Seven Billion People Today - Malthusians Still Wrong (And Always Will Be)

The United Nations has designated today as the day that the earth gets its seven billionth human inhabitant. The Census Bureau thinks that will happen next March. Let's take this ocassion to walk a bit down memory lane to The Population Bomb. In 1968, Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich's scaremongering book vividly put Malthusian fears at the forefront of the nascent environmentalist movement. Here are a few quotes from the 1968 edition (I always refer back to that edition because Ehrlich deleted many failed prophecies in later editions without noting that he had done so): 

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines - hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash program embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate….

In 1968, Ehrlich agreed with an expert who predicted India couldn't "possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980." Furthermore, he claimed, "I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks that India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971." 

That latter statement was discreetly dropped in the 1971 edition of Ehrlich's book. In fact, by the 1980s, India was exporting surplus grain to the Soviet Union. While poverty means that many Indians today suffer hunger, the country is still self-sufficient [PDF] in food production. 

In a 1969 article "Eco-Catastrophe" in Ramparts Magazine, Ehrlich predicted:

Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born....By [1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think that the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.

In 1970 for the first Earth Day issue of The Progressive, Ehrlich outlined a gruesome scenario in which 65 million Americans would die of famine out of worldwide total of four billion in the "Great Die-Off" of the 1980s.

In 1970 interview in Mademoiselle magazine, Ehrlich declared:

The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.

Despite the fact that the Great Die-Off failed to materialize, Ehrlich once again declared in his 1990 book, The Population Explosion

One thing seems safe to predict: starvation and epidemic disease will raise the death rates over most of the planet. 

None of Ehrlich's dire predictions or scenarios came true. Yet here Ehrlich is being quoted today in the Australian news program The World Today. Journalist Eleanor Hall interviewed Ehrlich:

ELEANOR HALL: But you did warn in your book that the battle to feed humanity had already been lost in the 1970s and that an expanding population would bring about a higher death rate. In fact the reverse ended up being true. Did you then …

PAUL EHRLICH: That is not correct. What we said was the battle to feed all humanity is over, and since we said that, 240 million people roughly have died of starvation. So in what sense was it wrong to say the battle to feed all of humanity was over?

ELEANOR HALL: You predicted it would bring about a higher death rate and it hasn't. I'm wondering did you then and do you still underestimate the human capacity for adapting to problems, for …

PAUL EHRLICH: I am very hopeful about the human capacity to adapt to problems. What I haven't seen is any sign, any real sign of that adaptation.

Not correct? Well, it is unfortunately true that far too many poor people have starved to death or died from diseases exacerbated by undernutrition, but the global famines Ehrlich clearly predicted did not occur. As for not seeing "any real sign of that adaptation" -- you've got to be kidding.

By the way, the world death rate was 13 per 1,000 when Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb. Every decade since it has fallen and is now 9 per 1,000 people. 

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  • Abdul||

    To be fair, I experienced a brief famine today when my breakfast place ran out of onion bagels. I substituted a sesame bagel, but still, in a world with less than 7 billion people, we can all have our onion bagel.

  • Fred||

    Malthusians Still Wrong (And Always Will Be)

    That is correct because there is obviously an infinite supply of resources on earth to support an infinite population.

  • ||

    That is correct because there is obviously an infinite supply of resources on earth to support an infinite population.

    Which assumes that population growth will be positive for infinity. Sheesh!

  • ||

    Fred: What's a "resource"? See my essay, The Law of Increasing Returns.

  • Suki||

    The Green Revolution must be working, since it is attacked by the communalists so often.

  • cw||

    Ron, what an excellent essay, worthy of publication in journals like Foreign Affairs.

  • White Indian||

    Officer, are my infinite number of children free to gambol about and stuff?

  • robc||

    on earth

    I wonder if there are any other places to get resources?

  • Comedian||

    Uranus?

  • Mike M.||

    "There is a finite amount of matter in the universe. Therefore, we're still right even if every single one of our predictions is wrong for the next ten thousand years."

  • ||

    Poor Fred, stuck in the 70s

  • Joe M||

    Minor formatting problem with that first Ehrlich quote, Ron.

  • ||

    I always refer back to that edition because Ehrlich deleted many failed prophecies in later editions without noting that he had done so

    It is absolutely stunning the degree to which people can be utterly wrong and never, ever called on it. If you wanted evidence for the abject corruption of the media, this is an example.

  • ||

    To be fair, this Eleanor chick did call him on it, just without any backbone whatsoever.

    But yeah, when media outlets repeatedly cite someone as prophetic, who's predictive accuracy over 4 decades is less than that of a stopped digital clock, maybe that's a sign that you shouldn't be in a job that you do so fuckingly awful.

  • Joe M||

    I am very hopeful about the human capacity to adapt to problems. What I haven't seen is any sign, any real sign of that adaptation.

    "Except for, you know, proving me wrong."

  • MJ||

    "My predictions did not happen, but somehow they did not happen despite the world not doing what I wanted. Therefore there is no sign of adaptation"

  • Abdul||

    By the way, the world death rate was 13 per 1,000 when Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb. Every decade since it has fallen and is now 9 per 1,000 people.

    Given enough time, the death rate always hits 100%.

  • Suki||

    Can't you read? If what you say is right then we wouldn't have 7 billion people.

  • o2||

    u mean 7 billion LIVING people.

  • ||

    From the WaPo article linked:

    On this crowded, hot, trampled planet

    Shorter: Doom! DOOOOOM!

    I for one welcome Person # 7,000,000,000 to the planet. Be prepared for Halloween to overshadow your birthday, kid.

  • Suki||

    If we shoved every single person on earth into Texas, they would be one body per every 1,069 square feet. Enough room for a small cottage with a little yard.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I'm putting this on my to-do list.

  • Abdul||

    Where will they all park their pick-up trucks? Oklahoma?

  • Suki||

    Probably safer than New Mexico, so okay. There should be room for 21 Billion short bed Fords there.

  • ||

    I used to live in New Jersey, and then I moved to Texas.

    A number of years ago, I calculated that if everyone in the United States moved to Texas, the population density here would still be less than what it was in NJ at the time. And, when I lived there as a kid, it didn't seem too crowded to me.

    (And, BTW, the population density of NJ is higher than India.)

  • Joe M||

    What about the second part of that sentence?

    ...one of the most vexing trends is something countless numbers of us see when we look in the mirror: We’re going gray.

    People living longer on average is a vexing trend?! WTF? WaPo just out and out admits being anti-life, nice.

  • Jersey Patriot||

    Malthus has been badly misunderstood. He thought that population and food production, so that population would always overrun food production and collapse.

    He then noted that this rarely happened.

    His book is an attempt to explain why. The only thing anyone remembers is his population v. production chart. The poor bastard's been slimed for centuries by people who don't bother to understand him. To wit:

    "Among plants and animals the view of the subject is simple. They are all impelled by a powerful instinct to the increase of their species; and this instinct is interrupted by no reasoning, or doubts about providing for their offspring. Wherever therefore there is liberty, the power of increase is exerted; and the superabundant effects are repressed afterwards by want of room and nourishment, which is common to animals and plants; and among animals by becoming the prey of others.

    The effects of this check on man are more complicated.

    Impelled to the increase of his species by an equally powerful instinct, reason interrupts his career, and asks him whether he may not bring beings into the world, for whom he cannot provide the means of subsistence."

  • Jersey Patriot||

    "He thought that population and food production grew at different rates..." Missed a predicate there

  • ||

    He thought that population and food production grew at different rates

    Yes, and he assumed, without evidence, that population growth must be at a greater rate. History has proven him fantastically wrong, just like Erlich.

  • robc||

    I thought Malthus thought humans growth rate was exponential, while food production was linear.

  • Mike M.||

    Yes, this is precisely what he thought. He never anticipated that as societies and cultures get wealthier they have fewer offspring. He most certainly would never have believed that fertility rates would one day drop below replacement levels in Europe. Whoopsy-daisy!

  • o2||

    and he didnt understand agricultural sciences advancement

  • cw||

    +1

  • Barry Loberfeld||

    Even some on the Left are coming to accept this.

  • Almanian||

    Seven Billion People Today - Malthusians Still Wrong (And Always Will Be)

    So Bailey's still shilling for Big Population, I see.

    You know who else thinks the [NATION STATE] based on [AGRI]culture is unsustainable....

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    I've had enough of WI to last me a while, thanks.

  • R||

    Actually, I'm kind of surprised that stupid bastard hasn't shit all over this thread already. Maybe they finally IP banned him...

  • DK||

    What I haven't seen is any sign, any real sign of that adaptation.

    Translation: I can't be wrong, I Can't be wrong, No I Can't!!

  • juris imprudent||

    Dammit I have a PhD and tenure!

  • ||

    So reason, are you going to address what happened this weekend? Is this something you're going to allow indefinitely? That's two weekends in a row that she's gone manic and insane all over this place.

    At least she's in a deep, deep hole right now. Couldn't happen to a more deserving person.

  • ||

    If they don't admit there's a problem, then there is nothing for them to solve.

  • Suki||

    What weekend problem? Reason didn't post anything all weekend.

  • ||

    Look at the bright side; at least you know not to waste your time on a weekend thread at this point. You can now schedule your time accordingly on less insane matters.

  • ||

    What I find hard to believe is that people outside of its head actually responded to the insanity. The second I see it rear its ugly head, I am out.

    Reason, heads up, that is how you lose your regular readers.

  • Paul||

    Hmm, I don't read Reason on the weekends. Those are my days off.

  • Warty||

    Look on the bright side: She might be getting raped to death by STEVE SMITH even as we speak.

  • OWSer w/ a Flashlight||

    Not if I have anything to do about it!!!

  • Canman||

    Could you elaborate for us slower readers "what" happened and who "she" is?

  • ||

    Don't fall for this, guys! It's a trap!

  • Warty||

    Yeah, but fuck it.

  • ||

    I always knew NutraSweet was Admiral Ackbar.

  • Warty||

    Look at the Michael Moore thread. Notice that it's at least 50% trolling, and that there's only one troll. That troll is the commenter known as rather, aka rectal, aka White Indian, aka anonopussy. The staff have tolerated her completely shitting up this place for months. She's almost certainly bipolar, has a mystifyingly strong hatred for libertarians, and seems to be determined to ruin this place. And they're letting her.

  • Almanian||

    You know, this didn't happen when Virginia Postrel was running the site...

  • skr||

    DRINK!!!!

  • rts||

    If you ignore it, it will go away.

    This has been true since Usenet and IRC days.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    That is not how Joe P. Boyle went away.

  • Canman||

    My solution: a ten cent deposit on comment submissions. It could be waived for nonabusive comments. Reason could promote its position on online gambling with a sort of blog bingo. commenters could use their deposit to be included in and vote for the best comment in a pool over a period of time. The Reason Foundation could wet it's beak.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    this is actually a fucking fantastic idea. But it should be 2 cents for obvious reasons.

  • Canman||

    I actually did notice the swelling Moore comment tally while commenting on Tim's adjacent post. My thought was: "hmmm, mabe Hit&Run; is catching up to Pharyngula."

  • ||

    His overall assumptions were correct, just his timing was wrong.

    This also includes the bet on resource prices.

    People can disagree on exactly what number of people is too many on the planet. But that doesn't change the fact that there are finite limits.

    Moreover, if people want to have a good lifestyle and consume lots of resources, then those limits are much lower.

    IE, might be able to feed 10+ billion people (might), but do we really want to live in a world like that?

  • Applederry||

    "His overall assumptions were correct, just his timing was wrong."

    So says every Biblical doomsdayer when their Endgame date has come and passed.

  • ||

    His overall assumptions were correct, just his timing was wrong.

    Which not only makes him wrong, but insanely wrong by several orders of magnitude.

    Moreover, if people want to have a good lifestyle and consume lots of resources, then those limits are much lower.

    Which humans seem to be very good at adapting to without global famines or coercion. The birthrates of the industrialized nations, which consume quite a bit, are at or below replacement rates.

  • ||

    might be able to feed 10+ billion people (might), but do we really want to live in a world like that?

    Well, there are at least 3 billion people that would.

    And I would like to make a cup of tea for each of them. Except the Mormons; root beer for the Mormons.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    uhh, there is sugar in root beer. better make it vitamin water.

  • cynical||

    Cool. If I tell a guy that his lifestyle is going to kill him at 20, and he lives to be 105, saying "my assumptions were right, but my timing was off" isn't going to cut it.

  • Mr. Mark||

    I don't agree with Malthusian economic thinking, but I am concerned about something else: The idiot rate.

    If idiots occur at a steady rate, then they make up a certain percentage of our population. The greater the population, the larger the number of idiots. I gotta admit - I'm an anti-idiot bigot. So, to me, increases in population include increases in idiots, which I don't like - so I'm generally against it.

  • Applederry||

    This is why many people see modern environmentalism as a religion. There really is no difference between Ehrlich's failed doomsday prophecies and the failed prophecies of end-of-the-worlders like Harold Camping.

    But while folks like Camping get mocked and laughed at, Ehrlich is not only taken seriously but is well respected.

  • ||

    I always think of JR Church. He has been in the business of prophesying the end of the world for decades. Just like Erlich, the fact that it has been coming tomorrow, for decades, doesn't seem to sink into the true believers.

  • bobchild||

    How to become an "expert"

    Step 1: Lay out some position. It has to be pessimistic and negative towards other people. Ideally it should predict doom for "people" in a generic sense so everyone listening can nod their heads sagely at how bad it's going to be for *other* people.

    Step 2: Yell. Loudly and frequently. Make your position in the broadest and most apocalyptic terms you can find. Use a vague window for the doom (20 years is common- just close enough to sound menacing, just far enough away that the vast majority of people won't remember your prediction when it fails). Feel free to abuse data/logic- journalists are stupid/gullible and pessimism sells. A few dedicated sorts will challenge you. Accuse them of being shills for Big [Whatever] or just ignore them.

    Step 3: Never change your mind. Ever. Don't for a single second express one iota of doubt in how obviously right you are. Continually move the goalposts: your prediction can be perpetually "20 years away".

    Step 4: If you've managed to just keep talking for 10-20 years, congratulations. You're an "expert"!

  • ||

    Step 2.5: cover your tracks when you really blow it.

  • JMW||

    Step 5: PROFIT!

  • ||

    Why don't we terraform Mars and ship some people there if we don't like crowds?

  • Suki||

    Because Texas is right next to New Mexico?

  • Fullmetaltrousers||

    Long as y'all mind your own business, you're quite welcome!

    Those of you who want to Californicate us can stay the fuck out.

  • Paul||

    We could send $5,500 laptop girl there for a kind of interstallar Works Progress Administration style program.

  • ||

    Occupy Mars!

  • T||

    I wonder if Ehrlich has ever read somebody like Amartya Sen when he spouts nonsense about people starving.

    Nah, he can't admit to anything that contradicts his thesis.

  • Ray Pew||

    I wonder if Ehrlich has ever read somebody like Amartya Sen when he spouts nonsense about people starving.

    Nah, he can't admit to anything that contradicts his thesis.

    The economist, Julian Simon, spanked Ehrlich's ass in the 80's, in what has been termed the "Simon-Ehrlich Wager".

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon–Ehrlich_wager

  • Tony||

    The reason the population is so large is because of huge declines in death rates thanks to modern civilization. That in no way implies that the increase in population itself can't have its own negative consequences.

  • bobchild||

    Because, obviously, the population level is entirely endogenous to the death rate.

    Thank God for those Martians and the death reducing technology they gifted us with.

  • Tony||

    I'm not sure what you're arguing. People have been fucking since time began. Modern technology has made it so that fewer offspring die. Add up a few generations and we get 7 billion people. It's a finite planet with finite resources, so it's clearly possible that we could overtax it.

  • Paul||

    It's a finite planet with finite resources, so it's clearly possible that we could overtax it.

    But wind and solar!

  • Brett||

    Wind and solar are finite.

  • bobchild||

    My point is that it's silly to place "technological progress" (defined very broadly) and "population growth" on opposite sides of one another, like we just had a fortuitous coincidence that death rates fell while population increased. The two are correlated; more people = more human capital. More human capital = better production (more specialization, more technological advance).

    Yeah, it means more consumption too, but it's silly to treat human beings like they're just gaping mouths into which resources disappear. Human beings produce things and consume them. The only thing that matters when talking about population increases is whether or not the marginal human being is, on average, positive (production > consumption, again on average). If they are positive, more people just means more prosperity; increases in population *cause* falling death rates. Since we're richer now than we were a century ago and no one gave us any space gold, by definition the average human being has produced more than they've consumed over the last century (plus).

    I suppose that diminishing returns on human capital could eventually mean the added consumption from one person dominates the added production from one person, but I don't see any reason to think so right now. And at the very least that requires a much more rigorous proof than "we just got lucky".

  • Tony||

    The major factor in this increase of human well-being has been the extraction of fossil fuels. Those are finite and I challenge you to imagine an equally prosperous world without them assuming the status quo.

  • Ray Pew||

    The major factor in this increase of human well-being has been the extraction of fossil fuels. Those are finite and I challenge you to imagine an equally prosperous world without them assuming the status quo.

    And this is why the doomsayers get so much attention, because the average person perceives all changes in the context of "the status quo". An 18th Century "Tony" could rile up fear in the populace by making the very same proposition, just change "fossil fuels" to say kerosene or whale oil.

  • bobchild||

    The extraction of fossil fuels is exactly what I'm talking about when I say "technological advance". There where fossil fuels in the ground in the 14th century; they're not some thing that just appeared recently. The ability to utilize them came from human ingenuity; the available stock of human ingenuity depends on the number of people. Our finding and utilizing fossil fuels (with increasing efficiency) is not some lucky coincidence that happened to coincide with the population expansion.

    On the subject of finiteness, I never challenged that. But again you're treating efficiency like it's independent of population (so our oil will run out because every person born just consumes some fixed amount of oil in their lifetime without adding anything). My argument is that it's not; every person does consume some oil, but every one has a non-zero chance of making some technological advance that could allow us to extract more oil, or use oil more efficiently, or replace it all together. So the marginal person's effect on our stock of energy (distinct from "fossil fuels") is two fold; they do indeed consume some of it, but they also might allow us to use it more efficiently. All that matters is the relative size of those two effects.

    Obviously I'm staking out the "yay population" side; I welcome the increasing world population. If you want to stake out the other side, fine. I'll respect that. But it's silly to pretend that the positive effects of population growth don't exist.

  • Tony||

    You make a good point, but the fact is there are already issues with respect to freshwater access and other things. And I wish that libertarians especially (who claim to appreciate ingenuity) would recognize that the big factor holding us back from innovating out of fossil fuel dependency is politics fueled by industry money. Part of the innovation equation is figuring out how to mobilize large amounts of resources, including human ingenuity, and we do that with governments. There is absolutely no reason to believe population growth and increasing standards of living will always balance each other. The modern age has never been deprived of its primary fuel before, so we don't exactly know what will happen. But without direct action we're just exacerbating any pain that could come.

  • ||

    And I wish that libertarians especially (who claim to appreciate ingenuity) would recognize that the big factor holding us back from innovating out of fossil fuel dependency is politics fueled by industry money.

    As far as electricity goes it is the enviro wackos in concert with the political hacks that have held us back. Wind and solar from an engineering point of view are just plain dumb.

    As far as transportation fuels the only viable alternatives are natural gas and methenol from coal.

    Part of the innovation equation is figuring out how to mobilize large amounts of resources, including human ingenuity, and we do that with governments.

    Oh nonsense. Go back to the last century and you will find the vast majority of innovation came out of the private sector. What the government is good at is jumping on the bandwagon and trying to take credit.

  • Tony||

    If there is no technical alternative to drilling fossil fuels, then we are fucked. The math just simply does not work out.

    And life is not a comic book. We don't have to sit around and wait for supergeniuses to save the world. It's just about directing resources where they need to go. Right now, they are going to line the pockets of oil industry CEOs and Arab monarchs. That's a choice governments have made. It could make other choices, and once the resources are there the geniuses come.

  • ||

    If there is no technical alternative to drilling fossil fuels, then we are fucked.

    We have plenty of coal and oil sands. Guess that doesn't count as drilling. Lots of natural gas ... but hey! We have to drill for that. If we are fucked it will be because we have far to many idiots like Tony that can't see past government solutions.

    We don't have to sit around and wait for supergeniuses to save the world. It's just about directing resources where they need to go.

    And where do those resources need to go Tony? Oh ... the government "supergeniuses" will guide us. Just like the government "supergeniuses" that gave us Solyndra.

    Right now, they are going to line the pockets of oil industry CEOs and Arab monarchs.

    Tony would prefer we line the pockets of the alternative energy rent seekers while getting crap for energy. At least the oil industry gives us a usable product at a reasonable price.

    Tony would rather us go with the "comic book" solutions from the government "supergeniuses".

  • Canman||

    Are they really finite? Nature made hydrocarbons out of solar energy, CO2, water and pressure. It doesn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility that we might someday be able to do the same with biotech, nanotech, solar, fusion, ... antimater.

  • Brett||

    Wealth per person is the best standard. The important fact is that wealth per person is rising faster than population.

  • Suki||

    Big numbers are scary to Chony, unless they are tax numbers.

  • juris imprudent||

    huge declines in death rates thanks to modern civilization

    Troll-baiting from a troll.

    Interesting.

  • Colin||

    What you don't mention is that Ehrich was one of the godfathers of AGW, probably because you agree with him on it.

    But if you look careful at the two prophecies, you'll see lots of similarity. And both were born out of the same desire -- the desire to see civilization destroy itself.

  • Paul||

    Beating up on Paul Ehrlich is like kicking a retarded kid.

  • ||

    If he'd just shut up, we'd stop kicking him.

  • Warty||

    How else do you teach retards not to drool all over the salad bar? Sneezeguards are not foolproof, you know.

  • Joe M||

    I didn't even bother to look at the WP article until now, and good god it's horrible. Another gem:

    For the countries that hit the fertility brakes the hardest, the graying of society has become a full-blown crisis. They’re suddenly desperate for babies. They need more workers to provide goods and services to huge numbers of pensioners.

    If only there were a system that would work regardless of demographics!

  • Tman||

    This would be a good thread to link to the recently deceased Professor John McCarthy's web page at Stanford PROGRESS AND ITS SUSTAINABILITY.

    McCarthy brings up the failure of Ehrlich in terms of the population bomb predictions but he also brings up the famous futures bet between Simon and Ehrlich here- The 1980-1990 Ehrlich-Simon Bet. Ehrlich chose five metals copper, chrome, nickel, tin, and tungsten. By the end of the bet every single one was lower in price on the market than when the bet was started.

    How the hell does anyone take Paul seriously anymore? It's ridiculous.

    And RIP John McCarthy, a truly great mind.

    "He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense." -John McCarthy

  • ||

    The choice of commodities wasn't a random one, either. They were specifically chosen by Erlich because he believed that they would most increase in cost. The fact that every single one was cheaper isn't a loss, it is a complete ideological butt-fucking.

    Hmm, maybe that is why Tony continues to post here.

  • Tony||

    you say that like a good but-fuck is a bad thing

  • There is no "we"||

    If you're going to handle-jack, at least spell "butt" with two t's when you mean somebody's rear end.

  • Canman||

    "Specifically chosen by Erlich"

    With help from John Holdren, Obama's science adviser!

  • There is no "we"||

    Since the 1970's, China's de jure coercive one-child policy, and India's de facto coercive population controls, plus a mass culling of female infants through abortion and infanticide throughout the world, have given the planet an "off ramp" from the highway-to-hell that Malthus identified and Erlich updated. Malthus and Erlich were "wrong" about the population bomb in the same sense that Admiral Greer was "wrong" to tell Jack Ryan that there had never been an international terrorist attack on American soil.

    The culling may not yet be enough to save us. 9 billion in prospect; oil wells sucked dry; potable water misting away into the greenhouse atmosphere. Maybe we can abort-and-vasectomize our way out of this, and maybe not. We'll see. Malthus and Erlich were either wrong about everything, or wrong about just one thing: when.

  • bobchild||

    "On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?" - Thomas Macaulay

  • Comedian||

    "Bless this highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale. Amen." - Macauley Culkin

  • Cracker Injun||

    I'm going to sing the doom song!

    doom doom doom doom doooooom, do do doom, doom doom doooooom, do do dooom, doom

  • cw||

    Dude, take a chill pill. Sheesh.

  • Paul||

    Malthus and Erlich were either wrong about everything, or wrong about just one thing: when.

    Well, yes, eventually the sun will expand into a red giant, consuming all of the inner planets, etc.

  • ||

    Erlich was all the rage when I was in high school. We were all going to suffer through another ice age too. I don't know why I rebelled against the "if it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown fluch it down" crowd. I don't believe in any apocalyptic ideas. I just believe in me, Yoko and me. That's reality.

  • Wappledoo||

    The major problem right now is that the Green Revolution was a fossil fuel revolution, and we therefore will require some ingenuity to continue feeding everyone once fossil fuels become more and more expensive to extract.

    I'm not saying we will be unable to come up with that ingenuity and solve this conundrum, but I think it's horribly naive to assume we will come up with a non-famine solution to every food crisis we face as a species. The end of cheap oil is already starting to put major pressure on food prices, and famine won't be far behind if we don't start switching to food production that relies less on fossil fuels.

  • Paul||

    The more scarce fossil fuels become, the more attractive nuclear becomes. Plus, solar and wind can augment those systems. Humanity will undoubtedly develop a matrix of energy options, each tailored to a specific use.

  • Alan Kellogg||

    You forget that as a resource becomes harder to obtain, people become more creative in obtaining it.

  • Mainer||

    "famine won't be far behind if we don't start switching to food production that relies less on fossil fuels."

    So, are you going to share the prospectus on your new agribusiness that relies less on fossile fuels ?

  • wappledoo||

    Well that's exactly the problem: I don't see an agribusiness model right now for avoiding a huge spike in food prices as fossil fuels become more scarce. Switching to a more local-sourced agricultural model would help reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but it would also probably result in reduced total agricultural output. We need to keep INCREASING output.

    In response to Paul, the problem with agribusiness's relationship with fossil fuels isn't just an energy one. Transportation fuels are a big part of it, but many fertilizers, pesticides, etc. -- the "Green Revolution" drivers -- are derived from fossil fuel sources. As oil becomes more and more expensive, this "green revolution" agribusiness model may falter.

    I'm not firmly in the pessimist camp, since I am aware of the real possibility that human ingenuity will prevail. I just think that ingenuity will need to be on a fast-track timeline and a large scale, more so than many of you seem to accept. I'm not saying government should drive this (it should not), but the market can only work with good information. It seems to me that downplaying the food scarcity effects of expensive oil is counterproductive. Let's emphasize the food scarcity problems, so that market players realize the profit that they can have from outsmarting the industrial agrobusiness model.

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