Robert Mayhew

Seven Billion and Counting

How Population Change Will Transform Our World

By Sarah Harper

Oxford University Press 234pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The study of population and the daily socioeconomic realities created by the aggregation of births, marriages and deaths may not sound the most exciting of subjects at first blush. And yet demography, from its origins in 17th-century Europe, has always attracted intense, passionate and sometimes downright hysterical reactions. Malthus, writing in the charged political atmosphere of the French Revolution, countered utopian visions of societal advance with the dour demographic pronouncement that ‘population cannot be checked without producing misery or vice, the ample portion of these too bitter ingredients in the cup of human life’. Similarly extreme views were rehearsed in the 1960s and 1970s, with some advocating the use of sterilising agents in public water supplies to limit populations while others saw increasing numbers as the ‘ultimate resource’ for economic growth. The polarisation of opinion continues in our own era: with the world’s population projected to reach ten billion this century, one prominent commentator suggested in 2013 that we should stop worrying while another concluded, ‘I think we’re fucked.’

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