Across the twentieth century, Earth's human population increased undeniably quickly, rising from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to 6.1 billion in 2000. As population grew, it also began to take the blame for some of the world's most serious problems, from global poverty to environmental degradation, and became an object of intervention for governments and nongovernmental organizations. But the links between population, poverty, and pollution were neither obvious nor uncontested.
Building the Population Bomb tells the story of the twentieth-century population crisis by examining how scientists, philanthropists, and governments across the globe came to define the rise of the world's human numbers as a problem. It narrates the history of demography and population control in the twentieth century, examining alliances and rivalries between natural scientists concerned about the depletion of the world's natural resources, social scientists concerned about a bifurcated global economy, philanthropists aiming to preserve American political and economic hegemony, and heads of state in the Global South seeking rapid economic development. It explains how these groups forged a consensus that promoted fertility limitation at the expense of women, people of color, the world's poor, and the Earth itself.
As the world's population continues to grow – with the United Nations projecting 11 billion people by the year 2100 – Building the Population Bomb steps back from the conventional population debate to demonstrate that our anxieties about future population growth are not obvious but learned. Ultimately, this critical volume shows how population growth itself is not a barrier to economic, environmental, or reproductive justice; rather, it is our anxiety over population growth that distracts us from the pursuit of these urgent goals.
List of Figures
Abbreviations Used in Notes
1. Quantity and Quality
2. Family Planning
3. Global Population
4. Population Consensus
5. Demography as Diplomacy
6. Detonating the Population Bomb
Emily Klancher Merchant is Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of California, Davis. She has published work on historical demography and environmental history in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Social Science History, International Migration Review, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"In this brilliant and important book, Merchant shows how population growth came to be seen as one of the modern world's most pressing problems. The population problem took shape in tandem with the development of a fledgling scientific discipline: demography. Foundations funded its studies, governments embraced its expertise, and business leaders amplified its most startling pronouncements. At the heart of this nexus of activity was eugenics, which not only survived in the postwar era, but thrived. Merchant's story is masterful – a precise, compelling recounting of the rise of a scientific problem at the center of global politics. This is a must read in the history of science, intellectual history, the history of sexuality, diplomatic history, and for anyone who wants to understand the twentieth century."
– Dan Bouk, Colgate University
"Emily Klancher Merchant employs historical knowledge, deep understanding of the role of science and technology in social change, and demographic technical expertise to elucidate the contentious story of panic versus calm in the debate about population growth. Building the Population Bomb provides important lessons for understanding the past and viewing the future."
– Barbara A. Anderson, Ronald Freedman Collegiate Professor of Sociology and Population Studies, University of Michigan