Room 2
Population control: natural and un-natural solutions

For centuries, human population growth has been a subject of divisive political debate. The exponential growth of global populations during the ‘Great Acceleration’ (0001950-present), has raised urgent questions about the sustainability of food supplies and the equitable sharing of scarce resources. The future worlds of the Misanthropocene provide a range of solutions for the control of human populations to reduce the adverse impact of humans on our planet.

This room examines exhibits from certain future worlds that have attempted to regulate human populations. These have included unpredictable global pandemics, and more sinister government schemes to minimise, control, or scientifically ‘improve’, the human race. The exhibits present evidence of: a lottery scheme for the allocation of resources essential for survival; scientifically engineered caste systems of human intelligence and roles; and the commercial production of human meat for human consumption.


Exhibit 2.1

Cans of human meat

Click the image to read curatorial interpretations

Historically, some positive solutions to the ‘population problem’ have been proposed, such as improving education, health and welfare conditions, and providing access to birth control, but other solutions carry more negative connotations. For example, the 19th century theories of Malthusianism and Social Darwinism promoted the reduction of charitable aid for the poor, arguing that it interfered with the natural selection of humans and that it encouraged procreation among the ‘lesser’ classes. In the 20th century, underpinned by the development of eugenic theories (one of the darker histories of UCL), solutions ranged from coercion, child-related taxes, to voluntary and involuntary sterilisation and euthanasia. The extreme solutions of population segregation, racist exclusions, and authoritarian control provided a de-humanising rationale for the atrocities of indigenous genocide, slavery, the Holocaust, Apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and many more perverse histories of selective humanity.


Exhibit 2.2

Survival Lottery ticket

Click the image to read curatorial interpretations

It could be argued that capitalism perpetuates these notions, as it maintains the prevailing privilege of the Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic (WEIRD) male, typically promoted to the evolutionary apogee by eugenicists. The Misanthropocene is therefore an urgent expression of concern for the existential threat of the climate crises to this privileged elite, in the same way that historical 'others' (minority and underprivileged groups) have suffered extinctions in the making of modernity and freedom.

Capitalism inevitably produces a dystopian future, resulting from expanding extraction of resources, excessive accumulation of capital, and concentration of consumption. The end of the world is the end of liberal and affluent capitalist society.  The world must end, rather than be made better, for another human relationship to the earth to begin.

The exhibits in this room reflect solutions for population control enacted in certain future worlds.

Exhibit 2.3


Click the image to read curatorial interpretations


Further reading:

Adam, B., 1998. Timescapes of Modernity: The Environment and Invisible Hazards. London: Routledge.

Farmer, A., 2008. Malthusianism and Eugenics: A Preamble. in: By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1-13.

Mulgan, T., 2011. Ethics for a Broken World, Imagining Philosophy After Catastrophe. Durham: Acumen.

Mulgan, T., 2014.  Ethics For Possible Futures. The Aristotelian Society Proceedings of The Aristotelian Society, Vol. cxiv, Part 1.

Mulgan, T., 2018. Answering to Future People: Responsibility for Climate Change in a Breaking World. Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 35, No. 3, August 2018


Sasser, J. S., 2018. How Population Became an Environmental Problem. In: On Infertile Ground: Population Control and Women's Rights in the Era of Climate ChangeNew York, NY: NYU Press, 49-77.