Are More People Necessarily a Problem?

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Science  29 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6042, pp. 544-546
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6042.544

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The Machakos Reserve, a hilly, drought-prone farming region 50 kilometers south of Nairobi, is home to more than 1.5 million people. Rather than a cautionary example of the perils of overpopulation, however, for some experts Machakos has become a symbol of the idea that rapid human population growth, even in some of Earth's driest, most challenging environments, is not necessarily a recipe for disaster—and can even bring benefits. They argue that, over the past 75 years, population growth in Machakos and nearby Nairobi has triggered social and economic shifts that have made it possible for residents to regreen once-barren hillsides, reinvigorate failing soils, reduce birth rates, and increase crop production and incomes. Along with this cautious optimism, however, come profound doubts.

  • * David Malakoff is a writer living in Alexandria, Virginia.

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