Science Fiction Today – Overpopulation

OOverpopulation continues to be a point of discussion in the world at large and is usually a part of whatever future is being told in a Science Fiction story. The number of people in the world and in the universe makes a difference on resources and on survivability. Throughout history we have been able to increase the capacity for human survival. At the same time what does this look like in the potential futures?

There are a few different options that I have seen in stories. One, is the expansion of humans beyond the usual limits, whether that is building up or expanding beyond the Earth. Another option is a little more sinister and that is control over the population, whether that is the release of a virus to culling the population or laws around procreation. Both of these are methods for dealing with overpopulation.

Expanding Beyond

This kind of follows along with how humanity has dealt with overpopulation so far and that is to expand. One way this expansion is seen in Science Fiction is the increase in building and living space. In many stories the skyscrapers are taller and the living spaces smaller. Just think of the giant skyscraper apartment Bruce Willis lives in in the Fifth Element. The human population just keeps growing and we keep raising the limit for what can be handled.

When you make boats that fly, you know you're building tall! Found on http://metropolisoftomorrow.tumblr.com/post/687346140/fifth-element-by-pineapples101

When you make boats that fly, you know you’re building tall!
Found on Tumblr

The other expansion that is seen in stories is expansion into the stars and other planets. Many Science Fiction stories are about the way that humans have expanded into the stars and have populated a multitude of planets. All of this is about finding more living spaces and finding more resources in order for the human race to survive.

Control

The other direction that can be taken to solve overpopulation is to control the population in some ways. One form of control is through rules and law about procreation. This can be done through limiting the number of children that people are allowed to have – like in Ender’s Game. This can be difficult to enforce unless you figure out someway to basically make people unable to have kids unless they are approved or make it that everyone adopts and no one has kids naturally. This would be a way to limit the population, but would require controlling the population.

The other option that is often presented in stories is one where the powerful recognize there is a resource issue in the world and decide that the population needs to be culled. Usually this entails introducing some sort of virus or plague that either will not kill everyone or that some people have be immunized against. This brings down the population numbers and helps save vital resources at a huge cost. This is another form of control over the population partly because it is a few deciding the good for the many and who has the right to make that decision? 

Of course, control can backfire, like in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where the upper classes send away the lower classes from their planet – and then all die of a preventable disease because all the cleaning people are gone. But what stories are you thinking of?

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

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7 responses to “Science Fiction Today – Overpopulation

  1. I heard an interesting theory from a biology teacher before. He postured that Earth itself would take care of our over-population problem. We have reached the plateau of what Earth can handle of us in some places, and here we see a decline in birth rate (the big cities). There are a few factors in this… 1) women are educated, and are having less children much older, 2) reproduction (the natural instinct) needs are less severe, because we are around so many people already… but he also suggested lower sperm counts, and other reproductive issues that are increasing could be one way we are naturally controlling our own population (to say nothing for fertility clinics, of course). I don’t know how scientific it is, but it makes sense in some way… even animals that don’t have natural predators stop breeding or at least stop being fertile after a while if there are no resources.

    Liked by 4 people

    • That is in interesting idea that our biology could be working to make sure we do not expand beyond. Some of it if we are around so many people and there is not this imperative to have kids so is there less of a biological clock idea for women.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. To me, overpopulation is at hand when one species has to slaughter another en mass to survive, or destroy the planet for convenience, or war with little cause. Man has outwitted nature and prolong aging, stop disease, and save humans from other natural regulators.

    Thanks for the post – makes us think!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. District 9 and Elysium both touch on this a bit, with the general themes of “what do we do with these people” and “the rich leave the planet.” Chappie doesn’t have much to say about it, but it might in a sequel, because the presence of AI causes a huge change in how to conceptualize “life” in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The World’s Changing Around Us… | Comparative Geeks

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