Five Famous Figures Who Have Warned About Overpopulation

Published on March 31st, 2023

Overpopulation is one of the biggest issues facing our planet. Many politicians and world leaders have shied away from ever discussing such a difficult topic. With that said, there are many famous individuals from various walks of life who have been sounding the alarm about this issue for years. Below are five famous figures who have issued warnings about human overpopulation.

1. David Attenborough

David Attenborough is British broadcaster, naturalist, and longtime activist for raising awareness about the issue of human overpopulation. We’ve written about his past activism and warnings about overpopulation in the future. This quote from Attenborough is succinct but really hits the point we at CAPS have been making for a long time:

Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.

2. Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader for millions of Tibetan Buddhists, has repeatedly warned about the threat overpopulation poses to our world. In one interview, he warned about the impact overpopulation has on the environment.

In a clip from an April 2012 speech he led at UCSD titled “The Global Impact of Climate Change”, he joked we need “more monks, more nuns” to curb the global population. He also stated “the population rapidly increasing” is a “very serious matter.” He added that we have to “take seriously these things [scarcity of resources due to overpopulation]” or “sooner or later we will face problems” due to overpopulation. 

3. Jane Goodall

Primatologist and anthropologist Jane Gooddall has made remarkable contributions to chimpanzee research. As someone who has literally lived among at-risk ecosystems, Goodall is qualified to talk from both a scientific and personal level about how environmental changes affect our world. Overpopulation has long been one of the issues she has been willing to discuss.

She said the following to The Guardian during a January 2021 interview about a variety of topics related to the environment and climate change:

“We are seeing the consequences of the crazy idea that there can be unlimited economic development on a planet with finite natural resources and a growing population. Decisions are made for short-term gain at the expense of protecting the environment for the future. Now, the world’s population is estimated at over 7 billion people and it is expected to be closer to 10 billion by 2050. If we carry on with business as usual what is going to happen? To be clear, the main problem is not population growth. I have never said that, although George Monbiot claims that I did, which is disappointing because I have always admired him. It is one of three main problems – the other two are our greedy lifestyle, our reckless burning of fossil fuels, the demand for meat, poverty – and, of course, we must also tackle corruption.”

While Goodall did follow this up by saying she does not consider the main issue population growth, her answer reveals a level of nuance not often seen from public figures. It’s clear that despite her hesitance to discuss a solution, that she still sees overpopulation as an incredibly important issue that needs to be addressed.

4. Aldous Huxley

The author Aldous Huxley was one of the more notable science fiction authors of the twentieth century. He is famous for the dystopian novel A Brave New World, along with several other published works. Huxley was also a frequent columnist, and in a 1950 article published in Redbook, he detailed his thoughts on overpopulation in the year 2000. Here’s the quote:

“During the next fifty years mankind will face three great problems: the problem of avoiding war; the problem of feeding and clothing a population of two and a quarter billions which, by 2000 A.D., will have grown to upward of three billions, and the problem of supplying these billions without ruining the planet’s irreplaceable resources. Let us assume—and unhappily it is a large assumption—that the nations can agree to live in peace. In this event mankind will be free to devote all its energy and skill to the solution of its other major problems.”

This is a fairly prophetic prediction when you evaluate our current situation. We wonder what Huxley would think now that we have a world population of eight billion people.

5. Carl Sagan

Renowned astronomer Carl Sagan was noted for many of his scientific musings on life in the universe. While famous for pondering the stars, one of his lesser known views was his concern with overpopulation and its impact on interstellar space exploration.

In his 1980 book Cosmos, Sagan detailed that interstellar space travel was entirely dependent on keeping population levels in check.

Below is the full excerpt:

No civilization can possibly survive to an interstellar spacefaring phase unless it limits its numbers. Any society with a marked population explosion will be forced to devote all its energies and technological skills to feeding and caring for the population on its home planet. This is a very powerful conclusion and is in no way based on the idiosyncrasies of a particular civilization. On any planet, no matter what its biology or social system, an exponential increase in population will swallow every resource. Conversely, any civilization that engages in serious interstellar exploration and colonization must have exercised zero population growth or something very close to it for many generations.

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