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Discussing Overpopulation: Let’s Clear the Minefield

Why do discussions of overpopulation often elicit emotional responses of fear, anger, or indignation? Are anger and indignation what prevents productive discussion of population? These responses in a graduate college class provide an opportunity to explore how we might pave the way for productive conversations.

Our guest in this episode, Professor Christopher Bystroff of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute wonders whether a “global therapy session” could end what he describes as a “global, sullen silence.”

We need intelligent discourse on the subject, but too often it is being shut down. Open, honest, and factual discussion of the human overpopulation crisis can put an end to the myths, misassumptions and misinformation that cloud the subject. Spoiler alert: we don’t find a fast-acting, magic solution, but Dave does come up with one good idea – “a pill that makes men more mature.”


Chris Bystroff Footprints to Singularity: A Global Population Model Explains Late 20th Century Slow-Down and Predicts Peak Within Ten Years – by Chris Bystroff

Don’t Reduce Your Footprint! – by Mathis Wackernagel

You Deserve the Truth About Overpopulation – by Dave Gardner (in our Ending Overshoot Medium publication)

I’m Thankful Smart People are Telling the Truth Ending Overshoot – publication on Medium

Overshoot: World’s Best Introduction – episode 57 of the GrowthBusters podcast

Jimmy Kimmel for Vice President

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The Fossil Fuel Industry is a Factory of Fairy Tales, Says Activist and School Strike for Climate Organizer Luisa Neubauer

The Last Tourist

Al Bartlett Growth and Sustainability Lecture October 27, 2013

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The GrowthBusters theme song was written and produced by Jake Fader and sung by Carlos Jones.

On the GrowthBusters podcast, we come to terms with the limits to growth, explore the joy of sustainable living, and provide a recovery program from our society’s growth addiction (economic/consumption and population). This podcast is part of the GrowthBusters project to raise awareness of overshoot and end our culture’s obsession with, and pursuit of, growth.

Dave Gardner directed the documentary GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth, which Stanford Biologist Paul Ehrlich declared “could be the most important film ever made.” Co-host Stephanie Gardner has degrees in Environmental Studies and Environmental Law & Policy.

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Comments (3)

  • Avatar

    James Herman


    The question I would ask these students is: “could a person be happy having only one child?” Having only one child may be necessary to gradually and humanely reduce the world population to a sustainable level. Then we could return to a two-child limit. We ALL also need to realize that we are all human beings worthy of dignity and respect. If we are all the same, then we should not fear any other people. We all must understand that there is a limit to anything and everything. We clearly must understand that we need sustainability and not growth.


  • Avatar



    I was a young man in the 70s. Overpopulation was my topic of choice. I made it a point to get on any broadcast opportunity in which I felt the topic of OPOP could be raised.

    At that time the United States progressive movement was endeavoring to improve relations with the Soviet Union. In furtherance on behalf of that objective, an early, for that time high tech satelite link was established on public radio between US and USSR top scientists was linked up so that we could ask one another questions and thus “come to understand one another better” on behalf of furthering peace between the two nuclear powers.

    Of course I called the designated phone line. The screener asked what I wanted to discuss, I responded succinctly “overpopulation”.

    I surmise that the screener must have been sympathetic to the subject, because I was able to get in on the broadcast expeditiously. My question was simple, “Is overpopulation a problem on our planet today?”

    The narrator appeared aghast, protesting that the purpose of the broadcast was to promote mutual understanding. Apparently assuming that my question was not serving that purpose. Meanwhile voices with thick Russian assets could be heard shouting in the background:

    “No! Is no overpopulation problem! Only problem of distribution!”

    At that point I realized the obvious. I had ruffled feathers in the dogma of Marxist political/economic philosophy.

    Cut to the present. Planet population has since doubled from what it was the day of that broadcast. Technology has advanced apace.

    I have since concluded that the OPOP question is multidetermined. OPOP is psychological! It is also anthropological. And also economic.

    I believe our species is on the verge of another important economic tipping point, originated in the high technology optimism of Elon Musk and the Tesla company. The company has pioneered previously unheard of methods of manufacturing efficiency. These are too involved to be considered here.

    But one deserves mention. Tesla is on the path to building humanoid shaped robots. In fact it is surmised that Tesla is already employing these robots in their own EV automobile manufacturing factories [“the machine that builds the machine”]

    We haven’t had a lot of time to consider the implications of such developments. Elon Musk has speculated that there will come a time when robots will outnumber humans. And this, he speculates further, will forever change economics.

    After all, robots don’t have anywhere near the quantity of needs that humans do. Robots do not require food, sleep, coffee or bathroom breaks.. etc etc etc

    All of us human beings are now challenged to adjust and accomodate this new reality. Like it or not.


  • Avatar



    I listened to the episode and have a couple of comments. First, the tendency of identity politic to drown out all other issues. Identity politics is divisive by definition, setting up people to fight each other. If I was a conspiracy type I could almost suspect that identity politics was a psy-op by the deep state. Second was the Gates Foundation dictating the field of play to NGOs and researchers. The foundation’s position was that contraception is only about women. I believe this is a mistaken position but beyond the wisdom or otherwise of the Gates position what disturbs me more is that a private foundation dictating terms to everyone else simply because they are wealthy enough and powerful enough to do so. Not only that but launder whatever means, which may be very suspect, to become the great “philanthropist”. Bill Gates has brought his way into becoming the de facto global minister of health. This is not healthy for democracy be Gates a good or poor “global minister of health”.

    More studies of the sociological factors behind population need to be made and I believe this goes to evolutionary psychology. In Japan population is declining (hurrah) and it seems that MEN in the form of hikikomoris, soshoku danshi, otakus and other have largely contributed to this. A huge percentage of Japanese males are celibate. The male half of the population question may hold valuable keys. It is foolhardy of the Gates Foundation and others to downplay the importance of men in population. On a quick aside my hunch in the case of Japan is that biologically Japan meets the conditions described by John Calhoun in his “mouse utopia” experiment under which populations fall. Those conditions are 1) unlimited food and 2) limited space. Japan effectively meets both of those. In these conditions males withdraw from competing for sex partners and spend their days grooming themselves. The population signal may be triggered by high real estate prices. Similar trend in western countries are also evident, though not to the same degree. “Basement boys”, “commitment phobia”, MGTOW in the west may be to blame on the surface but deep brain unconscious causes with their roots deep in evolutionary psychology may figure. Unfortunately evolutionary psychology is as much maligned in most circles as the theory of evolution was at first. The word “evopsych” can be as triggering as garlic to a vampire.


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