The subject of ‘population’ is undergoing a renaissance in geography; this is seen, for example, in the voluminous studies addressing ‘marginalized’ populations, including but not limited to refugees, internally displaced persons, and children. In short, scholarship has focused on those lives rendered ‘wasted’, ‘precarious’, or ‘superfluous’. Population geographers have made substantial contributions; however, more can be done. In this and the next two progress reports, I suggest that population geographers reflect more deeply on the spatiality and survivability of vulnerable populations. More specifically, population geographers should consider the politics of fertility, mortality, and mobility from the standpoint of a layered demographic question: within any given place, who lives, who dies, and who decides? In this first report, I resituate the concept ‘surplus population’ within the broader domain of population geography. In subsequent reports, I consider more closely population geography’s association with related subject areas (i.e. biopolitics and necropolitics). I maintain that, by addressing vulnerability and survivability, we join others in geography and allied fields who are writing about ‘populations’ not as biological, pre-given entities, but instead as political subjects at risk of premature death.