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