Malthusian-Darwinian dynamics and the trajectory of civilization

April 17, 2013 • Protection of Species, Daily Email Recap

The Malthusian-Darwinian dynamic and the trajectory of civilization



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:

Current World Population


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