People have been worrying about the world’s pending overpopulation for more than two centuries. Robert Thomas Malthus sounded the alarm in 1797 with “An Essay on the Principles of the Population,” which predicted mass starvation and went on to influence the likes of Charles Darwin and Margaret Sanger. Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book, “The Population Bomb,” forecast a similar fate; if the population kept rising unchecked, Earth’s resources would buckle. Many of today’s environmental thinkers, such as broadcaster (and “Planet Earth” narrator) David Attenborough, have called for drastic measures to limit the planet’s population before it’s too late.
But according to the veteran environmental writer Fred Pearce, they’re all wrong. In his latest book, “The Coming Population Crash: And Our Planet's Surprising Future,” Pearce argues that the world’s population is peaking. In the next century, we’re heading not for exponential growth, but a slow, steady decline. This, he claims, has the potential to massively change both our society and our planet: Children will become a rare sight, patriarchal thinking will fall by the wayside, and middle-aged culture will replace our predominant youth culture. Furthermore, Pearce explains, the population bust could be the end of our environmental woes. Fewer people making better choices about consumption could lead to a greener, healthier planet.