Chapter 1 considers the impact of rapid and changing patterns of population growth across the planet. Although the distributional effects of population growth are likely to be uneven (as ‘across the globe, the planet is both full and empty’), it is argued that it is not so much the number of people on the planet that matters most, but how they choose to live and interact with their surroundings. In an increasingly complex and interconnected world, the prudent management of available resources, fragile systems, and emerging challenges can make all the difference. Historical attempts to chart the links between population growth and development—from Malthus to the ‘Earth Summit’—are considered. It is suggested that more cross-disciplinary work is required to move these debates forward. The discussion concludes by summarizing the following ten chapters that attempt to answer the question ‘is the planet full?’ from a range of disciplinary perspectives.
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