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  1. CARE International, one of the world’s largest and oldest humanitarian aid organizations, has condemned programs that promote birth control as a means to reduce climate change. CARE, which strongly supports “rights to sexual and reproductive choices and health for women and girls worldwide,” warns that efforts to link family planning to environmental objectives are undermining those very rights: “These challenges have become entangled in conversations on climate change in ways that conflate these rights with narratives of natural resource scarcity and population control. Such narratives are more likely to compromise, than to achieve, equality and just outcomes for women living in poverty who are adversely affected by climate change.” In a strongly worded paper titled Choice, not control: Why limiting the fertility of poor populations will not solve the climate crisis (pdf), CARE makes two fundamental arguments. First, that population reduction programs target people who are not responsible for climate change, and direct attention away from those who are. “Action on climate change hinges on tackling inequality and the consumption patterns of the wealthiest far more than on the reproductive behaviour of people living in poverty.” Second, that family planning programs motivated by population objectives focus not on giving women choice, but on pushing for specific outcomes, even if that violates human rights. “Decades of experience of population and environment programming have shown that rights and choices are too easily undermined when misguided natural resource management concerns drive reproductive health service provision.” The CARE paper makes four recommendations for policies and programs related to climate change, economic development, and women’s rights: Reproductive rights must be a singular goal in their own right. Subordinating these rights under other objectives, such as the protection of natural resources, poses problematic and dangerous incentives which can undermine human rights, and must be avoided. Efforts to promote gender equality need to safeguard women’s rights and social justice in discussions on population and the environment. Programs should not use the language of gender equity and reproductive rights to legitimize policies and actions aimed at controlling the fertility of poor populations. Responses to climate change need to avoid victim-blaming and increasing the burden on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, including the women within them. Action on climate change should draw attention to inequalities, e.g. in the global food system, carbon emissions and wealth. Work on family planning carried out in a context of environmental degradation and climate vulnerability must include strict safeguards for human rights, in particular reproductive self-determination, and rights to land and other natural resources. Such work should also draw attention to inequalities in the access of women and girls to the information, services and supplies they need to make reproductive decisions and choices. Needless to say, Simon Butler and I are very pleased that arguments we made in Too Many People? have been confirmed and extended by an organization with so much experience working with the world’s poorest women, and we’re honored that CARE several times cites our book as a source.
  2. Last week, British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough devoted over a third of a widely reported interview to his claim that human beings are "a plague on the earth." "It's not just climate change; it's sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now." Attenborough cited Ethiopia as his only example of the natural world fighting back against the human plague. "We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that's what's happening. Too many people there. They can't support themselves - and it's not an inhuman thing to say. It's the case." In Attenborough's view, Ethiopians are starving simply because there are too many of them. Since they haven't voluntarily reduced their numbers, the natural world is doing so, by the "natural" method of mass starvation. But let's suppose that 50% of Ethiopians disappear today. That would take the country's population back to its level in the 1980s. If Attenborough's people-are-the-problem view is correct, hunger should not have been a concern then. In reality, more than 400,000 Ethiopians died of starvation between 1983 and 1985, in one of the worst famines of modern times. Clearly, reducing population would not make Ethiopia any less vulnerable to mass hunger. Ethiopia actually produces much more food per person today than it did when the population was much smaller. According to Oxfam, the country is now is "just 2% from being able to supply an adequate level of food energy to all its citizens." Despite that, at least thirty million Ethiopians go to bed hungry every night. The problem isn't human numbers or food production, it's an economic and political system that enriches foreign investors and a tiny urban elite, while nearly 80% of the people earn less than $1 a day. There's lots of food, but they can't afford to buy it. Cruel irony: the hungriest people in Ethiopia are farmers. In the past five years, hundreds of thousands have been driven off their land with no compensation, while the government has leased millions of hectares to foreign corporations that raise export crops. But in Attenborough's populationist worldview, there are no land grabbers stealing land from subsistence farmers. There is no history of colonial exploitation, slavery, and war, no extreme inequality reinforced by neoliberal policies. There are no international speculators driving up food prices, no agribusiness giants exporting food to richer countries while millions starve. There are just people, and people are a plague. Yes, there is a plague on the earth, but it isn't people. It's a social and economic system that puts profit before people, that treats food as a commodity instead of as a basic human right. So long as that system remains in place, hunger and poverty will continue, no matter what happens to birth rates. Films about wild animals have made David Attenborough famous. It's sad and appalling that he uses that fame to promote ignorance about human suffering.
  3. This is the final part of a series of articles that have taken a closer look on the relationship between increasing human population levels and the food production system that sustains human livelihoods. This part examines current and future food levels as well as summarizing all the previous parts. Despite the predictions from populationists, the global agricultural production has grown and even exceeded the population growth rate. Global crop production has had an average annual growth rate of one percent for the past 20 years. This can be exemplified in the slow, although steady, increase in average food per capita availability, which has increased from around 2220 kilocalories per person/day to about 2790 kilocalories between early 1960 and 2006. The largest increase can be seen in developing countries where food availability has jumped from 1850 kilocalories per person/day to over 2640 kilocalories. In 2010, the global food system produced more than 13 quadrillion calories; on a per capita daily basis this equals 5359 kilocalories. Globally, food production has increased by 18 percent over the past two decades and for the past 50 years crop production growth has seen a threefold increase. Interestingly, arable land has declined, at an accelerating rate, with about 40 million hectares since the 1980s in developed countries. At the same time arable land has increased with around 107 million hectares in developing countries. This has resulted in a global increase of 67 million hectares of arable land. Therefore, the increased growth in crop production in the developed world can be attributed to yield improvements and more intensive farming methods. Only a smaller part of the increase can be attributed to an expansion in arable land. FAO believe that the potential to increase crop yields further is substantial and that a future peak yield seems unlikely. FAO's future predictions are hence more positive than the estimates from UNEP earlier. According to FAO there remain significant opportunities to increase food production in developing countries. Especially in Africa which is far behind other regions in its food production capacity. But they also stress the importance of "considerable" public intervention and investment to be able to reach the required yield increases. The majority of these investments are needed in agricultural research, but more are also required to mitigate environmental damage and prevent further environmental degradation. With all this talk about yield levels and ratios it's easy to forget that yields aren't everything when it comes to increasing global food availability. There are other ways that can help improve global food security. Because overall population growth is slowing down FAO predicts that total global food demand will decrease. Unfortunately, deep-rooted poverty plays a large part in this slowdown in global food demand. However, FAO expect that the demands from the bio-based economy, such as the production of biofuels, will continue to increase. This development is a double-edged sword. The further expansion of the bio-economy will offer "considerable growth potential" for the agricultural sector and supply farmers with new income possibilities. But it will also create rising food prices and put pressure on an already strained environment and natural resource base. The topic of biofuels has been covered in previous chapters, so it won't be delved into further here. But another large part of our total cereal production is being diverted away from our plates. While only having around 18 percent of the world's population, OECD countries in the rich world consumes 37 percent of the total global production of cereal. The reason for this large share is mainly due to the high levels of meat consumption in these countries. More than half of the total amounts of cereals consumed are being used to feed our livestock and animals in the meat industry. So by reducing our consumption of meat and biofuels we could increase the availability of food worldwide. But the production of biofuel is estimated to expand and the demand for meat shows no slowing down. Current models show that by 2050 an additional 550 million tonnes of cereals are needed to just feed our livestock. That same amount could have instead fed as many as 3.4 billion people. Another way is to reduce food losses and waste. It's estimated that approximately one-third, or about 1.3 billion tonnes every year, of the food produced for human consumption is being wasted or lost in the production process. Consumers in Europe and North-America waste between 95-115 kg per year/capita, while consumers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa only waste around 6-11 kg per year/capita. In developed countries with medium- and high-incomes most food is wasted at the consumer level. This is food that is being wasted even though it is still suitable for consumption. In low-income countries in the developing world most of the food is lost in the production process before it even reaches the market. FAO takes this matter seriously. The UN agency considers food losses to be a "significant cost" to the world economy and serious threat to global food security and availability. Population or Environmental Food Crisis? In the beginning of this series, Population or Environmental Food Crisis, I asked if it's possible for organic agriculture, in the face of intensifying environmental degradation and fears of rising population numbers, to reach global food security and sustain human livelihood. The previous parts has shown that Malthus and other populationists have been wrong in their doomsday predictions and that they have misjudged the possibilities of technological advancements to increase our food production. But just as I've shown, this technology has unfortunately created environmental problems that now threatens valuable ecosystems, our resource base and our very ability to sustain more people. It's clear that a different approach to agriculture is needed so that a smarter food production increase can take place. I've been able to conclude that the claims from populationists that we would somehow face a population crisis to be unfounded and excessive. Demographic data shows that global population levels are increasing, but they aren't increasing exponentially and nowhere near those levels that populationists are warning about. The data compiled in the previous parts shows how human population growth is actually starting to slow down and that the growth is expected to stabilize by 2100 with around 10 billion people. In fact, this development has sparked fears about a potential ageing crisis with severe implications for developed countries such as Japan. If the population theories from Malthus-inspired thinkers like Ehrlich were to be true we would see a global population that is just getting younger and younger. But instead the global median age is increasing and data shows that people aged 60 or older is the group that is growing the fastest today. The food price crisis of 2008-2009 has been explained as the result of an energy crisis and that it didn't take place because of uninhibited population growth, like populationists have claimed. A closer look was also taken on undernourishment and malnutrition. While large portions of people around the world are still undernourished we are now experiencing a nutrition transition characterized by overnutrition and obesity. Overweight people has now actually surpassed the number of undernourished people in the world. We could also see how global food production is growing and how it has even exceeded population growth rate. But if we are to satisfy the projected food demand from a growing population we need to increase our global food production with 70 percent by 2050. This is no easy task, and it doesn't help that food prices are expected to rise and become more volatile from escalating environmental degradation. To avoid this we need to make changes to our food production system as well as re-thinking our own consumption patterns. Theoretically it's probably possible to increase yields and make the global food system more productive by further intensifying the use of external inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which Borlaug among other advocates. But this could potentially have devastating effects on our environment, food prices and population levels. Even populationists, such as Kaplan and Ehrlich, warn that such practices could do more harm than good. Instead organic farming has been put forward as the solution to our growing environmental problems and broken food system. But populationists are opposing this alternative agriculture method as they believe it will be unable to adequately sustain human livelihood on a global scale. In an effort to find an answer to this, several studies on organic and conventional yield levels have been explored. The result is far from unanimous, but a large part of the studies shows promising results for proponents to organic agriculture. Several side-by-side studies seem to support the claims that it's possible for organic farming to sustain current and even future population levels. Considering the findings in this thesis, it's no surprise that national and international bodies are now seeing organic agriculture as a viable option in food security discussions. It's obvious that the potential for conventional agriculture to be converted to organic farmland around the world is vast. As can be seen from developments in Europe, this conversion is taking place, albeit to a varying degree and speed, with a few countries having done more progress than others. Despite this, organic farming still plays a shockingly tiny role in the global food production system. It's clear that the easiest way to safeguard food availability for current and future generations is to reduce the production of biofuels and our consumption of meat "“ both being responsible for taking away considerable farmland from crop cultivation. So, the answer to the question, if it's possible for organic agriculture to sustain human livelihood, is a probable yes. Organic farming seem to be capable of sustaining global human population levels while lessening the negative effects the agricultural sector has on our environment. It also seems that organic agriculture can withstand the effects of climate change much better than their conventional counterparts. But organic farming has a long and difficult road ahead. Considerable conventional farmland need be converted to organic land. Furthermore, a substantial increase in investments into research and development of alternative agricultural practices and yield increasing methods are also needed. But there's no question about it, we need to increase our food production in a smart way, with or without an imminent population crisis. Luckily for us, this seems to be possible.
  4. In 2007, food prices increased dramatically and the world quickly ushered in a global food crisis that lasted until late 2009. The global price increase mainly affected basic food commodities such as wheat, rice and corn, but not so much products such as coffee and cacao. The effects were felt fast and hard, especially in developing countries where much of the food was being imported and where people, who already spent half or more of their income on groceries, couldn't afford a doubling of food prices. Riots started to take place in many cities around the world by people who no longer could afford to buy enough food to themselves and their families. In the developing countries worst affected, the national governments tried to counter the food price crisis with various political and economic means. They reduced taxes on cereals and lowered the tariff on imports of food and/or introduced various food subsidizes for their citizens. Many developing countries, including China and India, also introduced export restrictions on their own agricultural and food products - sparking heavy criticism from the US and IMF. Looking back at the events it's easy to see that it was just a bubble and that food prices, almost as quickly as they had come, went back to their previous levels again. But back then, in the middle of it, many people claimed that the crisis was a sign of things to come, and that overpopulation was the main culprit. In a discussion on Nightwaves on BBC Radio 3, Susan Blackmore, a neuroscientist, and Professor John Gray, from the London School of Economics, discussed overpopulation and its link to the then ongoing food crisis. Both agreed that the "fundamental problem" is that there are just "too many people", with Blackmore adding that she hoped, "for the planet's sake", that a global disease, such as the bird flu, would come and "reduce the population". In a TV interview, Britain's Prince Phillip said that it was the demand for food from "too many people" that had caused the food price crisis. Number (in millions) of undernourished people between 1990 and 2012. Source: FAO Hunger Portal 2012. According to recent figures, around 870 million people were undernourished during 2010-2012. Those numbers equal 12.5 percent of the global population. The majority of these people live in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and Northern Africa. As can be see in the figure above, this number is a reduction since early 1990's levels when around 19 percent of the global population was undernourished. So progress in food security has been made. But from the numbers one can also see that most of this progress was accomplished before the global food price crisis in 2007-2008. Since then, the reduction in undernourished people has slowed down and leveled off. Despite this, the actual increase in global hunger was less severe than previously expected. The FAO, WFP and IFAD concludes in their 2012 report on food insecurity that "it is clear" that the previous achievements in reducing hunger has "slowed considerably since 2007", and that it's doubtful that the Millennium Development Goals, as well as previously stated hunger targets and commitments in several regions around the world will be achieved in the near future. These failures in reducing undernourishment can be blamed on political instability due to wars and conflicts. But a lack of political will to prioritize hunger reductions, weak government structures and institutions such as the absence of proper transparency and food programs, both on a regional and global level, can also be blamed for the failure. The food price crisis, nor the halt in the reduction of global hunger, had nothing to do with overpopulation and inadequate food production - such as the scenario populationists are constantly warning about. In fact, both 2007-2008 were pretty normal years for farmers. Their yields varied no more than usual and the total world food production continued to grow by 1-2 percent per year - the same pace as it had done for the past decade. It's true that farmers had troublesome years during 2006-2007 in Australia due to drought, and that the EU and Ukraine produced much less wheat than estimated before 2007. But this reduction was offset by unusually good harvests in Russia, USA, Argentina and Kazakhstan. In fact, the total amount of wheat on the global market increased by around 5 percent which resulted in record yields in 2006-2007. Demands from large populous nations such as China and India had no effect on the rising food prices either as the two nations are both net exporters of cereals. Instead, rising oil prices and growing productions of biofuels were to blame for the food price crisis. Fossil energy in the form of oil is an important component in the modern agriculture industry, so it's not surprising that changes in oil price will have effects on the price of food for consumers worldwide. In this case it was the increasing costs involved in the highly energy intense production of nitrogen fertilizers for agriculture that in turn resulted in increased food prices. The second reason was the growing production of biofuels from agricultural commodities. To put things into perspective and to show just on what massive scale global biofuel production is on let's take the US as an example: About 25 percent of the US corn production is now used in producing ethanol - which is far more than the country's entire total corn export. Globally, biofuel production, which is based on agricultural commodities, has more than tripled 2000-2008. Today it accounts for more than two percent of the global consumption of transport fuels. Another example: In 2007-2008, roughly 10 percent of the total usage of coarse grains was used in the production of ethanol. Jean Ziegler, UN's independent expert on the right to food, has called the production of biofuels from food crops a "catastrophe for the hungry people" and a "crime against humanity". In light of the food price crisis the FAO convened a three-day meeting with experts in Rome, Italy, in June of 2009. They came to the conclusion that the food price crisis was a result of increases in energy prices, and that it shows how energy and agricultural markets are becoming more intertwined with each other. In their report they warn that a further rise in biofuels production would be "a real risk" for global food security. They therefore urge that policies that promote the use of agricultural commodities for biofuels production "should be reconsidered" so that the competition between food and fuels can be mitigated. These malnutrition numbers represents people who don't get their minimum energy intake, which FAO considers to be about 1900 calories per day/person, the exact amount of calories varies depending on region, age and gender. The human body needs a diet of enough variation between vitamins, fat, proteins and minerals. So just because one gets enough of calories doesn't mean one has a balanced and satisfactory diet. It's estimated that at least one billion people suffers from this "hidden hunger" which is characterized by various forms of nutrient shortages, which turns into deficiency diseases and often develops into chronic sickness. Here's the twist. We are currently experiencing a nutrition transition, characterized by overnutrition and obesity, which affects all societies around the world. As urbanization increases and people's incomes grow bigger, more people are gradually adopting a lifestyle which involves not just reduced physical activity but also a more energy-dense diet, which consists of semi-processed foods which are higher in saturated fats, sugars and cholesterol. Obesity has more than doubled since the 1980's and the majority of adult obesity can be found in developed countries, with the US being a prime example. As a result of this transition, the number of overweight people has reached more than 1.4 billion people worldwide. This surpasses the number of undernourished people in the world.
  5. This is part three of a series of articles that take a closer look on the relationship between increasing human population levels and the food production system that sustains human livelihoods. Part two has shown that the claim that population growth happens at an exponential rate is a common theme among populationists and Malthus-inspired thinkers. It has also showed how little faith Malthus and other populationists has on technology and scientific advancements as well as government regulations to increase our food production. Modern population theory has also seen a shift in focus. While Malthus and older scholars talked mainly about population levels and its relation to our agricultural food production system, modern populationists often has an environmental aspect to their arguments. Kaplan and especially Ehrlich can be used as examples of this as they often emphasizes the environmental damage which is caused by technologies such as the Green Revolution and an increasingly growing agriculture sector. Part three and four will examine many of the claims from populationists to see if the current situation is a gloomy as they say. This chapter looks on how population levels have progressed historically till today and what kind of future population growth we might expect. This will help us evaluate the severity of the population problem. In 1830, the global population had reached one billion. This is about 50 years after Malthus published his first population essay. Roughly 100 years later the global population had increased with another billion. By 1960, or about 30 years later, the human population had grown to three billion. 15 years later in 1975 the fourth billion was added. Global population numbers reached five billion people only 12 years later. And at the end of October 2011, the UN announced that we had reached seven billion people. One can see how global population numbers have progressed since the 1950s and are projected to develop till 2050 in the figure below. This graph shows the estimated and projected total midyear population levels for the world between 1950 and 2050. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base, June 2012. From a first quick look it might seem that global population levels are increasing. But a closer look reveals how global population growth is now starting to slightly decrease in speed. Malthus warned in his population theory that human population would increase in an exponential ratio. Ehrlich also warned about the dangers of an exponentially growing population. But as we can see from the graph above, no exponential population growth has taken place. Instead we can see a more linear development. Another figure, which displays estimated and projected world population growth in percentage, shows a completely different picture than the previous graph. Here we can see a downward trend in global population growth. In fact, we can see how the world's population growth actually peaked and started to slow down around 1963 - five years before Paul and Anne Ehrlich published their population theory. Since around 1990 we can see a constant decrease in world population growth taking place. If this downward trend continues the population growth rate will have slowed down considerably by 2050. Again, no exponential or geometrical growth is taking place. Joel Cohen, a leading expert in population sciences, even goes as far as saying that human population "probably never has and probably never will" grow exponentially. The world's estimated and projected population growth rate between 1950 and 2050 in percent. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base, June 2012. UN population data offer four different scenarios for the future depending on different projections, the next figure shows these in more detail. One scenario, labeled constant fertility is the closest thing we get to an exponential population growth similar to what Malthus and other populationists have warned about. But this development is deemed unlikely and the UN predicts that the medium scenario is the most probable outcome. There's also a high and a low scenario connected to the medium projection, where population levels either increases more or less than anticipated. Future global population scenarios according to different projections and variants. Source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (2011). World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. According to the medium scenario, global population is projected to increase with 2.3 billion to reach a total world population of 9.3 billion people by 2050. The majority of this population growth will take place in developing countries. 50 years later the global human population is projected to have reached 10.1 billion people. The majority of people, around 87 percent, will by 2100 live in the less developed regions in the world, while 27 percent of these will live in the least developed regions. Again, it's worth noting that these long-range population projections are extremely difficult to calculate correctly and in a reliable way. But if we are to trust the UN data, human population growth is expected to stabilize by 2100 at around 10 billion people. Another variable to look at is the total fertility rate, namely the number of living children each women will have during her lifetime. Globally, replacement levels average around 2.3. In rich countries, where child mortality levels are low, the replacement level is about 2.1. In poorer countries which lack proper medical facilities and systems the number is obviously higher. Population levels will increase if the total fertility rate is higher than the replacement levels and vice versa. In many often rich and developed countries today, the total fertility rate is actually below the replacement levels. But this does not mean that the country's population levels won't see any further growth. The population will continue to grow for decades even though the total fertility rate has fallen well below the replacement levels. In other words, a reduction in birth rates is a demographic momentum which won't have any short-term effects on population levels. Many European countries today have fertility rates that are well below replacement levels. This has caused some demographers to project that by 2060 the total population in Japan could fall by nearly 50 percent and by around 25 percent in Europe. This is why we recently could hear a lot of warnings about depopulation in the media, some even going as far as claiming that parts of Europe could become "almost deserted" in the years to come. Such cries rightfully seems alarmist but governments and institutions in developed countries are taking these warnings seriously. Just consider EU who recently issued a union-wide Blue Card, similar to the more well-known Green Card used by the US, in an effort to attract skilled workers from countries outside the union. UN data shows that populations aged 60 or older is the group that is growing the fastest globally today. In the developing world this population ageing will drastically increase in the coming decades. It is projected that population aged 60 or over will increase at annual rates of more than 3 percent. Another indicative of global population ageing are the increases in median age around the world. In 2011, 22 countries had a median age higher than 40 years. Japan had the oldest median age of 45 years. Germany was a close second with a median age of 44.7 years. According to the UN, "the implications of population ageing cannot be dismissed." Part four takes a closer look on rising food costs and explains what actually caused the food price crisis in 2007-2008 (Hint: It wasn't actually because of a lack of food).
  6. This is part two of a series of articles that take a closer look on the relationship between increasing human population levels and the food production system that sustains human livelihoods. Part one can be found here. Part three will be published tomorrow. This chapter will take a closer look on popular overpopulation theories, both from the early days of Malthus and to more modern flavors of population theory. Three theories and their scholars, Malthus, Ehrlich and Kaplan, are introduced in this chapter. What these theories have in common is that they played an important role in either reviving the overpopulation debate once again, which was the case with Ehrlich, or they helped influence the political discourse at the time, which was the case with Kaplan. Please note that these theories will not be explained in full and I will not bring up much criticism against the specific theories (trust me, there is plenty of that). If you are interested in learning more about the theories there is a plethora of articles, books and whatnot that delves much deeper into them. Google Scholar is great source of information if you, for example, want to read more about Malthus' arguments against relief and help for the poor and hungry. These three, and many other authors, discusses in different ways how overpopulation is a threat to humanity and how we cannot avoid a devastating demographic overshoot. Their numbers on how many people the world can support strongly varies depending on what sort of progress they believe we have made and will do when it comes to technology and science, how much we have already degraded our water and food resources, and so on. But what they all have in common is a belief that a population catastrophe will happen once the natural limits are reached. Though, some authors have managed to push this idea more successfully than others. Malthus' theory of population Thomas Robert Malthus, born in 1766, was a British reverend and a scholar. Today he is still widely known for his controversial ideas about population levels and their limits. Malthus's population theory can be said to be the starting point of a rather passionately demography debate among academics and ordinary people alike - a debate which is still very much alive today. Malthus anonymously published An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798 where he warned about the problems with a bigger and an ever increasingly growing human population. This first essay, or edition, was more of a polemic pamphlet where Malthus tried to debunk the optimistic and utopian visions on the future by contemporary writers and thinkers who were inspired by the ongoing revolution in France. Malthus later on made new and more detailed editions to his population theory. In fact, Malthus added a total of four subsequent editions to his theory. The first one was added in 1806, the second only a year after, the next one in 1817, and finally in 1826 the fourth edition was added. These four editions are often called the "second essay". A summary view on his theory was also added later in 1830. Even though Malthus added new editions to his population theory, the greater part of his finished work still consists of material stemming from the first essay. Despite being more of a polemic essay than a scientifically supported thesis - or perhaps because of that - Malthus's first essay was widely popular among fellow academics and the general public. Malthus work was more detailed and methodological in his later editions. For the second essay he made study tours in Scandinavia, Russia, France and Switzerland - all being countries who were at that time open to British tourists. Malthus makes two hypothesizes about the nature of the world, which he both claim to be true: According to Malthus, we humans have, and will always have, a very strong urge to copulate. Because of this, overpopulation of the human race will swiftly become fact. The problem then lies in our capacities to produce food, or more precisely our inability to feed ourselves. Malthus claimed that our fondness of breeding is stronger than our food production capabilities and technologies to feed such a large population. If left unchecked the human population will increase in a geometrical ratio while our food production can only increase in an arithmetical ratio, Malthus warned. In a geometrical ratio the growth effectively doubles every time (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc) while an arithmetical ratio goes from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on. According to Malthus, these numbers clearly shows the immensity and power of the first variable in comparison to the second and much weaker variable. If the human population grows faster than the food production, various checks, such as famine or wars, will rebalance the situation so that the human population is kept on level with the means of subsistence. Malthus divides these population checks into two main categories: preventive and positive checks. Later on Malthus makes further distinctions between these two categories and adds the checks of vice, the checks of misery and the check of moral restraint. Moral restraint, which is defined by Malthus as abstinence from marriage, belongs to the preventive category. Malthus advocated for a strict moral conduct towards sex. While not approving of abortion he saw contraception as a preventive check, one which belongs to the vice category. Both the checks of vice and misery belongs to the positive category. These are population checks that prematurely shorten the human life span either through insufficient food and/or bad clothing due to poverty, "unwholesome occupations" (i.e. jobs where there is a high probability of dying from unhealthy activities), diseases and epidemics, wars and plague. All these various positive checks can be divided into either the vice or misery subcategory. Those checks that appear to arise from the laws of nature, such as epidemics and famine, belong exclusively to the misery category. The other checks, those that we bring upon ourselves, such as wars, are more of a mixed nature. According to Malthus, these are checks which could be in our power to avoid. Therefore their cause is vice and their consequences are misery. If preventive checks are insufficient to rebalance the situation, then the "necessary work" will be done by war, pestilence and famine - the positive checks on overpopulation. War could therefore be seen as an "alternative" to moral restraint. Malthus didn't see any way by which we humans could escape from the laws of nature and avoid this fate. No charity or "fancied equality" among people could help or lessen this fact. Extensive agrarian regulations would be of no help against the severe challenges that would come from unhindered human population growth, not "even for a single century". Throughout the essay one can unmistakably see how little faith Malthus has to agrarian regulations, new agricultural technologies and scientific advancements which could help improve yields. Malthus discarded agrarian controls and regulations from the state and advocated private property and ownership as the only viable solution to obtain large yields. Likewise Malthus saw the invention of new agriculture machinery as a mere convenience or luxury for the farmers, instead of a method to improve yields and an escape from the laws of nature and the checks on population. Often when the topic of the potential for new technologies arises in the essay he points out the physical limitations which man, and other animals, is subjected to. Malthus' population theory was not just popular among the general public, it also influenced, as well as provoked, many contemporary academics and scholars. Some of the more well-known of these were Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In various works, Darwin notes how Malthus and his population ideas had inspired him in his own development of the theory of evolution. Marx and Engels responses towards Malthus theory of population were a bit more resentful. Engels describes Malthus theory as "this vile, infamous theory, this revolting blasphemy against nature and man." Marx was not kinder in his responses to the population theory, calling Malthus "a shameless sycophant of the ruling class". Modern Overpopulation Theory As we could see in the previous chapter, Malthus both provoked and influenced many academics and scholars. His theory of population might have been proven wrong, but his work did inspire to a whole host of different Malthusian theories. In this chapter some of these more modern overpopulation theories are presented. In a cover story, titled The Coming Anarchy, published in February 1994 in the distinguished Atlantic Monthly magazine, Robert Kaplan presented his gloomy and Malthusian inspired vision of a future world stricken by the horrendous effects of overpopulation. According to the article, the world is headed towards violent anarchy where states and societies will collapse and be replaced by private armies and organized criminals. This "downward spiral of crime and social disintegration" was blamed on the environmental degradation of our natural systems and a demographic explosion, i.e. overpopulation. Kaplan argued that the violence and chaos that were taking place in West Africa would spread to other regions of the world. As the violence and ecological problems spread, more and more people will be forced to seek shelter in urban environments. This in turn will create even more social disintegration, ecological degradation and violent conflicts. Kaplan therefore believed that the population crisis and the degradation of our environment would become the main national-security issue for the US and other developed countries in the coming century. Kaplan's article was written during some of the worst and bloodiest moments in the history of Africa. Less than two months after the publication of his article the Rwandan genocide took place. So it's not that surprising that Kaplan's population theory was taken seriously by the US administration and former President Bill Clinton, who himself specifically cited the article in a speech to the National Academy of Sciences in June 29, 1994. Later on Kaplan's article "became practically de rigueur citation for Cabinet members appearing before Congress. In 1968 Paul Ehrlich presented, with the publication of The Population Bomb, his own Malthusian inspired population theory. The book has significance, mostly because it helped revive the demographic debate once again. But also because, compared to many similar efforts at the time, this contribution dwelled deeper into not just overpopulation but also into the link between growing population numbers, overconsumption and environmental destruction. Ehrlich had been making the rounds in the US media trying to lift the population issue into the medial and political spotlight again. Because of this he was approached by David Brower, founder of the American environmental organization the Sierra Club Foundation, who suggested that Ehrlich should publish his theory in time to influence the upcoming presidential election. Paul collaborated with his wife Anne Ehrlich on the book and future revisions on their theory. But because the publisher insisted on a single author, only Paul Ehrlich was credited for the book. Their reasoning has many similar characteristics to Malthus's thinking on overpopulation. While acknowledging our genetic urge to copulate, Ehrlich blamed the dramatic population growth on industrialization, and more importantly improvements in medical science. Medical science, especially its effective public health programs, has improved the lives of countless of people and drastically helped to increase birth rates. The Green revolution and the ever increasing industrialization have both played important roles in increasing human population levels. But "the development of medical science was the straw that broke the camel's back". While recognizing the potential the Green Revolution has for increasing food production and staving off future famines, Ehrlich also warned about the environmental downsides of the Green Revolution. Ehrlich believed that the Green Revolution would bring both developmental and socio-economic problems as well as potentially severe environmental consequences - especially when it comes to its heavy use of water, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Ehrlich warned that the implementation of the Green Revolution in developing countries would result in the same environmental disruptions that is the case today in more developed countries. Kaplan notes how much of India's economy and food production relies on dramatically shrinking natural resources and declining water levels, as well as the high levels of urbanization and violence among the different ethnic and religious groups. With all this, Kaplan says, "it is difficult to imagine that the Indian state will survive the next century." Kaplan links the declining water levels with the Green Revolution. While having successfully increased India's yields, the Green Revolution also comes with severe environmental drawbacks. Moreover, Kaplan also warns about possible future effects that climate change can have on the country's agriculture sector. According to Ehrlich there are only two solutions to the population problem, the first one being the "birth rate solution" where famine, wars or pestilence increases the death rate. This "solution" is similar to the positive checks that Malthus talked about. The second solution, and the one which the authors advocated for, is population control where we humans intentionally and actively take measurements to reduce global birth rate. There would be no environmental or food crisis to speak of if the human population was reduced to around one or half a billion individuals. Sure, we would also need to make some minor changes in our technology usage as well as improving and making the distribution of the world's resources more just and fair. But population control would still be the only real solution in avoiding the "final collapse". When Paul and Anne Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb their views on the future were bleak. They warned that the world was on the verge of a Malthusian style catastrophe and that the "battle to feed humanity" had already been lost. They proclaimed that the birth rate solution with its wars, famines and diseases would most likely be the agency most responsible for reducing human population levels in the coming decades. Several decades has passed since the book was released, but they are still confident that the collapse will come - any time now - especially considering the rising levels of consumption globally. Fears about an imminent population crisis has popped up into the spotlight now and then since Malthus introduced his theory in the late 18th century. The most recent appearance was in 2011 when the world population reached seven billion. Before then, the population problem was intensely debated during the food price crisis of 2008-2009. The causes to the food price crisis was also debated in Sweden. Here it was Marit Paulsen, the somewhat well-known Swedish politician, who connected the rising food prices to overpopulation and claimed that organic agriculture couldn't sustain the growing numbers of people. Only large-scale agro-industries and more pesticides could maintain a sufficient food production, Paulsen claimed.
  7. Population or Environmental Food Crisis?

    In 2011 the world's population passed the seven billion mark. By 2050 the human family is expected to reach nine billion individuals. Many believe that we are in the midst of a population crisis that already has far-reaching effects on our society and our environment. Globally, almost 900 million people are chronically undernourished today, and more than 1.4 billion people are estimated to suffer from malnutrition. Despite various UN goals to halve hunger in recent years there just seems to be no end in sight. At the same time, ecological degradation is getting worse. We can see how important and unique ecosystems are being destroyed, we can see the alarming loss of biodiversity, we can see how desertification and soil erosion is spreading, we can see the worrying signs of depletion of freshwater reserves, and we can see the devastating effects from the increasing quantities of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that we are spewing out. Our food production system and our agricultural practices play a central role in both worsening and lessening the effects of environmental degradation. So it seems we are facing an environmental food crisis as well. The main argument brought forward by populationists and Malthus-inspired thinkers is that we cannot feed a growing population and that, if we haven't already, we will soon reach our carrying capacity. War, pestilence and famine will follow and wreak havoc around the world, they warn. Others believe that more alternative and environmentally friendly agricultural practices can help us sustain population numbers while at the same time safeguarding our environment from further degradation. Populationists have always been pessimistic about our possibilities to sustain current and future populations let alone to do it from organic farming, which they argue will give us smaller yields than what we get from more conventional agriculture. But which side of this debate is correct? Is it possible for us to convert to more environmentally friendly agricultural practices that can help stop, or at least slow down, ecological degradation while at the same time being able to feed a growing number of humans? That's a pretty big question to try and explain. Therefore I will divide everything up into smaller and more manageable chapters and parts. The first part will take a closer look on popular overpopulation theories, both from the early days of Malthus and to more modern flavors of population theory. Part 2: Popular overpopulation theories Part 3: Population levels for today and tomorrow Part 4: The end of cheap food Part 5: Conventional agriculture Part 6: Alternative agriculture Part 7: Reaching food security today and tomorrow
  8. I often hear people saying that overpopulation is the main problem to our environmental and ecological problems. Some people even claim that it's responsible for global warming. I also agreed with this idea before. But after reading more about the subject over the years I have changed my mind. The rich countries in the "North", i.e. the West, have a "rapidly decreasing" population which is "expected to decline over the next forty years." Developing countries such as India, China and most of Africa on the other hand is where we will see future population numbers increasing. And yes. It seems so easy to blame countries with an overwhelming rising population for being responsible for wrecking our planet, climate and environment. Because surely more people must mean more pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Right? Not really. The West is responsible for about 80% of the worlds CO2 increase. An average person living in Great Britain will in only 11 days emit as much CO2 as an average person in Bangladesh will during a whole year. And just a single power plant in West Yorkshire in Great Britain will produce more CO2 every year than all the 139 million people combined living in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. As Fred Pearce from the Yale Environment 360 blog notes, only a small portion of the world's people are using most of the planets resources as well as producing the most of the greenhouse gases. And those are living in the West: "The world's population quadrupled to six billion people during the 20th century. It is still rising and may reach 9 billion by 2050. Yet for at least the past century, rising per-capita incomes have outstripped the rising head count several times over. And while incomes don't translate precisely into increased resource use and pollution, the correlation is distressingly strong. [...]By almost any measure, a small proportion of the world's people take the majority of the world's resources and produce the majority of its pollution. Take carbon dioxide emissions - a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world's richest half-billion people - that's about 7 percent of the global population - are responsible for 50 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions." According to Pearce overpopulation in the developing countries is not the problem. Instead the increasing overconsumption among the planets 7% richest people and countries is to be blamed. And he is not alone in claiming this. George Monbiot, Europe's leading green commentator, also agrees with this viewpoint. As Monbiot notes in a recent published article on the Guardian: "As one the graphs King displayed demonstrated, and as the UN and independent scientists predict, the world's population is expected to peak at around 9 billion by 2060 and then to decline to around 8.5 billion by 2100. Of course the bisophere can ill-afford to carry these numbers, and they will load an extra 40 or 50% of pressure onto every environmental constraint. It's an issue, in other words. But the issue? Until the recession struck, the global rate of economic growth was 3.8%. The world's governments hope and pray that we'll be back on this track as soon as possible. Population, of course, is one of the components of economic growth, but the global population growth rate is currently 1.2%. It's responsible, in other words, for one-third of normal economic growth. The rest is supplied by rising consumption. Consumption, on this measure, bears twice as much responsibility for pressure on resources and ecosystems as population growth." Let's take a look at the ecological footprint between developing countries and developed countries in the West. An ecological footprint is the estimate on how much land is required to provide you and me with food and other resources as well as cleaning up our pollution. The global average ecological footprint is 2.7 hectares per person. Sweden, my own country, has an ecological footprint of 5.1 hectares. The UK is on 5.3. Australia has 7.8 and Canada has an average of 7.1 hectares. The United Arab Emirates and the United States of America are on the top spot with an ecological footprint of 9.5 and 9.4. Developing countries such as China only has an ecological footprint of 2.1 hectares while India is on 0.9. And most countries in Africa are around or below 1.0 hectares. Pearce gives even more examples of unfair consumption between the rich and poor countries: "Americans gobble up more than 120 kilograms of meat a year per person, compared to just 6 kilos in India, for instance." "Just five countries are likely to produce most of the world's population growth in the coming decades: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. The carbon emissions of one American today are equivalent to those of around four Chinese, 20 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 40 Nigerians, or 250 Ethiopians." "A woman in rural Ethiopia can have ten children and her family will still do less damage, and consume fewer resources, than the family of the average soccer mom in Minnesota or Munich. In the unlikely event that her ten children live to adulthood and have ten children of their own, the entire clan of more than a hundred will still be emitting less carbon dioxide than you or I." Just like Monbiot and Pearce claims overpopulation is not the problem. Even if we were to get a zero population growth around the world it wouldn't help us against the climate crisis. Instead the overconsumption among the rich few in the world is the main problem which we must deal with. Climate Progress writes: "To avoid catastrophic global warming impacts, the rich countries need to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% to 90% by mid-century. The developing countries (not including China) mostly must slow emissions growth, peak by mid-century, then decline - while ending the vast majority of deforestation by 2020. China must peak its emissions by 2020 and then reduce after that, first slowly, then quickly by mid-century." Overpopulation is only seen as a major problem because it's the only thing we in the West can blame the developing countries for.