Public believes population growth negative, risky, and requiring international attention, while politicians look the other way

Population growth is a potential political and social issue. And just like any issue, it requires recognition from both the public and politicians to be added to the agenda. Although population growth may not be a topic that compels you to call your representative, surveys from the Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) show that perhaps it should be.

By Jenna Dodson

The GCF conducted a quantitative survey of public views on global issues such as climate change, poverty, and population growth. This survey was conducted in ten countries around the world, with 1000 residents in each country¹. Results overwhelming show that the majority of the global public interviewed is concerned about population growth and views it as a future threat.

In the most recent survey, 70% of respondents agreed that population growth represents a global catastrophic risk, and 56% concurred that the consequences of population growth will be negative for mankind.

Source: Global Challenges Foundation. 2018. Attitudes to global risk and governance survey 2018. https://api.globalchallenges.org/static/files/ComRes2018cover.png.

In Germany, Sweden and South Africa population growth was ranked 5th among the most important global catastrophic risks². In India, population growth ranked the 4th in importance, higher than weapons of mass destruction.

Source: Global Challenges Foundation. 2018. Attitudes to global risk and governance survey 2018. https://api.globalchallenges.org/static/files/ComRes2018cover.png.

It is clear that the general public is concerned, on both the national and international levels. When 70% of all respondents believe that population growth is a global catastrophic risk and 23% believe it needs an urgent response, this begs the question, what would an ‘urgent response’ look like?

According to GCF’s 2014 survey, the globally accepted response is “enforceable international decisions,” such as treaties, to address population growth. Respondents were asked the question: Do you think there should be enforceable international decisions to stop population growth?

Source: Global Challenges Foundation. 2014. The Pulse of International Sentiment. 2014. https://api.globalchallenges.org/static/wp-content/uploads/pdf/The-Pulse-of-International-Sentiment.pdf.

Overall, more people thought there should be enforceable international decisions to stop population growth (53%) than did not (40%). Regionally, the majority of respondents in Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa approved of this measure, while a majority from the three European countries and the USA did not. It is important to note that the majority of people in the three European countries and the USA do, however, agree that the consequences of population growth will be negative and view population growth as a future threat to mankind. As such, this issue demands attention, and it is important to maintain a dialogue to reconcile the best strategies for a solution. But is such a dialogue open in the political sphere?

Using Sweden as a case study, we compared GCF surveys of the Swedish public and of the 368 members of the Swedish parliament, just prior to elections in 2014. In the surveys, Swedish citizens and Swedish politicians were asked the same question: “According to the most recent predictions from the UN, the worldwide population will be close to 11 billion in 2100, an increase by almost 50% compared to today’s 6.8 billion. What do you believe that the consequences of this population growth for mankind will be…?

Data sources: Global Challenges Foundation. 2014. Stora valenkäten Standardrapport. Global Challenges Foundation. 2014. The Pulse of International Sentiment. https://api.globalchallenges.org/static/wp-content/uploads/pdf/The-Pulse-of-International-Sentiment.pdf.

Overwhelming, Swedish citizens believe the consequences of population growth to be negative³ (71%), whereas the most common answer among the politicians was neither positive nor negative (41%). Almost a quarter (23.6%) chose not to answer, and one member of parliament wrote in a comment that it was, “An overly complicated issue that is better not addressed here.” A member of the Center Party (“Centerpartiet”), whose leader has been arguing for an increase of the Swedish population from 10 to 40 million people, wrote, “It is as it is and it shall not be politically regulated in any way.” These comments are in line with the 84% of Swedish citizens who agree that politicians ignore or minimize serious problems because they are afraid to suggest unpopular solutions (see GCF 2014). However, just because population growth is complicated and politicians are afraid to suggest solutions does not justify neglect of the issue. Instead, national governments and international organizations might learn an important lesson from their citizens, and treat population growth as an urgent issue that requires an urgent response.

riksdag_parliament
Swedish politicians – isolated from the views of the citizens?

 

¹ The 2018 survey. The 2017 survey was conducted in 8 countries, and the 2014 survey conducted in 9.

² There were 7 total issues that were included as potential global catastrophic risks. They include: political motivated violence and conflict escalating into war, usage of weapons of mass destruction, climate change, other large-scale environmental damage, natural epidemics and pandemics, the rise of artificial intelligence, and population growth.

³Net negative, comprising both “very negative” and “negative.”

 

References

  1. GCF (Global Challenges Foundation). Attitudes to global risk and governance survey. (2018). Available at: https://api.globalchallenges.org/static/files/ComRes2018cover.png.
  2. GCF (Global Challenges Foundation). The Pulse of International Sentiment. (2014). Available at: https://api.globalchallenges.org/static/wp-content/uploads/pdf/The-Pulse-of-International-Sentiment.pdf.
  3. GCF (Global Challenges Foundation). Stora valenkäten Standardrapport. Stockholm, Sweden. Unpublished report, in Swedish (may be obtained by writing to Frank Götmark, frank.gotmark@gu.se). (2014).

Do you want to learn more about the solutions for overpopulation and actions towards sustainability? What actions we need to take on individual, community, national and global level? Check out the Overpopulation Project’s list of solutions!

2 thoughts on “Public believes population growth negative, risky, and requiring international attention, while politicians look the other way

  1. Point of fact: WHY do politicians look the other way? Because our now de-regulated corporate media have not only made population a non-issue but are portraying it as not happening, especially in the United States. Have you notice when the census is released the numbers are not reported. Instead, media headline the social issues, like more people of color, but ignore U.S. increases of 28 million to 30 million a decade!

    Read Joe Guzzardi’s recent commentary in the WASHINGTON POST where he dresses them down for headlining a falling birth rate and ignoring that immigration explodes population in our highest per-capita carbon nation in the world! He also points out violations of long-respected ethics of journalism!

    Kathleene Parker

  2. “Politicians” asked were elected to Swedish parliament. Most of these politicians started as local politicians. In local politics local growth of the own unit is an important concern, probably more so than on the national level. Thus the politicians are trained from early in their political life to favour expansion and growth and phrase objections low. That is probably one reason National Parliaments are shyer than the citizens to express negative views on population growh..

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.