The Population Bomb That Wasn’t: A Deeper Look


The Population Bomb That Never Was and the Earth4All Initiative report – two studies that were published in 2023, five decades after reports that claimed the planet’s growing human population to be a problem – have revived conversations about population control and women’s reproductive rights.

The Earth4All report by Dr. Beniamino Callegari and Dr. Per Espen Stoknes from Kristiania University College, Oslo, and BI Norwegian Business School, respectively, predicted two scenarios for the world’s population growth. The first, based on the current economic development, foresees the population peaking at 8.6 billion in 2050, and declining to 7 billion in 2100. The second model, called ‘the giant leap’ – involving investments in poverty relief, gender equity, food and energy security, among other initiatives – predicts that the population of the planet will reach 8.5 billion in 2040, and then rapidly fall to 6 billion in 2100.

These numbers differ considerably from the ones found in the U.N. ‘World Populations Prospects 2021’ report, which estimated the global population to rise to 10.4 billion in 2080, and stabilise at that figure in 2100. This creates a unique challenge in India, which is predicted to outgrow China in population in 2023. Its total fertility rate is 2.1 and further reductions are expected.

However, the authors of the Earth4All paper have made a point about the planet’s sustainability being more closely related to people’s luxurious consumption than to the size of the population. This notion is contradicted by the Ehrlich-authored book (The Population Bomb, 1968) and the ‘Limits to Growth’ report from 1972, in which population control was seen as a priority for global development policies.

In this regard, it is important to consider the implications of often draconian population control measures on Indian women’s reproductive justice. The predictions of these reports provide a useful reference to inform future policies, but also to deeply consider the legacy of culture and power dynamics that have framed the reproductive lives of women in India.

Finally, the necessary changes in lifestyle, access to resources, and decision-making regarding reproductive health will also point us to a safe and healthy future. The Earth4All Initiative report is not just relevant for its population predictions, but for its reappraisal of more traditional views pertaining to humankind and planetary boundaries.

The Earth4All Initiative is an international collective of researchers and other experts who strive towards understanding and modelling global sustainability challenges. Founded in 2014, this organization brings together the best of science with potential solutions to our current global challenges, focusing mainly on climate change. The Earth4All Initiative is chaired by renowned Norwegian professor and leader in sustainable development initiatives, Prof. Bjørn L. Ellingsen. With its research, Earth4All works to help countries develop sustainable strategies to reduce their climate impacts while embracing technology and working towards a better quality of life for citizens.