Making media seriously discuss population growth and its consequences – a case in Sweden

Newspapers, radio, and TV in many countries usually avoid the problems of population growth and overpopulation. But by focused work it is possible to get the attention of mainstream media. This recently happened in Sweden, to judge from a TV program broadcast 13 April.

By Frank Götmark and Malte Andersson

How can you highlight the overlooked problems of population growth and overpopulation for the general public? Faced with population neglect in media, this is something we often discuss among TOP’s members in Sweden. A website with information and blogs of high quality is a possibility, if it gets attention and grows. But our blog is a dwarf compared to three influential morning newspapers in Sweden: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, and Göteborgs-Posten. Their Debate or opinion pages (Op-Eds) are often cited in radio and TV, and two afternoon tabloids (Aftonbladet and Expressen) also have many readers.

Op-Eds in newspapers are therefore an important option. They require careful writing with many revisions after critical comments, and they should be backed up by links to scientific and other references. Many opinion editors prefer a connection to debates or topics in the news, such as recent reports from the UN, IPCC, or WWF.

In Sweden, newspapers publish responses to op-eds, sometimes up to 5 when the topic is hot and encourages debate. The author(s) of the original Op-Ed get the last word (‘Final Response’), which is not the case everywhere (in the US, for instance). This means that there can be extensive clarifying discussion. TOP members, sometimes together with other authors, have published about 15 Op-Eds in Sweden between 2018-2022, and members of ‘Nätverket för Population Matters Sweden’ have published probably more than 15 Op-Eds.

In a recent Op-Ed in Göteborgs-Posten (GP) we pointed out that Swedish ‘Public Service’ (national state-financed TV, ‘SVT’, and radio, ‘SR’) is silent on population growth and its effects. For instance, SR had only positive comments in November when humanity passed 8 billion people, and they even had people joke about it. After writing to several journalists (without answers) it nevertheless appears that our and other op-eds have been influential. On April 13, SVT had a 10-minute discussion of population growth in ‘Aktuellt’, a news program typically viewed by about a million Swedes.

Robin Maynard of Population Matters being interviewed by reporter Erika Bjerström for Swedish television

The presentation in Aktuellt included graphs showing global and regional population growth projected to 2100, and discussion of carbon emissions in relation to population growth. A woman who decided not to have children was interviewed, and so was another woman worried about “eco-fascism” (referring to attempts to control population). There was an interview with Robin Maynard from Population Matters UK, and with a person from Sida (the Swedish agency for international aid) regarding Sida’s view about population growth in developing countries. Sida typically avoids population growth and rarely gives information about family planning.

Interestingly, a main theme in the program was that IPCC in their report to policymakers summarizing their sixth Assessment Report in 2022 did not mention their own scientistists’ conclusion that population growth and economic growth are the two main factors driving excessive greenhouse gas emissions. This is stated in their full report, but omitted in the summary report to policymakers, politicians and media. To our knowledge, this was first pointed out by TOP’s Philip Cafaro, in a blog posted 22 April 2022.

The omission of population growth as a major cause of climate change was emphasized by Robin Maynard in the SVT Interview. He said that we must address population growth because it overtakes the gains we get from implementation of renewable technology. The interviewing journalist, Erika Bjerström, then asked the seemingly inevitable identity-based question: “Who are you as a white middle-aged man here in UK to advise women in the global south about their fertility?” Maynard explained as best he could (see program interview here).

The next day Bjerström posted a text on, summarizing parts of the program. She emphasized again the remarkable fact that the UN (IPCC) did not tell policymakers, politicians, and the public about a major role of population growth in driving climate change, despite the consensus view of climate scientists on this aspect. She also wrote that IPCC does not deal with future greenhouse gas emissions produced by having an extra child (first calculated by Murtaugh & Schlax in 2009).

Having smaller families would be a good action to emphasize by the IPCC, not least for the benefits of climate adaptation for women and children in poor countries. But Bjerström emphasizes that this discussion seems to be “extremely sensitive”. Despite sensitivity, her conclusion is that ”many would welcome a new discussion about how it would be possible to support poor women and reduce the pressure on the Earth’s resources.”

The SVT commentary and text on 14 April probably opened the eyes of many who watched. Without previous critical op-eds and other media attention to population (such as interviews and radio programs where listeners can call and give their views), the SVT program on 13 April 2023 would have been unlikely.

The neglect of population issues can be challenged in other ways. Please tell us in the space below about successful actions; locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally. We need to learn from each other.

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20 thoughts on “Making media seriously discuss population growth and its consequences – a case in Sweden

  1. I have read this blog for a while, but it is my first time commenting.
    This is an article by Jem Bendell. Beyond Fed Up: six hard trends that lead to food system breakdown.
    A TL;DR of the article
    “1. We are hitting the biophysical limits of food production and could hit ‘peak food’ within one
    2. Our current food production systems are actively destroying the very resource base upon
    which they rely, so that the Earth’s capacity to produce food is going down, not up;
    3. The majority of our food production and all its storage and distribution is critically dependent
    upon fossil fuels, not only making our food supply vulnerable to price and supply instability,
    but also presenting us with an impossible choice between food security and reducing
    greenhouse gas emissions;
    4. Climate change is already negatively impacting our food supply and will do so with increasing
    intensity as the Earth continues to warm and weather destabilises, further eroding our ability
    to produce food;
    5. Despite these limits, we are locked into a trajectory of increasing food demand that cannot
    easily be reversed;
    6. The prioritisation of economic efficiency and profit in world trade has undermined food
    sovereignty and the resilience of food production at multiple scales, making both production
    and distribution highly vulnerable to disruptive shocks.”

    1. I saw the same trend in Sweden that yield/ha for important food crops seemed to stop raising the last decades. I was not very worried as much of the crops do not go to food for humans but feed for animals, some of them we have for our pleasure (horses, dogs). And it is possible to use more land for food as it was 150 years ago. The population growth is not steep and will stop in the foreseeable future. Overconsumption of food is common. But after looking at the article you referred to I got a bit more worried that food production may become a more serious problem in the next decades. Also the recent EU rules are likely to reduce agricultural production.

      1. High agricultural yields come at a huge environmental and social cost. Low agricultural yields come at a huge political and human cost. It’s a lose-lose situation if you don’t reduce consumption and number of mouths to feed.

      2. I agree with Gaia. Point #5 is: “Despite these limits, we are locked into a trajectory of increasing food demand that cannot easily be reversed.” But it can be reversed — if we decrease our numbers

    2. Thanks for summarizing – and thanks for the link. I have heard of Jim Bendell – he is remarkably truthful, and remarkably popular considering that many in his own field consider him to be a “doomist” whatever that is.
      I suppose more people than we know about have realized that there is no point in applying various solutions to a problem that is overall insoluble – and in fact many Deep Ecologists say we should use the word “predicament” not “problem”, because problems are expected to have solutions, and predicaments are not. It is like the 5 stages of grief – you go through various phases trying to deny that a death or a divorce has happened, before finally reaching Acceptance that it has happened and you must just make the best of it. Humans must accept that we have overstepped the mark, crossed the red line, or whatever, and we must face the awful consequences with courage. Overshoot means Overshoot – it is not something that can be changed once it has happened. You just have to roll up your sleeves and deal with the results, like it or not.
      Youtube has been sending me the Post-Doom conversations of Michael Dowd (an American), who is cheerful and funny, like all his guests who are old hands in various environmental sciences. They have all reached Acceptance, and are looking at what might be do-able “post doom”, as the title suggests. Also at what might be preservable, of course, or at least worth preserving if possible. There is an overlap between this site and the hard-nosed financial gurus who are saying that the prosperity created by 200 years of fossil fuels is now ending and we are in for a severe shock financially, never mind environmentally. Only Russia and Saudi Arabia have any meaningful reserves of oil and gas, and these are being sold (and depleted) very fast. No-one has really grasped what it will mean not to have fossil fuels powering every move we make – but it is easy to imagine, if you dare, because you only have to read descriptions of daily life before the Industrial Revolution. This is how humans have lived from the start, and the last 200 years have been highly abnormal – however we have gotten used to this luxury, and even addicted to it, plus our numbers have exploded thanks to this bonanza, and there is going to be chaos when the bonanza dries up as a result of this explosion because the numbers will still be there and the oil won’t.

      1. Not to mention, we are not only psychologically but also physically unable to live like we used to before the Industrial Revolution. It would break us.

    3. Also the Swedish (and probably European) forest grows slower now than was predicted a decade ago for Sweden. One reason is more damages, from animals and insects. But climate change may have caused one long dry period which contribute and in general makes the forest less adapted to where it grows. Or something else. Thus, I have suggested a small reduction of harvests. I think we should not reduce net growth for removing carbon from the air and also to keep wood in storage for the future, when fossil is phased out.

  2. “Who are you as a white middle-aged man here in UK to advise women in the global south about their fertility?””
    Aren’t we all human beings living on this planet, first and foremost, before age, color and gender? (And, funnily enough, class, which probably most closely correlates with actual power and consumption, has conveniently disappeared from the debate. I’m not a Marxist by the way)

    This is exhausting. I just listened to episode 78 of the Growth Busters podcast (, which was about a professor being literally attacked by his students when he asked them to read a paper of his about population growth; being lectured about food distribution and racial justice as if – it seemed – he was personally starving the people of Africa himself.
    It seems like yet another collective madness has taken a hold of us; the US being right now culturally the most influential country in the world, everyone follows it.

    1. Thank you for focusing my attention to growthbusters. It is really good! But it is a problem for me as I was a professor of forest genetics 1977-2009 when I retired and I really think I pushed the world to get better seeds for new forests, very good for climate with better forests. So, I do not like the focus of activists on forestry destroying our future. It does not in Sweden. Instead, forestry should be seen as one of the solutions of counteracting CO2 raise in the atmosphere. Forest net growth sucks up most of the CO2 emissions in Sweden besides replacing fossil sources for many consumer products in a large scale. So, I probably cannot spread the news of growthbusters to my twitter net.

    2. It is people (and other species) in the Global South who will be hit hardest by the effects of overpopulation. It saddens me that so many well meaning people deny overpopulation. I think that part of the reason is that humans instinctively deny unpleasant truths.

      Talking about overpopulation strikes a lot of nerves (just look at the reactions to Planet of the Humans or the original Limits to Growth report).

  3. It might be wise to start commenting local population decrease in certain arieas like China, among indigenous Europeans and more

    1. I’d like to hear more non-Western perspectives too, it’d be great if this blog could get (or re-publish) articles from India, Asia, SS Africa, the Middle East…

      1. The “fertility” (child born per woman) is lower in Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea than China. These countries are more “democratic” than China. I recommend more attention to them to get to know how to reduce fertility and population.

  4. Thanks Gaea – that is an excllent website, and I love the title “GrowthBusters” (also the title of the film). I see it is based in Colorado – the home of the late Professor Al Bartlett, who warned the world in 2013 that no-one understands exponential growth, and indeed the site has a link to his 2013 lecture. A comment after the article might set your mind at rest a bit – the commenter says that it does not matter if people object to the truth, because in the end it is a matter of Evolutionary Psychology. He mentions the experiments of John B. Calhoun, showing that overcrowding in rats causes behavioural changes which negate the otherwise natural desire to procreate, so that a species in desperately overcrowded conditions will – in the end – start to limit itself by, for instance, withdrawing from society like many young men in Japan (called hikikkomori). In the olden days, many men and women withdrew to monasteries and convents when the population was too large for its available resources. This sad refusal to found a family has been staved off for some countries, because access to resources has become global so exhaustion of local food and minerals no longer matters so much, or so soon anyway. I have been shocked to learn just how many African countries are dependent on grain from Russia and the Ukraine, for instance. I thought Africa was more self-sufficient than the West – but the opposite seems to be true.
    Local access to water is a different matter, and can became a problem even for a wealthy country. Also, the general cost of living is soaring even in wealthy countries, and younger people are increasingly unable to marry and found a family for financial reasons. This is horrible – but something has to give when you are in gross Overshoot, and it always does whatever people’s opinions might be about what they have a “right” to do. The cost of tapwater is high in the UK, for instance, yet even so, many water companies are not in profit as the cost of sewerage and of providing clean or cleaned-up water is rocketing as the population grows.

    1. “This sad refusal to found a family has been staved off for some countries” – why sad? Some people wish they hadn’t had children, and some people with no children are very happy with their life. Thankfully we are not all the same. The podcast following the one I linked here deals with this pro-having children bias, “pronatalism”, very interesting.

  5. On April 11 in New Orleans, a member initiated meeting organized by demographers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) met from 9 am to 3 pm to discuss challenges facing the DRC, 3rd most populous country in Africa with 100 million people, fertility rate over 5, population growth rate of 3%, population projected to double by 2050. Three wars since 1990. Per capita income, according to a graph presented by Jacques Emina, head of the new University of Kinshasa population studies school, has fallen since 2000 from $1200/capita to $500/capita. Undoubtedly population growth, climate change, forest clearing, and soil losses add to concerns about the future. To those who criticize rich country white people who worry about the failure, so far, of much of Africa to achieve the fertility transitions that led to rising incomes, lower infant and maternal mortality in Asia and Latin America (and earlier, of course, in Europe), I turn it back on you. How can you not be concerned about high fertility in Africa? African annual population growth is 5 times higher than in 1950 and at nearly identical rates of “natural increase” since death rates have fallen as much as birth rates. It is profoundly racist and insensitive to ignore the plight of African women condemned to child marriage, genital mutilation, lack of education, poverty, and careers as baby machines. The PC comment that “it is the rich countries consumption, not the poor countries population growth” that causes rising emissions ignores rising consumption in poor countries, and implicitly says to the poor “you’ve got to stay poor.” Not going to happen. The correct answer is “both population and consumption matter.” Fertility transitions are not racist. They are essential.

    1. Since the authors here don’t mind me recommending things, here’s another one for those who don’t follow it: Population Matters (based in the UK) often publishes stories of population activists who are from Africa, and at least in some cases appear to live/work there, too. They are very inspiring and show that it is not “racist” to offer black people, or people of any color, the opportunity to choose a smaller family size.

      We see this when it comes to human rights, democracy, family planning, even prosperity: it is considered “racist” to “impose” it on non-white people, ignoring the fact that most people aspire to these things, in a culturally compatible way. No one likes to live under a repressive regime, or to be poor, and if women can get respect and opportunity in their society without having to prove their worth by making lots of babies, they usually want that, too!

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