Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Robert Malthus’

Apocalypse Not!

August 18, 2012

I have a theory that within a hundred years we will be bemoaning the lack of world population. The collapse of society will be forecast as an impending catastrophe as the total world population stabilises at less than 10 billion with the proportion of the young working population decreasing relative to the increasing numbers of the “leisured” population.  And that apocalypse too shall not come to pass.

Matt Ridley has a new essay in Wired which needs to be read. Just some excerpts below:

Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times

When the sun rises on December 22, as it surely will, do not expect apologies or even a rethink. No matter how often apocalyptic predictions fail to come true, another one soon arrives. And the prophets of apocalypse always draw a following—from the 100,000 Millerites who took to the hills in 1843, awaiting the end of the world, to the thousands who believed in Harold Camping, the Christian radio broadcaster who forecast the final rapture in both 1994 and 2011. ………

(more…)

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Malthusian doomsday postponed – indefinitely

September 21, 2011

In August I wrote:

Sometime soon the world’s population will exceed 7 billion. No one knows exactly when. According to the UN Population Reference Bureau, this will happen on 31st October in India or in China. The world’s 6 billionth living person was “suppposedly” born just 11 years ago in Bosnia, and world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. …

But I am no Malthusian and have a strong belief that the catastrophe theories are fundamentally misguided. Peak gas will never happen. Peak oil is a long way away and will be mitigated by new ways of creating oil substitutes as oil price increases. All the dismal forecasts of food production not being able to cope with population have not transpired. …..

Today Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, has an excellent piece on his blog which is also published in the Ottawa Citizen:

Room for all

…… Clearly it is possible at least for a while to escape the fate forecast by Robert Malthus, the pessimistic mathematical cleric, in 1798. We’ve been proving Malthus wrong for more than 200 years. And now the population explosion is fading. Fertility rates are falling all over the world: in Bangladesh down from 6.8 children per woman in 1955 to 2.7 today; China – 5.6 to 1.7; Iran – 7 to 1.7; Nigeria – 6.5 to 5.2; Brazil 6.1 to 1.8; Yemen – 8.3 to 5.1. 

The rate of growth of world population has halved since the 1960s; the absolute number added to the population each year has been falling for more than 20 years. According to the United Nations, population will probably cease growing altogether by 2070. This miraculous collapse of fertility has not been caused by Malthusian misery, or coercion (except in China), but by the very opposite: enrichment, urbanization, female emancipation, education and above all the defeat of child mortality – which means that women start to plan families rather than continue breeding. ……

Already huge swaths of the world are being released from farming and reforested. New England is now 80 per cent woodland, where it was once 70 per cent farm land. Italy and England have more woodland than for many centuries. Moose, coyotes, beavers and bears are back in places where they have not been for centuries. France has a wolf problem; Scotland a deer problem. It is the poor countries, not the affluent ones, that are losing forest. Haiti, with its near total dependence on renewable power (wood), is 98-percent deforested and counting.

Read the entire article.

7 billion people from October 31st by UN decree – but it is an opportunity not a problem

August 30, 2011

Sometime soon the world’s population will exceed 7 billion. No one knows exactly when. According to the UN Population Reference Bureau, this will happen on 31st October in India or in China. The world’s 6 billionth living person was “suppposedly” born just 11 years ago in Bosnia, and world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

Monsters&Critics

The billion mark was reached only after 1800. As many as a billion have been added in the eleven years of the 21st century alone, and predictions on future population growth are now treated with the same caution and scepticism as long-range weather forecasts. David Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health says that the multitude of unpredictable factors means that taking a global view is problematic. ‘Among them are infectious diseases, war, scientific progress, political change and our capacity for global cooperation,’ he says.

The general expectation is, however, that population growth will tail off, with UN predictions for 2050 ranging from 8.0 to 10.5 billion.

Interactive UN map is here

source: UN (via Time)

The annual rate of increase seems to have peaked around 1988 and is decreasing slowly. The UN medium scenario seems to be close to the actual development.

Annual increase of world population: Source United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision, 2005.

But I am no Malthusian and have a strong belief that the catastrophe theories are fundamentally misguided. Peak gas will never happen. Peak oil is a long way away and will be mitigated by new ways of creating oil substitutes as oil price increases. All the dismal forecasts of food production not being able to cope with population have not transpired. In my own lifetime I have only seen human ingenuity increase. Every doomsday scenario has had to give way before human ingenuity responding to human needs. I also believe that our children and our grandchildren will be considerably “smarter” than we are and will have (or will develop) technologies and tools that we cannot even dream of. I am not very convinced or impressed by those who would ban things today “for the sake of our children and our grandchildren”.

Even by the wildest stretch of his imagination my grandfather – who died around 1918 – would not have been able to imagine the technologies available today. Even my father – an engineer – who died in 1988 would not have been able to forecast the technologies we have at our command today.

With the definition below I would have no problem to be labelled a cornucopian.

cornucopian is a futurist who believes that continued progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by similarly continued advances in technology, and the abundance of matter and energy in space would appear to give humanity almost unlimited room for growth.

What population problem? More brains and hands could well cater for the extra mouths to feed

 

What population problem? More brains and hands could well cater for the extra mouths to feed

July 30, 2011

Malthus’ ideas haven’t quite been discredited but his alarmism certainly has. As world population increases from the current 6 billion and approaches around 9 to 10 billion by 2100 studies suggest that population growth can have economic and environmental benefits.

A new article in  Science 29 July 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6042 pp. 544-546

DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6042.544

Are More People Necessarily a Problem?

by David Malakoff

In 1937, A bureaucrat serving in the British Empire’s Kenya Colony penned an alarming memo to his bosses about conditions in the Machakos Reserve, a hilly, drought-prone farming region 50 kilo meters south of Nairobi. “Benevolent British rule” had encouraged the explosive “multiplication” of the “natives,” he reported, leading to massive environmental degradation. “Every phase of misuse of land is vividly and poignantly displayed in this Reserve, the inhabitants of which are rapidly drifting to a state of hopeless and miserable poverty and their land to a parching desert of rocks, stones and sand.” The apocalyptic warning came as the region’s population approached 250,000.

Today, more than 1.5 million people call Machakos home. Rather than a cautionary example of the perils of overpopulation, however, for some experts Machakos has become a symbol of something very different: the idea that rapid human population growth, even in some of Earth’s driest, most challenging environments, is not necessarily a recipe for disaster—and can even bring benefits. They argue that, over the past 75 years, population growth in Machakos and nearby Nairobi has triggered social and economic shifts that have made it possible for residents to regreen once-barren hillsides, reinvigorate failing soils, reduce birth rates, and increase crop production and incomes. “A landscape that was once declared good for nothing is now like a garden when the rain falls,” says Michael Mortimore, a geographer with Drylands Research, a United Kingdom–based nonprofit organization, who helped document the turnaround in More People, Less Erosion, a 1994 study that is still influential—and controversial—today. “Too many people still have the simplistic notion that too many people is a problem,” he says. “What happened in Machakos challenges that pessimism.”…..

 ……. Many see crisis looming in those numbers for people and the environment. Others, however, see some hope for a transition to more sustainable livelihoods and cite Ester Boserup, a Danish economist who died in 1999, as one source of their optimism. In 1965, the then-little-known Boserup, who spent most of her career consulting for international development institutions, published a slim volume titled The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure(pdf Boserup1965) It examined the history of subsistence farming and offered a theory that essentially turned Malthus upside down. Instead of rising population density leading to barren fields and starvation, Boserup suggested it could naturally trigger “intensification”: the use of new technologies and more labor to get bigger harvests from less land.

“The idea was that people weren’t just mouths to feed but also brains that could think and hands and legs that could work very hard”.

….. In some parts of Africa, meanwhile, researchers are documenting a notable, Machakos-like “regreening” of arid areas with fast-growing populations. …. There’s some evidence that the extra greenery is helping to make poor farm communities more resilient to droughts and economic setbacks, but the long-term outlook remains at best unclear.

In the forest frontiers of South and Central America, researchers have found both Malthusian and Boserupian forces at work in deforestation. Depending on local circumstances, families faced with growing population densities have responded by both migrating to clear new farms in forested areas, the agricultural “extensification” predicted by Malthus, and intensified land use à la Boserup, a team led by David Carr of the University of California, Santa Barbara, reported in a 2009 study in Population and Development. Paradoxically, the result is that areas with relatively low population densities can have much higher deforestation rates than those with higher densities.

Read the whole article 

Related:

 Sustainable growth in Machakos by Francis Gichuki , Mary Tiffen , Michael Mortimore, ILEIA Newsletter • 9 nº 4 • December 1993

More People, Less Erosion, Overseas Development Institute UK, 1994

 


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