The Pop Culture Transition from Population Growth to Global Warming

Written by Vijay Jayaraj on May 24, 2019

For many of us Millennials, especially in densely populated developing countries like India and China, it was a no-brainer. Population growth was the world’s biggest problem. At least, so we learned in our schools.

But as we grew into our 20s, the focus of the world turned more toward climate change.

Was population growth really a problem? Is it still? Why are we now so obsessed with climate change instead?

There are always two kinds of environmentalists: those who genuinely care for nature, and those who advocate a radical form of environmentalism.

The former, common people who love nature, are often at the mercy of policymakers. They have little influence on the trajectory of the global environmental movement or its philosophy.

The latter, the radical environmentalists, are often hailed as the heroes of our world. Be they members of Greenpeace on their boats to save whales from Japanese fishing vessels, or Peta members in animal skins protesting the ruthless murder of innocent animals, their motto is simple: Save the earth and its life forms from humans, who are, as David Attenborough puts it, “the plague of this earth.”

This motto had its origins in Thomas Robert Malthus’s 1798 work on population growth. Malthus claimed that population grows exponentially and food arithmetically; therefore, whenever food supply increases, population will rapidly grow to eliminate the abundance.

In other words, Malthus argued that unchecked population growth would eventually collapse due to war, famine, or disease. Malthusianism became the guiding principle for many radical environmentalist groups in the 20th century.

The theory was so famous that many of the powerful and famous personalities of the time believed that reducing human population was the only way to save the planet.

“A total population of 250–300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal,” said Ted Turner, founder of CNN, patron of the United Nations Foundation, and radical environmentalist.

But when advanced agricultural technologies in the latter part of the 20th century enabled countries to produce more food than their rapidly growing populations required, the Malthusian principle fell flat on its face.

But radical environmental groups still promoted fears of population growth as the number one environmental problem for human civilization, and the mainstream media largely bought into the fears.

Population control programs, also known as “family planning,” were very active in China and India.  Educational indoctrination against population growth was common in developing countries even as recently as the early 2010s.

But by this time, and even as long ago as the 1980s, academicians in the West, observing crop yields’ rising more rapidly than population, had rejected Malthusianism.

Radical environmentalists, desperate for a doomsday narrative, needed a new problem to blame on human civilization. They found it in global warming.

The hypothesis of dangerous manmade global warming became popular in the 1990s when scientists concluded that the earth was on a rapid warming trend—despite the trend’s being very short (mid-1970s to late-1990s, a ridiculously short period given paleoclimate.

Prior to 1970, there was no clear long-term warming trend, and there had been a “Little Ice Age” in the 17th century. But who cared? The radical environmentalists declared that carbon dioxide emissions from industrialization and fossil fuel use were ushering in a warming apocalypse.

By the mid-2000s, they were already making drastic claims regarding the environment. Powerful political leaders like Al Gore capitalized on the climate frenzy, not only making false claims regarding its repercussions but also making millions of dollars by investing in renewable energy and “carbon trading” supported by public angst and government handouts.

Even a scientific scandal—“Climategate,” when emails among alarmist climate scientists revealed that they were intentionally altering temperature data to portray warming more rapid than empirical observation supported—failed to stop the doomsday bandwagon.

In 2019, some of them warn us that we have less than 12 years left to save our planet from certain collapse. Their solution: don’t use fossil fuels, stop flying in planes, stop eating beef, and use energy technologies that have no capacity to run on their own.

And just like that, our mainstream media pop culture has transitioned form fears of population growth to fears of climate change.

Indoctrination about climate change is so rampant in our schools that students now believe their future is doomed, despite the lack of evidence.

School children are now on streets protesting against climate change and our “decaying planet,” despite the world’s achieving its highest agricultural productivity and life expectancy rates in human history.

Just like fears of population myth, fears about climate doomsday will die sometime. But extreme climate policies and the damage they cause to the world’s energy infrastructure , especially in developing countries, will have lasting impact on our society, impact far greater than whatever we might have lost from unnecessary fears of population growth.

It is time for us to wake up and reject radical environmentalists’ methodical and strategic assault on the progress of human civilization.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Bangalore, India.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), a Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Chennai, India.