120 years on and Chekhov’s depressive alarmism has not changed

I was listening to BBC radio this morning where somebody was talking about a new production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. The play was written in 1896 and the speaker quoted this line from the play:

“There are fewer and fewer forests, rivers are drying up, wildlife has become extinct, the climate is ruined, and the earth is becoming ever poorer and uglier.”

“Prescient” commented the speaker.

Prescient? I wondered. There is no shortage of forests, climate continues its normal cycles, some species have died and new ones found and the world has become richer and cleaner. No, just a depressed Russian of the 1890’s, and one without hope or any belief in the ingenuity of humans. Not prescient, just another alarmist now proven wrong.  And his kind of Malthusianism is alive and well even today – and is just as wrong.

In 1897 the world population was 1.5 billion with about 60% living in poverty. Life expectancy was about 32 years (average). At that time some 600 million people were being fed clothed and supported in a reasonably satisfactory way. In 2012 the world population has grown to 7 billion with about 25% still living in poverty (and the threshold for poverty has changed drastically). Average life expectancy is now 67 years. Today some 5 billion people are fed and clothed and supported in a reasonably satisfactory way. Almost 10 times as many as in 1896.

In another 120 years the current sayings of the Malthusians, the climate alarmists, the energy alarmists, the food alarmists, the resource alarmists and the bio-diversity alarmists will seem equally ridiculous. World population will probably stabilise at about 10 billion (at the current rate at which fertility rates are reducing) in the next 50 years or so. The challenges then will be the complete eradication of poverty and the biggest barrier may then be a shortage of “working” population.

By 2140 we will be close to 2.1 children per woman, studying longer (say till 27), working  for 45 years (till say 72) and living much longer – say 85 years (on average). Maybe less than 5% of 10 billion people will be living in poverty. Hunger and malnourishment will have almost disappeared. It may well be that it is the proportion of “working population”  which becomes the limiting factor in satisfactorily maintaining the young and the elderly.

But there will  still be no Malthusian resource crunch.



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