Nicholas Eberstadt’s article in the March-April 2001 issue of Foreign Policy entitled “The Population Implosion” touched off a minor sensation among those in the fields of population policy and demography. In the article, Eberstadt argued that the contemporary era of global “population explosion,” in which world population had nearly quadrupled in a century, is ending. He also questioned the wisdom of ongoing efforts to depress birthrates, arguing that “the continuing preoccupation with high fertility and rapid population growth has left the international population policy community poorly prepared to comprehend (much less respond to) the demographic trends emerging around the world today”—namely, subreplacement fertility patterns, the aging of many societies, and intensive and prolonged mortality crises such as HIV/AIDS.
The Environmental Change and Security Project invited Dr. Eberstadt and five other population professionals (Stan Bernstein of the United Nations Population Fund; Carmen Barroso of the MacArthur Foundation; Amy Coen of Population Action International; Sonia Corrêa of the Brazil Institute of Social and Economic Analysis; and Parfait M. Eloundou-Enyegue of Cornell University) to participate in an on-line forum on the state of demographic trends and population policy. Using “The Population Implosion” as a catalyst, we wanted the forum to address questions such as: Should population growth continue to be considered a pressing international issue? How should we interpret the mixed messages in recent statistics and projections about the population growth rate? Has the recent success in bringing growth rates down led to a false sense of security and a resultant decline in family planning funding? What is the importance of demographic shifts in some developed countries? Should those countries, in fact, be promoting higher birth rates?
The resultant debate was erudite, passionate, and quite illuminating. A transcript of the forum’s postings follows excerpts from Dr. Eberstadt’s article.