Translate page with Google

Pulitzer Center Update June 1, 2015

This Week: Population: Myths & Reality

Media file: sw_pulitzer_babyshot.jpg

From the U.S. to India, alarm has long been raised about overpopulation, leading to calls for harsh...

Media file: d91370d8-aff1-404c-b359-5f24ac67cdef.jpg
Sonia Devi, 35, holds her 2-month-old daughter Lovely, as she sits with her family at her home in a village in Begusarai, Bihar one afternoon in December. Sonia was sterilized a few days earlier. She has three other children besides Lovely—Suraj, 10, Laxmi, 6, and Badal, 2—and decided she didn't want to have a fifth. Image by Sarah Weiser. India, 2014.


In "Population Bomb?", a documentary co-produced by Pulitzer Center grantee Sarah Weiser and Kit Roane for Retro Report and The New York Times, we hear Paul Ehrlich's 1960s claim that overpopulation will lead to an end to the world within 15 years: "By the end I mean an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity."

Fast forward 45 years and the world looks far different. Many more people, yes, but sustained by the Green Revolution and dramatic improvements in public health that few foresaw. In many countries today the anxious talk turns not on too many people but on too few. The Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, a onetime Ehrlich advocate, says the population bomb "was diffused by urbanization, people getting out of poverty all over the world and by people having enough to eat so you didn't have multiple children in the hopes that some of them would survive."

Retro Report covers historical events and their aftermath— examining past and present and asking, "What are the consequences?" "Population Bomb?" takes us back to the sixties when Ehrlich's "horrible, hellish vision of the future" was considered gospel—and contributed to policies such as India's program of forced sterilization.

In an eye-opening, beautifully shot photo essay Sarah looks at the population issues that persist in India today, contrasting the northern state of Bihar and southern India. The birthrate is far lower in southern India where there is better maternal healthcare and nutrition and higher school attendance as well as easier access to birth control.


Pulitzer Center grantee Dan Zak reports for The Washington Post on the collapse of the UN's latest conference on nuclear proliferation, which ended in an impasse over calls for a Middle East ban on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and for existing nuclear-weapons states to take meaningful steps toward disarmament.

Current members of the nuclear club are in many respects ramping up, Dan notes, with the U.S. committed to an overhaul of its nuclear arsenal "that may cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years," according to the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Russia is modernizing too. China is outfitting mobile missiles with multiple warheads and penetration aids. France is developing a new cruise missile.

Dan's reporting is part of "The Ends of the Earth," a larger project focused on the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific and the continuing repercussions of the nuclear era. The U.S. detonated 67 atomic bombs in the region between 1946 and 1958—the Marshallese are still dealing with the radioactive and psychological consequences. Dan's Instagram photos feature contemporary life on the islands.


Jennifer Gonzalez and Luke Nozicka, our Southern Illinois University Carbondale student fellows, traveled to the Dominican Republic for a project on teenage pregnancy. In their photo essay they feature a teenage mother who struggles with finding the right time to discuss sex education with her daughter: "I don't know what to tell her or which age is appropriate…"

"Guatemala: Fishing in Lake Atitlán," a video produced by Eric Halperin from Elon University, shows how pollution in the lake has affected the fishing industry and made it difficult for fishermen to support their families. Eric features a longtime fisherman whose options are scarce. "Honestly," he says, "there's nowhere else I'd go."

This year we have 30 university student fellows reporting on a wide range of complex issues, from the practice of female genital cutting in Mali to the changing roles of Maasai women and the segregation, both social and educational, of Turkish youth in Berlin. To read more about our student fellows and their projects see Lauren Shepherd's post.

Congratulations to all 30 students from our Campus Consortium partner universities!


The Pulitzer Center organizes media workshops for students that are mentored by Pulitzer Center grantees. Not all of the students who attend have access to the equipment they need. On Thursday, June 4, 2015, we'll participate in Do More 24, a 24-hour online giving campaign for DC nonprofits. Your donations will help us buy simple cameras for our young photographers. Please consider making a gift!

Until next week,

Kem Sawyer
Contributing Editor


teal halftone illustration of a family carrying luggage and walking


Migration and Refugees

Migration and Refugees
navy halftone illustration of a female doctor with her arms crossed


Health Inequities

Health Inequities
orange halftone illustration of three newspapers stacked on each other


Misinformation and Disinformation

Misinformation and Disinformation