How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Population Bomb

Joseph Nightingale
Big Picture
Published in
9 min readDec 15, 2020

Peter Sellers, in the 1964 film, plays the eponymous Dr Strangelove, a mad nuclear scientist and former Nazi. The film parodies the absurdities of the Cold War and the unfolding world order. Nuclear Armageddon loomed on the horizon, and the outbreak of a Third World War was a real possibility.

They were simpler times.

At one point, facing imminent destruction, Strangelove proposes starting a breeding program once the nuclear fallout subsides down a mineshaft, in the bowels of the Earth. Now that’s sticking your head in the sand. Today, Strangelovian absurdity reigns as we battle to contain the ravenousness of too many people, not the risks of having too few. Such talk focuses upon the dangers to the environment.

But overpopulation also has far-reaching effects upon our culture and society.

People don’t like to admit this uncomfortable truth. If there’s a problem, we look for someone to blame. Newspapers fill their pages blaming politicians and bureaucrats, businessmen and corporations: the Strangeloves of our world. All the problems of the world fall upon their shoulders. If they fail, we demand their heads.

If a flood occurs, it’s the fault of the engineers or the mayor or someone in power. They should have done something! If our prosperity declines or our freedoms erode, the cause is evil politicians scheming to increase their control.

To blame overpopulation is to admit our freedom is chained to circumstance. That forces beyond our control govern our lives. We’d have to admit we’re just an animal in an ecosystem.

Yet there are people alive today who have seen the global population quadruple: from two to almost eight billion people. That dwarfs the entirety of human history. Lone countries now contain the population of the planet at the turn of the last century.

Like fish in water, we don’t notice the tidal wave in which we swim.

Aren’t you through yet?

Overpopulation, as I explained in ‘Is Planet Earth Full?’, is intrinsically linked to resource use. The two go hand in hand like heavy drinking and a heinous hangover. But overpopulation also has calamitous effects upon democracy