The Problem:

Population control is necessary because the world’s population has grown so large that we are becoming unable to sustain ourselves and when that happens, we won’t be able to direct how population is controlled, nature will be in the driver’s seat and worldwide calamity will ensue.

In my bioethics course, we discussed the film, Inferno (2016). My assignment does not, itself, identify what topics in the film we are meant to discuss, but asks students to identify and discuss the ideas the films raise. In last week’s class, we focused on population as a problem and who is / should be tasked with solving this problem. Below is an outline with notes of the sorts of solutions we raised and what unintentional problems these solutions may initiate.


Interestingly, Inferno and Avengers: Infinity War have the same solution. Simply eradicate half the population and there we have it, more jobs, resources, and money for the remaining half, right?

Zobrist poses an interesting metaphor, comparing the Earth’s human population to a culture of bacteria the doubles every minute. He asks us to imagine a beaker filling up with the bacteria. How long before the beaker is full will it be when the beaker is ½ full?

One minute to midnight: let’s do the math…

If, at one minute to midnight, the beaker is ½ filled with bacteria and we are trying to set the clock back by eliminating ½ of the world’s population, what time will it be then?

Yeah, two minutes before midnight.

Despite what Zobrist and his people say, this does NOT solve the problem forever.

It simply sets us back to …

two minutes to midnight.

Population Control by Limiting Births

Inferno also suggested mass population control by placing birth control medications in the water supply. Infertility would eliminate the majority of the next generation, saving us. Or would it? Would we be better off without a generation of babies being born?

public domain: obtained from

China’s one-child policy

Since the 1979, the one-child policy restricting the number of children allowed to a family has drastically skewed the age demographics in China, introducing a bottleneck where we would normally expect a large population of young children. This policy was modified several times until 2016, when a two-child policy officially replaced China’s one-child policy.

To enforce birth limits, the government could require the use of contraception, sterilization, and even forced abortion along with high fines. The result was that China’s birth restrictions prevented an estimated 400 million births since 1980. These results are similar to what would be expected if Zobrist’s birth control measure was implemented. On the one hand, the population of China has been limited to a linear growth pattern (rather than an exponential one), and the efficacy of these measures are evident from the change in the age demographic.

An unforeseen problem with this demographic change is what has become known as the 4-2-1 problem, where one child becomes responsible for their two aging parents and four aging grandparents. Young people are needed to take care of an aging population or else we would have a different kind of calamity where the elderly are neglected and die suffering and alone.

China’s problems extend even further because the pressure to have only one child has made apparent the preference of parents to give birth to male children. The result of this has been a 20% over-abundance of males in the population, leading to new problems where these extra men are unable to find mates in their own country.

What does this change in the sex ratio mean?            

According to a report by the National Population and Family Planning Commission, there would be 30 million more men than women in 2020 – but in fact, there were already 32million men than women in 2018. ( This disparity can potentially lead to social instability, violence, and courtship-motivated emigration.

Education of Women

Source: Barro-Lee Educational Attainment Dataset (2015): PRB Data Sheet 2015

Education of women leads to the lower mortality of their children and a decrease in the number of children these women have resulting in a net reduction in population growth rate. This suggests that if we could address the education of women worldwide, there would be a significant decrease in the population over time.

End Poverty

There is a direct correlation between Fertility and Poverty: The more people in a country living on less than $2 a day, the higher the fertility rate. This suggests yet another alternative to wiping out half the world’s population.

Source: Population Reference Bureau, Population & Economic Development Linkages 1007 Data Sheet

The one thing that many of these associations fail to account for is the outsized impact of first world people on the planet.

In the end, maybe Zobrist is onto something. His attack centered on the world’s elite, the exact population that is having the largest impact on the planet.


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