Historical Perspectives On Contemporary Issues
Emily Merchant — Building the Population Bomb
Closed-captioning available on Youtube.
In her book, Dr. Merchant explores the history of population growth modeling and the intellectual and ideological battles over the concept of overpopulation. Merchant describes the battle between the so-called mercantilist position—held by a number of statisticians, among others—which posited that population growth was the driver of national economic development and geopolitical strength, and the Malthusian position (named after noted economist Thomas Robert Malthus)—held by quite a few biologists and natural scientists—that saw rapid population growth as a harbinger of poverty, famine, and ecological collapse. The publication of the 1968 book The Population Bomb by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich made overpopulation a cause célèbre in the late 1960s and 1970s. However, as Dr. Merchant makes clear, those fears did not come to fruition, and many of the problems that were blamed on overpopulation would more accurately have been ascribed to colonial and postcolonial economic relationships, and the maldistribution of global resources.
To cite this podcast, please use footnote:
Emily Merchant, interview, Perspectives, Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, November 9, 2021, https://www.chstm.org/video/130.
Emily Merchant is a historian of science and technology at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Merchant was a 2012-2013 Research Fellow at the Consortium for History of Science, Technology & Medicine.
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