Three takeaways from Chris Packham’s documentary on population growth.

One: the world is crowded and becoming more so. Two: be very glad you live in Scotland, dreich or not. Three: Chris Packham has ten vacuum cleaners. 

Ten? Correct. To satisfy his “cleaning fetish” he confessed, before asking for two televisions, a SodaStream, and a microwave to be taken into consideration. The disclosure was offered as a way of showing  he was part of the problem of over-consumption, and was not being insufferably preachy on such a controversial topic as population control.

Well, he was being preachy. Whether insufferably so depends on where you stand, both on Packham – hero or emperor-like eco Nero? – and the subject. As for controversial, the most hair-raising thing he probably did was to broach the matter.

Sir David Attenborough, one of his interviewees and, like Packham, the patron of the charity Population Matters, agreed. “It is very difficult to talk about because the right to have children is one of the most precious rights people have.”

By 2050, predicts the UN, there will be 10 billion people on the planet, all competing for food, water and space. Packham set off round the world – irony klaxon: one assumes he offset the carbon cost – to see where the strains were already showing. He went to the megacities of Sao Paulo (population 22 million) and Lagos (20 million). Children living on homes built on rubbish greeted him with cries of: “White man, you are welcome!” 

We saw him next in Southampton, dropping his dad off for a hospital appointment. “Let’s be honest about it, he shouldn’t be here,” said Packham of his 86-year-old pa. Charming. It would have sounded brutal but for him adding a second later, “I don’t want my dad to die, obviously. I don’t want to die, obviously.”

Here we arrived at the heart of the problem: what to do about it. Packham spoke with horror about China’s one child policy and India’s forced sterilisation programme of the 1970s. Experts today recommended more family planning and empowering women, making them believe a different future was possible with fewer children.

“Universities are by far the most effective way to slow people down having children,” said one talking head. Put that in your prospectus.

“The problem isn’t large families of poor African children,” said Packham. “The problem is a way of living we have helped to create.” At this point came the vacuum cleaner confession. 

The film was made by the same people behind the Bafta and Emmy-winning Asperger’s and Me. Like that 2017 documentary, it was at its best when it was intensely personal. We had the measure of the man early on when he introduced us to his elderly poodle, Scratchy, who had recently fallen down the stairs.

“I’ve been told I mustn’t appease his limp or carry him,” said the big bad naturalist before the camera cut to Scratchy in his arms. 

Later, we saw Packham walking through the woods with his stepdaughter and musing about her future, and that of any children she might have, and talking to a couple who had endured six cycles of IVF, with no success. Admitting it went against the grain of everything he had just said, he wished the pair all the best with the next attempt.

Attempting to end on a positive note, Packham said: “I’m not saying to you don’t have children. That’s not the answer, clearly.” But this generation, us, had to get its act together. “We’re not doomed, but we’ve got to look after this place. There is no planet B and this one is beautiful.” 

With that he was off, leaving us to bed and a restless night. This was personal journalism, but balanced, responsible, maybe even a little hopeful (too hopeful?) as well. As for those ten vacuum cleaners, time for a trip to the charity shop, Mr P.