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Policy Insights

Demographic Overheating?


In his recent book Overheating: An Anthro­pology of Accelerated Change, anthropolo­gist T. H. Eriksen astutely applies thermo­dynamic concepts to explain the economic, environmental, and identity challenges endemic to globalization that are endan­gering social reproduction. The point of friction, he argues, is a matter of scale: The challenges are global in scope but manifest at the local level. Eriksen points to overpopulation, climate change, and the accelerated production of residue—both in terms of waste and redundant people—as signs of overheating.

As demographers, we know the stress goes much deeper. Very low fertility is a symptom of the failure to achieve gender equality and of the pressure exerted by capital on reproductive biographies. Massive forced migrations are the result of economic, political, and environmental expulsion. Both of these trends are engen­dering demographic-reproduction crises in European societies.

European governments can make it worse. Have made it worse. By narrowly focus­ing on feeding their voters and exploiting fear of migrants for electoral gain, gov­ernments contribute greatly to a climate of population overheating. Should they be surprised when it boils over?

Andreu Domingo Valls, Centre for Demographic Studies (CED), Spain