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Malthusian-Darwinian dynamics and the trajectory of civilization

April 17th, 2013 |

The Malthusian-Darwinian dynamic and the trajectory of civilization

See: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1723&context=usgsstaffpub


Two interacting forces influence all populations: the

Malthusian dynamic of exponential growth until resource

limits are reached, and the Darwinian dynamic

of innovation and adaptation to circumvent these limits

through biological and/or cultural evolution. The specific

manifestations of these forces in modern human

society provide an important context for determining

how humans can establish a sustainable relationship

with the finite Earth.

Malthus, Darwin, and population dynamics

In 1798 Thomas Malthus laid out the concept of exponential

population growth that became the foundation of demography

and population biology. He noted that the ‘increase of

population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence.’

Population growth can thus continue only as long as

environmental conditions remain favorable. As numbers

increase, sooner or later environmental limits cause birth

rates to decrease and/or death rates to increase, ultimately

leading to an end to population growth. These concepts

profoundly influenced Charles Darwin half a century later:

because more offspring are born than can survive, only the

fittest individuals reproduce and pass their superior traits

on to their offspring. The result is adaption or innovation in

the form of either genetic or cultural evolution.

The Malthusian dynamic pushes a population to increase

until it reaches its environmental limits. The Darwinian

dynamic pushes against these limits by incorporating new

traits and technologies that enhance survival and reproduction.

There are restrictions to this Malthusian-Darwinian

Dynamic (MDD), however: it is logically, physically, and

biologically impossible for exponential growth to continue

indefinitely within a finite world.

Click here to read the full paper: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1723&context=usgsstaffpub



2 Responses to “Malthusian-Darwinian dynamics and the trajectory of civilization”

  1. Ralph Bennett Says:

    Surprised that there is no mention in the paper of the destruction of the other species , who “share” the planet with us.

    The respect for habitat, must be considered a moral constraint on the exorable increase in the numbers of our species .
    Time for all groups, nations and the United Nations to put the bulk of their efforts into rapid stabilisation.

    This will deliver the outcomes of poverty reduction, equality and respect for nature .

    This, instead of the lies and wishful thinking of the “business as usual” complacency of the “boosters” .

    Best wishes,


  2. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    What kind of moral atmosphere is possible when people willfully choose to deny uncontested science regarding what could be real with regard to the human species? If people are presented with scientific evidence and say, “Well, I cannot refute what is before my eyes but still, I consciously and deliberately refuse to acknowlege it because it is unbelievable.” In such circumstances is it even possible to speak honestly or honorably of a moral atmosphere? Can there be morality in any meaningful sense without truth, that given to us according the lights and scientific knowledge we possess?

    The arc of moral order in the world must follow the ‘trajectory’ of what is true and real about ourselves and the planetary home we inhabit, I suppose.

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