The Corner


2022: The Soylent Green Year

Soylent Green, poster, Charlton Heston, 1973. (LMPC/Getty Images)

The 1973 dystopian film Soylent Green is, James Pethokoukis notes, the only example of an overtly political project engineered by Charlton Heston, the film’s star, who used his newly reborn status from a now-forgotten film called Skyjacked to get the movie made. Heston was afraid that overpopulation was ruining the planet and commissioned the script. The movie begins with a dire notice that the year is 2022 and New York City’s population is 40,000,000.

That prophecy didn’t work out too well. On his Substack, Faster, PleasePethokoukis notes that concern about the alleged “population bomb” was widespread and bipartisan in the Seventies. And what happened? Fertility rates plummeted, first in the rich world and then in the developing world as well. The world’s most salient example of a mass population fix, China’s one-child policy, has lit the fuse on another kind of bomb, and that country will shortly be dealing with the problem of an aging society with too few working-age people to support those who are no longer able to work. China’s loosening of the policy seems to have come too late; the entire country has now been successfully conditioned to think of small families as the norm. Japan, with a fertility rate of 1.4 births per woman, and no appetite for immigrants, is already facing an aging crisis. Funny how the definition of society’s supposed greatest problem can change so comprehensively.

Oh, and thanks to Norman Borlaug, whose efforts were rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize three years before Soylent Green, we aren’t running out of food, either. And large-scale lab-grown food appears to be just around the corner. You rarely even hear anyone mention the word “overpopulation” anymore. This onetime central terror of the thinking classes simply faded away.

Question for the class: Which of 2021’s most severe worries will seem quaint in 2070?


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