population and GDP per capita is one of the causes of the increase in the use of fossil fuels. However, focusing on overpopulation can lead to the error of holding low-income countries with higher population growth and fertility rates responsible for the phenomenon without considering, as the Report also points out, that two-thirds of the population live on less than ten dollars a day and do not contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, and above all in failing to adequately implement the policies needed to resolve the current economic, social and environmental crises.

In fact, according to the Report (p. 14), demographic variations are normal. Population levels are not in themselves positive or negative. Instead, it would be necessary to devise a ‘resilient system’ that responds to the needs of the population beyond its size without being conditioned by the myths around the ideas of ‘we are too many’ or ‘we are too few’.

However, the myth of ‘there are too many of us’ was launched at the time by two epoch-making ‘researchers’, and the US helped to spread it around the world for national security reasons. One of the two studies is The Population Bomb by Paul and Anne Ehrlich of 1968, a cult book of early environmentalism, never translated into Italian despite having sold over two million copies in English; the other is the 1972 Report on the Limits of Development, commissioned from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston by the Club of Rome, a non-governmental, non-profit association of scientists, economists, businessmen and women, civil rights activists, international public leaders and heads of state from five continents.

The US government’s position, on the other hand, was decided based on the National Security Study Memorandum – 200 (NSSM-200), also known as the Kissinger Report, because Henry Kissinger was the Secretary of State at the time, promulgated as a secret document by the US National Security Council, the country’s highest foreign policy decision-making body, on 10 December 1974, immediately after the first major world population conference in Bucharest. The document, the result of a collaboration between the CIA, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Departments of State, Defence and Agriculture, was made public when it was desegregated and transferred to the US National Archives in 1990 and is now accessible on the USAID website.

The subject of this Report was a study on the ‘Consequences of World Population Growth for US Security and Foreign Interests’. It comprehensively exposes the motivations and methods of the ‘population control movement’ to guide developing nations in their population policies. The main purpose of US-promoted population control efforts was and is to maintain access to the mineral resources of underdeveloped countries. The Kissinger Report states: ‘Whatever can be done to prevent supply disruptions and to develop domestic alternatives, the US economy will require large and growing quantities of minerals from abroad, especially from the least developed countries. Where a decrease in population pressure by reducing birth rates can increase the prospects for such stability, population policy becomes relevant to the supply of resources and the economic interests of the United States’ (p. 43).

Methods of population control include legalising abortion, economic incentives for countries to increase their abortion rates, sterilisation and the use of contraceptives, indoctrination of the young, compulsory population control, and other forms of coercion, such as denying disaster relief and food aid to underdeveloped countries that have not developed population control programmes.

Exactly the opposite of what was recommended a few years earlier by the Second Vatican Council in “Gaudium et spes”, which required that “each group must take into account the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, indeed the common good of the entire human family”, because “from the ever closer interdependence gradually extending to the whole world it follows that the common good […] today is increasingly becoming universal, involving rights and duties that concern the entire human race” (n. 26).

In all probability, it is the only proper way to build a ‘resilient system’.

Leonardo Salutati

The original text is in Italian (source: