A year of milestones and mourning

2022 saw record amounts of ink spilled and electrons broadcast about the chief environmental disorders of our time – climate change and biodiversity loss – while the global population surpassed 8 billion people. Compared to past years, it seemed as if the media did a somewhat better job connecting the dots between the first two problems and the third one – or was that just our wishful thinking?

by The Overpopulation Project

This year TOP continued our research and public outreach on the population/environment connection. Our work was made possible, in part, by generous financial support from Dan Carrigan and The GAIA Initiative for Earth-Human Balance, Dick Smith in Australia and Dag Lindgren in Sweden. We are grateful for this support! If you would like to help fund TOP’s efforts, feel free to contact us.

During 2022, we lost several giants of the population movement. In August, László Szombatfalvy passed on after a long, successful career in business and philanthropy. László founded the Global Challenges Foundation, whose seed grant helped start The Overpopulation Project five years ago. We appreciate his kind moral and financial support, including a personal donation in 2021.

In September, we lost Dave Foreman, the founder of Earth First! and author of Man Swarm: How Overpopulation Is Killing the Wild World. Dave was an uncompromising defender of wilderness and unrelenting critic of human chauvinism. A month later, in October, Herman Daly died, founder of ecological economics and author of For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future. Dave and Herman were leaders in American wildlife conservation and heterodox economics, respectively, from the 1970s onward. They always insisted on the need to limit human numbers and fairly share Earth’s resources with other species.

László Szombatfalvy, Dave Foreman, and Herman Daly (from left to right)

We will miss these giants and are grateful for having known and learned from them. At the same time, we happily note the many Millennial and Gen Z voices rising up to join us old-timers in speaking truth to population complacency. The latter includes our own Pernilla Hansson, who completed her Masters degree in conservation biology at Gothenburg University this year. Thanks to Pernilla for all her good work over the past three years, including writing our series of blogs on rewilding success stories.

Speaking of Gen Z, Jeanne Belly from Leiden University visited TOP in early spring on an Erasmus internship. Thanks to Jeanne for writing the blog Strategies to stop short of 9 billion. Also on the positive side of the ledger, this year saw the founding of the European Alliance for a Sustainable Population. The alliance is an international platform that promotes science-based awareness about the implications of a sustainable population.


Research publications

During 2022, TOP members published or coauthored seven peer-reviewed papers on population-related issues. This work explored both the science and ethics of population growth as they relate to climate change, biodiversity loss and ecological disruption generally, and population policy in both wealthy and poorer countries. Publications included:

Overpopulation is a major cause of biodiversity loss and smaller human populations are necessary to preserve what is left. Philip Cafaro, Pernilla Hansson, and Frank Götmark. Biological Conservation 272 (2022): 109646.

Population growth, family planning and the Paris Agreement: An assessment of the nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Jenna Dodson, Patricia Dérer, Philip Cafaro, and Frank Götmark. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (2022): doi 10.1007/s10784-022-09573-8.

Population and climate change. Ian Lowe, Jane O’Sullivan and Peter Cook. Discussion paper. Sustainable Population Australia (2022).

Achieving sustainable population: Fertility decline in many developing countries follows modern contraception, not economic growth. Frank Götmark and Malte Andersson. Sustainable Development (2022).

Reducing human numbers and the size of our economies is necessary to avoid a mass extinction and share Earth justly with other species. Philip Cafaro. Philosophia 50 (2022): doi 10.1007/s11406-022-00497-w.

Population Governance. Karin Kuhlemann. In The Rowman and Littlefield Handbook of Bioethics, edited by Dinucci et al. Rowman and Littlefield (2022).

Conserving biodiversity means limiting our numbers: A response to Green et al. 2022. Philip Cafaro, Pernilla Hansson, and Frank Götmark. Biological Conservation 273 (2022): 109701.


Op-eds and Blogs

How common are opinion pieces on population or overpopulation in large-circulation newspapers around the world? TOP’s work in Sweden shows it is possible to publish such pieces, by careful writing and marshalling basic facts to convince editors of the importance of debate around population matters. Over the last five years, Frank and fellow population-aware Swedes have published about 15 op-eds in Sweden’s three largest morning newspapers and two largest tabloids.

Perhaps such population debate occurs also in other countries, in print or online. If so, let us know! We may translate from other languages and share with our readership.

In 2022, TOP produced 49 blogs on a wide variety of topics. Highlights included:

Herman Daly, Population and cheap labour

Jane O’Sullivan, World population is growing faster than we thought

Pernilla Hansson, Breaking boundaries but not population taboos

Gaia Baracetti, The per capita fallacy

Frank Götmark et al., Time for Sweden to resume focus on international family planning aid

Philip Cafaro, Population in the IPCC’s new mitigation report

In addition to contributions from the TOP core team (Frank, Phil, Jane and Pernilla), we are grateful to the following contributors: Valorie Allen, Malte Andersson, Nandita Bajaj, Gaia Baracetti, Michael Bayliss, Verena Brunschweiger, Herman Daly, Johanna Deinum, Celine Delacroix, Carter Dillard, Jan Gregus, Richard Grossman, Fons Jena, Ian Lowe, Karl-Erik Norrman, Björn Olsén, Lucia Tamburino, Kelvin Thompson, Nicola Turner, Carl Wahren, David Walker, Jan van Weeren, Nordhild Wetzler, Anders Wijkman and Stephen Williams.

We are also grateful to you, our readers, whose hundreds of comments and emails kept us thinking throughout the year. Thanks for sharing your opinions! We look forward to continuing the conversation in the new year.

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6 thoughts on “A year of milestones and mourning

  1. Thank you. Always appreciate the TOP discussions.
    It is interesting that there is NEVER a response from my Facebook connections when I repost the articles, despite many responses to all my other posts.

    Distressingly, it does resonate with society the way Climate Change does.

  2. Thank you, Elaine. I was wondering, if you get few comments back on Facebook, perhaps this could also be because the readers there have little criticism of our blogs? Well-written pieces are at least sometimes hard to criticize.

    Happy new year (in some way!)

  3. I am so pleased there is an organization that shares my views about overpopulation. I come from
    an animal rights background and have always known there is a strong connection between
    overpopulation and wildlife habitat. I have only recently learned about your group, and I hope
    that I can help with spreading your message. Thanks for the opportunity.

  4. Is there a detailed notion on what is to be done to actually reduce population quickly rather than over time through birth control? Are we to wait for famine, war, disease and depression or are there actual plans to help people come to grips with necessity and prepare to die?

    1. Make your own preparations for a timely exit from life in you must but please don’t encourage others. Broaching the subject of the climate/energy/population problem is already terribly difficult and anything that even hints at suicide (or worse, genocide) makes the subject less palatable to the general public.

      A massive, global, moonshot family planning program is unlikely but it is the only just and equitable way address the population problem. It might not help a lot, it might not help at all, but it is the only possible avenue to mitigate suffering from the coming disease, famine, mass migration, and resource wars.

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