Malthus Essay, Research Paper
Two hundred years ago, Thomas Robert Malthus, a British economist , wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population in which he argued that the world population would increase faster than the food supply, with disastrous results for the general human welfare. A world population of 250 million at the time of Christ has now grown to 5.7 billion in spite of wars, plagues, famine, and epidemics. World food production has been keeping pace with population growth until recently.
If the world food supply had been distributed equally to each member of society in the mid 1980 s, the population of 4.7 billion would have been allocated a weekly diet of 11 pounds of meat, grain and fish per person. In todays world, a billion people have been added to the population and the food supply has decreased to less than 10 pounds per week per person. The typical weekly diet in the U.S. is about 17 pounds, which means a significant number of the worlds people are eating considerably less
than the average of 10 pounds per week. A world population of 10 to 11 billion by mid century will have an individual allocation of 6 to 7 pounds per week, equivalent to the diet of todays members of society living in poverty.
Food projections are extremely uncertain since natural disasters are unpredictable and may increase if the forecasted effects of global warming materialize. Also, environmental degradation is increasing while water allocations are decreasing.
Society will not be suddenly surprised by a crisis point at which food supplies are no longer adequate. Todays isolated anarchy and famine (which is politically inspired) in Africa could easily turn into a world wide sustenance inspired problem during the first half of the next century.
Humans are the only creatures endowed with the ability to evaluate the consequences of their own actions. Since the problem transcends all aspects of the worlds religious and political structures, it must be addressed by all speakers from the pulpit or podium who can influence the public mind set.
OUR FERTILE SOCIETY
While the annual population growth seems to have reached a plateau, the the world has added 85 to 90 million people every year for the last decade. Recent regional decreases in population growth rates coupled with dramatic gains in agricultural production mask the severity of the problem which is just now becoming evident in terms of real numbers. A world population
of 250 million at the beginning of Christianity has
now grown to 5.7 billion in spite of wars, plagues,
famine, and epidemics. Unrestrained, this growth
could continue until world population approaches
11 billion in the year 2050. (Using currently
assumed declining growth rates). An unchecked
continuation of the AIDS epidemic would infect
320 million people by the year 2050 but would
have a negligible effect on the total food
requirements of the 11,000 million.
Each month the world adds another New
York City. The 300,000 Somalis who died of starvation in late 1992 were replaced in only 29 hours.
HOW OUR SOCIETY EATS TODAY
The worlds diet is composed basically of three food systems: grain, meat and fish. Grain (wheat, corn and rice) consumed directly supply about 70 percent of human food energy. Unlike perishable fruits and vegetables, grain can be stored over the
winter months and is therefore a useful measure of food resources.
Grain is also used as feed to supplement the production of meat
(beef, pork and poultry) and ocean catch fish. Affluent societies
have diets high in animal protein while subsistence level societies
rely primarily on the starchy foods of grain products. In general, it
appears that an affluent society lives on about 17pounds per week
per person while people at the poverty level subsist on about a
pound a day, or seven pounds per week per person.
OUR FUTURE DIET
World food production has been keeping pace with population growth until recently. Actually, the food available per person
has increased each year until the mid 80’s, but has been declining for the last ten years.
Food projections into the future become increasingly uncertain for the later years because:
a) Natural disasters are unpredictable, usually not included in projections, but could become more frequent if the forecasted
effects of global warming materialize.
b) The ability to control environmental degradation is becoming increasingly difficult.
c) The impact of problems with allocating scarce water are just now beginning to be appreciated.
d) The depletion of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels (gas, oil, etc.) needed for farming and distribution will
contribute to the increasing costs of dwindling food supplies.
Grain Harvest Projections
World farmland planted in grain increased until
1980 and then started to decline because of
environmental factors such as soil erosion,
waterlogging and salting of irrigated land, air
pollution, and water shortages.
Urban sprawl reduces farmland at the rate of
one acre for each five births.
The loss of farmland has been compensated for by
increasing the yield per acre by the development of
disease and drought resistant grains which respond
well to fertilizers. High yield, early maturing wheat
and rice strains now permit multi-cropping (i.e.
winter wheat and summer rice in the same field).
However, there are growing indications that efforts
to increase crop yields have peaked. Available
crop varieties have approached the agronomic
limits of response to fertilizer and its use has declined for five consecutive years.
Large dams built to irrigate arid desert lands are trapping 25 to 75 percent of the sediments normally carried
downstream to become farmland seasonal nutrient replenishment. The trapped sediment also significantly reduce
the dams irrigation water storage capacity.
The annual increase in grain harvest kept pace with
population growth until 1990. However, the
combined effects of loss of farmland and peaking
of yield per acre are beginning to impose
limitations. Optimistic (but hopefully realistic)
assumptions predict the annual harvest to be about
two billion tons throughout the 1990 s and slowly
increasing to about 2.3 billion tons per year by
60 to 65 percent of the grain harvest is
consumed directly by humans while the
remainder is used as feed grain to supplement
Nearly all of the worlds rangelands are now fully
used and grazing capacity has been pushed to the
limit. Recent large increases in the use of pork and
poultry have been helping meat production keep
pace with population growth. World annual meat
production is now about 200 million tons, with 70
percent from rangelands and 30 percent grain fed.
Little, if any, growth can be expected from the
rangelands, but it is assumed the grain fed meat will
continue to increase slowly (as the grain harvest
increases) to about 225 million tons in 2030.
Pigs and chickens are much more efficient than cattle for converting grain to meat. Feed lot beef require seven
pounds of grain to add a pound of live weight while pigs need only four pounds and chickens only two for
Fish Future Not Promising
Large fleets using fish finders and miles long nylon
nets coupled with destruction of spawning grounds
have contributed to a serious overharvesting of the
oceans. Total annual fish production has been
about 110 million tons since 1990. Of this total,
approximately 13 percent is from fish farms. It will
be fortunate if the wild catch remains constant
while grain fed fish from aquatic farms increase
slowly as the grain harvest increases. An additional
five million tons for a total of 115 million tons by
2030 appears optimistic at this time.
Traditionally desirable fish such as cod, haddock and tuna have been decimated and are being replaced with
smaller species such as mackeral, pilchard and pollock
. Putting It on a Personal Level
A better feeling for societies prosperity can
be developed with numbers related to a
personal creature comfort, like eating.
Food available for an individuals weekly
diet can be derived by dividing the large
numbers used for food projections by the
large numbers used for population
projections. Weekly diets (grain, meat and
fish) in terms of pounds per person peaked
at 11 pounds in the mid 80’s, have been
declining since, and could drop to a
poverty level of 7 pounds per person per
week by 2040.
A miraculous food supply increase of 50 percent would delay reaching the poverty level only one generation.
GLOBAL WARMING TRENDS
In the past four decades, the world has more than tripled the consumption of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal). This in turn has
increased the atmospheric concentration of green house gases (carbon dioxide) by 15%, and the average temperature at the
Earth s surface has increased almost one full degree (Fahrenheit). While this is a seemingly insignificant increase, the ten hottest
years in recorded human history have all occurred in the eighties and nineties.
A small rise in atmospheric temperature significantly expands the capacity of large volumes of air holding water vapor
accumulated from summertime evaporation of lakes and oceans. Moisture laden warm air mixing with cooler arctic air in the fall
and winter create intensified weather conditions in the form of increased precipitation and high winds. Since the early eighties,
economic losses from world-wide weather related disasters have increased six fold.
While the realities of global warming are still under debate, historical data would seem to raise questions about
whatever optimism is reflected in future food projections.FUTURE LIVING STANDARDS
While civilization is stratified into many layers, only two are assumed here: the affluent who consume 17 pounds of food per
person per week, and the less fortunate in poverty who can afford only 7 pounds per person per week. (These definitions of
affluence and poverty are based solely on typical diets for countries considered to be in or near those categories.)
At the peak of food availability for individuals in the mid
80’s, there were 3 people in poverty for every 2 people
living in affluence and the average consumption was 11
pounds per person per week.
As food becomes scarce and more expensive, a larger
portion of an individuals resources must go to sustenance
and the poverty ranks increase. The total food available in
today s society has declined to 10 pounds per person per
week and there are 5 people in poverty for every 2 in
The total number of affluent people in the world peaked at 2
billion in 1990 and is now about 1.7 billion.
Predictions such as these are always subject to argument. Similar predictions of ealier disasters have been wrong.
Exact numbers are not important, the message is that major problems appear imminent in the first half of the next
Today s Youger Generations are in Trouble
Society will not be suddenly surprised by a crisis point at which food supplies are no longer adequate. Symptoms of the crisis
will begin to appear long before the crisis is reached. Today’s youger generations are being handed the staggering problem of a
growing imbalance between food and people. Humans are the only creatures endowed with the ability to evaluate the
consequences of their own actions. Since the problem transcends all aspects of the worlds religious and political structures, it
must be addressed by all speakers from the pulpit or podium who can influence the public mind set. There is only one certainty,
a sustainable society will be achieved during the next century, either orderly by conscious decision or chaotically by nature.
The first step toward solving a problem is to define it in terms the people effected can understand. A beginning may
be the formation of a World Population Bureau which issues periodic media news reports similar to a Weather Bureau.