New York Times Op Ed on “Malthus redux”

June 17, 2008 • News

Thanks to Bob Engelman for bringing Sunday’s New York Times op ed by Donald McNeil to my attention. It deserves numerous responses for inaccuracy and misleading statements. For example, the statement that “many agronomists think the world could easily support 20 billion to 30 billion people” was countered today at the Club of Rome conference by Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, who said that such growth in the population would be catastrophic. Rees also said that population growth in Africa is leading to even greater competition for scarce resources like water. This counters McNeil’s statement, “Africa, a huge continent with a mere 770 million people on it, looks practically empty from above.” Lord Rees said today, “Even a tiny probability of global catastrophe is unacceptable.”

See Bob’s email below, with a link to the op ed.


This op ed in the New York Times this morning could use a good letter. I’d give it a try myself, but am traveling and pretty crushed this week. Maybe you can pass it around early in the week and invite comment to the Times.

It’s always hard to respond to this kind of stuff because it’s such a hash of half truths (“many agronomists think the world can feed 30 billion people” — fine, please name three widely respected ones who have published the assertion), untruths, and his own opinion. (You can assume where he named none of his experts, he’s the “expert.”) And the incredible old saw (rebutted, I think pretty effectively, in my book) that the world’s people would fit into Texas. It takes time to figure out where to grab hold of the whole mess.

What’s really sad to me is this stuff gets readily published — even in the Grey Lady! — when it is 100 percent handwaving and mostly refried argle-bargle, but rarely if ever do they publish serious and careful arguments that population growth is a significant — and solvable — problem.


Current World Population


Net Growth During Your Visit