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PMC Articles Tagged 'Thomas Malthus'

Growing Pains: Uganda Population Bomb Ticking

October 8th, 2012 by PMC | Add a Comment

By Robert Madoi

October 4, 2012


Uganda enters its next 50 years of self-rule with its reputation as a demographic renegade well and truly intact, thanks to a mindboggling fertility rate (the average number of children a woman can have in her lifetime), which the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) put at 6.2 in 2011.

One of the highest in the world, Uganda’s fertility rate is the stand-out catalyst to the Malthusian disaster on which the country awkwardly squats. The narrative would have been different, demographers contend, had President Museveni taken a lead role in advocating smaller families.

Instead, between 1995 and 2006, when fertility rates in notoriously childbirth-happy sub-Saharan Africa were on a down slope, Uganda’s fecundity was stalling at 6.7 in the face of Museveni’s message that vociferously hailed a large population.

Currently, the average fertility rate for sub-Saharan African countries stands at 4.64 – a high statistic by any measure, but one which would have been a bit lower were it not for the shenanigans of entities like Uganda. Not that there haven’t been any positive demographic strides in Uganda.

Between 2006 and 2011, the country was rattled out of its stall with the fertility rate falling from 6.7 to 6.2. The UDHS posits that this fall was largely because of a paradigm shift in the apprehension of all things demographic by urbanites whose fertility fell steeply from 5.0 in 1995 to 3.8 in 2011.

Whether the predisposition of Ugandan urbanites to smaller families (remember 3.8 is still some way off the 2.1 replacement rate of fertility) will haul Uganda out of a Malthusian abyss and place it on a right path is anyone’s guess.

To read the full article, click here: http://www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21353:growing-pains-uganda-population-bomb-ticking&catid=57:feature&Itemid=69

Procreation vs. Overpopulation: The New Yorker

April 9th, 2012 by joe | Add a Comment

Several people mentioned the following article to me, including Valentina Canavesio. See: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/04/09/120409crbo_books_kolbert?currentPage=all

The Case Against Kids: Is procreation immoral?
by Elizabeth Kolbert April 9, 2012
In 1832, Charles Knowlton, a doctor in Ashfield, Massachusetts, published a short book with a long title: “Fruits of Philosophy: The Private Companion of Young Married People, by a Physician.” Knowlton, who was thirty-one, was a “freethinker” and, by the standards of the Berkshires, an unusually adventurous soul. While attending the New Hampshire Medical Institute (now Dartmouth Medical School), he was too poor to pay for a dissecting class and so had liberated a corpse from a cemetery. For this, he was convicted of grave robbing and sentenced to sixty days in jail. In 1829, he wrote up his ideas about agnosticism in a tract and had a thousand copies printed at his own expense. Unable to find buyers in western Massachusetts, he took the copies to New York City, where he was arrested for peddling without a license.

In “Fruits of Philosophy,” Knowlton took up the subject of sex, or population growth, which, at the time, amounted to much the same thing. Like Thomas Malthus, whose work he cited, Knowlton was worried about the hazards of fertility. Using nineteenth-century birth rates, he projected that the number of people on the planet would double three times every century. Unlike Malthus, who saw no remedy except plague or abstinence, Knowlton believed that a more agreeable solution was at hand. What he called the “reproductive instinct” need not actually lead to reproduction. All that was required was some ingenuity. “Heaven has not only given us the capacity of greater enjoyment, but the talent of devising means to prevent the evils that are liable to arise therefrom; and it becomes us, ‘with thanksgiving, to make the most of them,’ ” he wrote.

Knowlton’s pamphlet provided his readers with easy-to-follow instructions. “Withdrawal immediately before emission” could, “if practiced with sufficient care,” be effective. A small piece of sponge, fitted with a narrow ribbon and inserted into a woman’s vagina “previous to connection,” would also suffice. If neither of these techniques appealed, he counselled “syringing the vagina immediately after connection, with a solution of sulphate of zinc, of alum, pearl-ash, or any salt that acts chemically on the semen.” As for the reliability of this last method, which he called the “chemical check,” Knowlton testified that he had discussed the matter with a gentleman who used to live in Baltimore, and that the gentleman had “no doubt of its efficacy.”

“Fruits of Philosophy” once again brought Knowlton into conflict with the law. Not long after the first edition appeared, he was charged with publishing obscene literature and fined fifty dollars. Even before the trial ended, he was indicted on new charges. This time, Knowlton was sentenced to three months of hard labor. In 1834, he was hauled into court for a third time. The third trial resulted in a hung jury, as did the retrial that followed.

But a good idea could not be kept down. Perhaps partly because of Knowlton’s legal trouble, “Fruits of Philosophy” was a popular hit. One of the jurors at the first trial told the doctor that, even though he’d seen no choice but to find him guilty, “still I like your book and you must let me have one of them.” In twenty years, the pamphlet-it was printed on tiny pages and could fit easily into a back pocket-went through nine editions in the United States. It was also published in Britain, where it sold roughly a thousand copies a year for nearly four decades.

To read the full article, please click here: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/04/09/120409crbo_books_kolbert?currentPage=all

A Treatise on Overshoot

April 5th, 2012 by joe | Add a Comment

Overshoot in A Nutshell

By David M. Delaney

See: http://davidmdelaney.com/overshoot-in-a-nutshell.html

Thomas Robert Malthus, 1766-1834, famously observed that human population, if unchecked, would grow faster than its food supply.  He argued that education in “moral restraint” might prevent starvation from being the operative check on population growth. It is implicit in his writings that uncontrolled population growth, failing “moral restraint”, would stall near the natural limits of the food supply. The population would remain stable thereafter, with many people living on the edge of starvation. But general undernourishment of a stable population is not a likely result of the current fantastic expansion of the human population. Like many who have commented on population growth, Malthus did not understand overshoot.

A species may greatly overshoot the long term carrying capacity of its environment. (Its population may become greatly larger than its environment can sustain.) Overshoot becomes possible when a species encounters a rich and previously unexploited stock of resources that promotes its reproduction.

The creation of stocks is due to ongoing geological and biological activity.  A resource stock forms when a part of the daily production of a resource, a flow, accumulates slowly without being exploited, perhaps over millions of years. An enormous stock of a resource may accumulate before it encounters a species that can exploit it easily. After such an encounter, only predation and disease limit reproduction of the species.

Without significant predation or disease, and while large amounts of the stock remain easily available, the population of a species can grow to a size hundreds of times that which can be supported by the flows that created the stock. The daily production of a resource is a mere trickle compared to the flood available from a stored accumulation.

To read the full article, please click here: http://davidmdelaney.com/overshoot-in-a-nutshell.html

The Meaning of Sustainability, by Professor Emeritus Albert A. Bartlett

April 4th, 2012 by joe | Add a Comment

Always a pleasure to hear from Professor Bartlett, who recently asked PMC to send this article of his out to you.


Volume 31, No. 1, Winter 2012, Pg. 1

Sponsored by the Association of Teachers in Independent Schools, Affiliated with the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education.

Editor-in-Chief; John Roeder, The Calhoun School, 433 West End Avenue, New York City 10024

The Meaning of Sustainability

by Albert A. Bartlett, Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder


NOTE; This text was developed from an invited paper of the same title that was presented August 1, 2011 at the National Summer Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers held in Omaha, Nebraska

Background on Sustainability

In the 1960s and 1970s, it became apparent to many thoughtful individuals that global populations, rates of resource use and environmental degradation were all increasing so rapidly that these increases would soon encounter the limits imposed by the finite productivity of the global ecosphere and the geological availability of mineral and fossil fuel resources.

Perhaps most prominent among the publications that introduced the reality of limits in hard quantitative terms was the book Limits to Growth (1) which, in 1972, reported the results of computer simulations of the global economy that were carried out by a systems analysis group at MIT. The simulation recorded five parameters for the global economy (population, agricultural production, natural resources, industrial production and pollution) for the period of time from 1900 to 1970 and then projected the computer-generated values of these parameters for the period from 1970 to 2100. For a wide range of input assumptions, the projections predicted a major collapse of world population in the mid-twenty first century. The computed results seemed to show that sustainability of life as we know it may not be an option.

Limits to Growth evoked admiration from scientists and environmentalists who were comfortable with quantitative analysis. The study evoked consternation from less quantitative types who tend not to believe in limits. Limits to Growth precipitated immediate and urgent rebuttals from the global economic community which proclaimed that human ingenuity can overcome all shortages so that, in effect, there are no limits. (2, 3) The book Limits to Growth got people thinking about sustainability.

Read the rest of this entry »

A blog that needs a response: Population bomb theory is a myth in a vacuum

January 11th, 2012 by joe | Add a Comment

Thanks to Bill Ryerson for alerting me to this blog entry on the Canadian Business website. You can leave anonymous comments by scrolling down to the bottom. See: http://www.canadianbusiness.com/blog/tech/54806–population-bomb-theory-is-a-myth-in-a-vacuum

Population bomb theory is a myth in a vacuum

By Peter Nowak | November 02, 2011

No sooner had I finished writing about how technology fears are stoked by supposedly learned people and the media than another example rears its ugly head. This time, with the world’s population exceeding seven billion people, it’s new worries of a population bomb.

For those unfamiliar with it, the concept is at least as old as Robert Thomas Malthus, an English reverend and scholar of the late 18th and early 19th century. Malthus believed that if the world’s population kept growing at its then-pace, humanity would run out of food and other resources and experience a catastrophe that would greatly thin out the herd to a more manageable and sustainable size.

Of course, it didn’t happen and it probably never will, despite vocal kvetching by modern-day Malthusians, simply because population growth does not occur in a vacuum. Everything else-particularly technology and the economy-grows alongside it. So far, this has served us very well, despite the increasing population.

The reality is that technology, economy and population are interlinked. The more a country has of the first two, the less it has of the third. A quick glance at birth rates confirms it-the rich, technologically advanced countries in North America and Europe typically have the lowest while those in Africa have the highest. Going by those figures, it’s obvious that the more prosperous a country is, the fewer children its people have, for reasons that are equally clear.

To read the full article, please click here: http://www.canadianbusiness.com/blog/tech/54806–population-bomb-theory-is-a-myth-in-a-vacuum

Debates about Malthus: the two-card and three-card trick

December 22nd, 2011 by joe | Add a Comment

Thanks to Mark O’Connor of Australia for this fascinating analysis.

Debates about Malthus: the two-card and three-card trick

There has been a view, much put about by rightwing pro-business think-tanks,  that Malthus was a gloomy pessimist from whose story we should learn not to listen to “pessimists”. This view is  is now looking very shaky as famine stalks more and more countries. Journalistic articles are beginning to appear that use as their opening “peg” the remark that Malthus may not have been such a false prophet as we all assume.

In fact scholars and reputable encyclopedias never did so assume — that claim was wishful thinking by those with their own reasons for wanting to believe population growth is not a problem.

Just lately  there has been much  interest in the researcher Alison Bashford’s study of Malthus. She emphasises the importance of 10 chapters that have traditionally been omitted from reprints of his 1803 Essay on the Principle of Population, and claims the missing chapters show his thinking in a new light. See http://www.abc.net.au/rn/hindsight/stories/2011/3349279.htm

I’m not getting too excited about this argument, since the Essay, even  in its traditionally abbreviated form, was (for its day) an impressive piece of work. And scholarly information is of limited value in dealing with the propagandists of the growth lobby. When they talk of Malthus, they are not interested in scholarly precision, and not fond of reading his works closely. They have two simple (and quite invalid) arguments that they use; and anyone debating with them needs equally brief refutations to these.

I call their two arguments the two-card trick and the three-card trick.

Read the rest of this entry »

True Causes and Others: Three Letters regarding Malthus and 7 billion

December 6th, 2011 by joe | 1 Comment

Thanks very much to Ronald Bleier for this fascinating essay on Thomas Malthus.  It is well worth reading to find out what Malthus really said in his 1798 essay on population.  To download a copy, visit https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B5F-idWfw7TeYzUwY2VkZjMtNmViYi00MzhlLWI4MTMtOGJlNDExODcyZjNj

A Future of Price Spikes

November 2nd, 2011 by joe | Add a Comment

Thanks to Carter Dillard for this Time article.  See: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2083276,00.html

Thursday, Jul. 14, 2011

A Future of Price Spikes

By Michael Schuman

Thomas Malthus lived in an era much like today’s – when emerging technologies made anything seem possible. The 19th century was approaching, the Industrial Revolution was steaming along, and in intellectual circles it was popular to believe that expanding scientific knowledge could create a more enlightened, even utopian, society.

Malthus, however, was making a more dire calculation. In 1798 he published An Essay on the Principle of Population, whose grim vision of the future haunts mankind to this day. Malthus thought we could never overcome two basic laws of nature: the planet’s population grows exponentially, while food production increases arithmetically. Therefore the planet will become short on food. “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man,” he contended. The “natural inequality” between these two forces “appears insurmountable in the way to the perfectibility of society.” Inevitably, the result would be “misery and vice.”

Taking a look around us today, it would be easy to conclude that Malthus was prescient. Food prices are near historic highs, driven upward by an ever larger, ever hungrier population. Every report of drought or flooding raises fears of global shortages. About 925 million people go to bed hungry every night. And every day we add 219,000 mouths to feed, while the land, water and other resources needed to produce additional food edge closer to their apparent limits. This intensifying “natural inequality” leaves some experts sounding like modern-day Malthuses. “No civilization has ever survived the ongoing destruction of its natural support system,” says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. “And neither will ours.”

To read the full article, please click here: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2083276,00.html

Remembering Malthus III: Implementing a Global Population Reduction

June 6th, 2011 by joe | Add a Comment

Greetings from Istanbul, where I am speaking at the International Congress of Cognitive Psychotherapy on the use of Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory to create entertainment-education programs that address global issues like population, via creating serialized melodramas with characters who evolve into role models for use of family planning, small family norms, and elevation of women’s status.

For the third article by Kenneth Smail, entitled, Remembering Malthus III: Implementing a Global Population Reduction, see https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B5F-idWfw7TeMGE5MzU1N2EtYTFlMi00ZWZlLWJhMmEtMDMyYzY5ZDMwNGQy&hl=en_US&authkey=CNaM48oE

Remembering Malthus II: Establishing Sustainable Population Optimums

June 3rd, 2011 by joe | Add a Comment

For the second article by Kenneth Smail, entitled, Remembering Malthus II: Establishing Sustainable Population Optimums, see https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B5F-idWfw7TeNGE3MjI0NmQtYWZhZi00ODA5LWE0OWYtNTlkNzVkZWJjZTRj&hl=en_US&authkey=CKOvyHI

Many thanks to Ken Smail for these articles.