Editor’s note: Brad Arnold is a global warming and biological weapons internet activist. This essay by Brad captures succinctly the potentially tragic consequences, intended or not, of the Bush administration’s historic determination to maintain a business-as-usual stance rather than endorsing mandatory caps on greenhouse gases.
Let’s hope signs of positive change at the recent climate change conference in Bali prove more than fleeting.
As a side note, it’s worth acknowledging the varying ways we might interpret the Malthus quote in Brad’s essay. (For some perspective, try William Catton’s discussion here, and Gregory Bungo’s observation that in the quote below Malthus was using satire to make a point.) But while some who dismiss the population issue like to use Malthus as a straw man in making their arguments, a careful reading of Brad’s essay demonstrates that no matter your take on Malthus, the importance of population in the global ecological crisis remains.
My thanks to Brad for this incisive piece. — JF
Populations tend to increase at a geometrical rate, whereas the means of subsistence increases at just an arithmetical rate. Without the checks of disease, famine, and war, human populations will double their size every 25 years. (An idea advanced by Thomas Robert Malthus)
The world’s population reached 1 billion for the first time in 1830. It took 120 years to double to 2 billion, and just 30 years to reach 3 billion. The world’s population is now over 6 billion people.
Our increased means of subsistence is due to technology and a climate favorable for agriculture. Modern medicine, industrialized farming, and use of fossil fuel have reduced disease and famine. Furthermore, we’ve enjoyed an exceptionally mild climate period called the Holocene.
Most of the 80 million extra each year are born in developing countries least able to support the added population. The demographic divide between the rich developed countries and the poor developing countries is reflected in vast disparities of living standards, health, and economic prospects.
The Earth is warming up due to mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions and the degradation of ecosystems. With business as usual, it is predicted that emissions will increase over 50% while ecosystems ability to remove it from the air will decrease 30% by 2030.
In other words, it is predictable that our means of subsistence will decline due to global warming. This threatens not just those alive today, but future generations too. Rich countries will be able to adapt, but poor countries won’t be able to support their population.
It is an evident truth that, whatever may be the rate of increase in the means of subsistence, the increase of population must be limited by it . . . All the children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons. . . . the marriages and births depend principally upon the deaths, and that there is no encouragement to early unions so powerful as a great mortality. To act consistently therefore, we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operation of nature in producing…mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction which we compel nature to use.
Most leaders today understand that as we continue business as usual emissions, we are killing billions of people by reducing their means of subsistence. Yet, the US (responsible for about 20% of mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions) chooses to fight against mandatory emission cuts.
It is as if the Bush administration is practicing the kinds of extreme and morally unacceptable practices Malthus described in his realization that population growth is, in one way or another, inevitably checked (i.e., facilitating nature’s unfeeling checks on population, to which the poor would be most susceptible). On the other hand , since you shouldn’t attribute to maliciousness what you can attribute to stupidity, it could be the Bush administration doesn’t realize business as usual will kill billions, mostly in poor countries.