Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Population Bomb" turns the argument about overpopulation on its head


Population Bomb”, by Austrian documentarian Werner Boote, lays out the modern understanding of population demographics.  That is, richer populations have fewer kids in order to have better lives for ”grownups”.  The poorer populations accept a kind of moral aesthetic realism and have large families. It's common for immigrants from poorer countries to send money back to relatives (and not just their own kids), something that people from richer countries don't experience much.  I made that point in conversation outside the embassy before we went in, and I ruffled some sails. 
     
The world’s population recently topped 7 billion, doubling since the mid 1960s.  I can remember cute statements back then, that homosexuals would answer the “world’s population problem”.
   
Boote starts out driving in Vienna, and then travels the world in a film that is visually impressive.  As a kind of Gulliver, he visits Mexico City, China, India (Mumbai), Kenya (Nairobi and the Serengeti), Japan, Finland, two locations in the US (Georgia and a university in Massachusetts, and a pedal boat conversation on a lake that I think I recognize as in northern New Jersey), and a finale in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with the film ending with a spectacle of a kind of hajj, followed by millions leaving on trains.   

Gradually, the case builds that even in countries with teeming cities, there is ample countryside that could support billions more if people lived simply and consumed fewer resources.  So the richer people become the “guilty remnant”.  The boat conversation has another professor saying that it used to be common for “capitalists” to aspire to eugenics, until Hitler made the concept unacceptable.  So we have euphemisms like “family planning”.  Indeed, the film covers the aftermath of China’s one-child policy (lots of only children who behave like “little emperors” ruling the country now), and looks at family size in some other cultures (like Japan). He also hits hard the problem of the aging populations in richer countries which could, as I have pointed out on other blogs, lead to the enforcement of filial responsibility laws (China and other Asian societies already have a tradition of “filial piety”.

The footage in Finland, where he talks to another prof from Germany after showing Finland’s own demographic research, was interesting to me, because some critical scenes in my own novel happen there, and my own impressions of the area are accurate (looks like northern Minnesota, but even rockier).

The film was shown at the Austrian Embassy by the DC Environmental Film Festival.  The screen could have been bigger.  This film really would benefit from very professional showmanship, because of the spectacular urban and countryside photography.  The absolutely most graphic slums were in India, but the most primitive living conditions were in Kenya.  Somehow, the film also recalled Paramount’s “Babel”.   The title also reminds me of Elinor Burkett’s 2000 book “The Baby Boon”.  Note: “boon” and “boom” don’t mean quite the same things. 
  

The official site is here. I’m told that the distributor is Icarus for the US.  The company mentioned in the credits is ThimFilm and NGF.  (Any relation to ThinkFilm, now in bankruptcy in the US?  This would seem to fit Radius TWC pretty well.) 

Outdoor embassies shown here are Austria and China, near UDC in Washington.

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