David Attenborough To Be Patron Of Optimum Population Trust

David Attenborough to be patron of Optimum Population Trust

Sir David Attenborough
Parminder Bahra, Poverty and Development Correspondent
From The Times
April 14, 2009

Sir David Attenborough said yesterday that the growth in global population was frightening, as he became a patron of an organisation that campaigns to limit the number of people in the world.

The television presenter and naturalist said that the increase in population was having devastating effects on ecology, pollution and food production.

There are three times as many people in the world as when I started making television programmes only a mere 56 years ago, he said, after becoming a patron of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT) think-tank.

It is frightening. We cant go on as we have been. We are seeing the consequences in terms of ecology, atmospheric pollution and in terms of the space and food production.

Ive never seen a problem that wouldnt be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more. Population is reaching its optimum and the world cannot hold an infinite number of people, Sir David, who has two children, said.

The OPT counts among its patrons the environmentalist Jonathon Porritt and the academic Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta. However, Sir Davids appointment has already been criticised. Austin Williams, author of The Enemies of Progress, said: Experts can still be stupid when they speak on subjects of which they know little. Sir David may know a sight more than I do about remote species but that does not give him the intelligence to speak on global politics.

I have a problem with the line that people are a problem. More people are a good thing. People are the source of creativity, intelligence, analysis and problem-solving. If we see people as just simple things that consume and excrete carbon, then the OPT may have a point, but people are more than this and they will be the ones to find the solutions. Sir David said that the OPT was drawing attention to the issue of population and being a patron seemed a worthwhile thing to do.

Roger Martin, the chairman of the trust, said that the appointment would put pressure on organisations to face up to the issue of population: The environmental movement will not confront the fact that there is not a single problem that they deal with which would not be easier with fewer people.

The trust campaigns for global access to family planning and for couples to be encouraged to stop having more than two children. In Britain it wants to stabilise the population by bringing immigration into balance with emigration and making greater efforts to reduce teenage pregnancies.

Mr Martin said that the UK population must be reduced to a sustainable level because Britain was already the most overcrowded country in Europe.He said the world could not increase production to meet the needs of a growing population: We cant feed ourselves with some of the most intensive agriculture in the world were only 70 per cent self-sufficient.

Mr Martin said that Britain could not rely on the world food market because, when food runs short, exporters do not export it: Last year, we saw India and China banning exports of rice when there was a shortage.


The first scholar to bring overpopulation to the fore was the Rev Thomas Malthus. His academic work in the late 18th and early 19th centuries outraged and inspired succeeding generations (Tim Glanfield writes).

Malthus grew up in Guildford, Surrey, the youngest of eight siblings, and during his childhood encountered some of the great minds of his age. His father was a friend of the philosophers David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the young Malthus needed little encouragement to study mathematics at Cambridge.

He made his name with a landmark text, An Essay on the Principle of Population, published in six editions between 1798 and 1826 and underlined by strong scepticism for future human generations.

Malthus believed that all previous generations had included a poor underclass created by an inherent lack of resources in the world that would continue if population growth were not addressed. His theory is summarised by his assertion that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in Earth to produce sustenance for Man.

He saw two significant variables in the world, those that are positive and raise the death rate famine, disease and war and those that are preventive and lower the birthrate birth control, abortion, celibacy and postponement of marriage.

In practising the preventive measures and gradually reducing poor laws, Malthus argued, society would no longer create the poor which they maintain.

The expectations of population growth outlined in his essay had a significant influence on Darwins evolutionary theories and many modern political theses, but Malthus remains a controversial and much vilified scholar. Shelley branded him a eunuch and a tyrant, Marx as the principal enemy of the people and Lenin called his work a reactionary doctrine.