The Malthusian Crisis, Revisited

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The Malthusian Growth Model.

We are reaching a crucial point for the future of Earth and the life it supports. If we choose not to act, it will continue to warm, tipping points will set off positive feedback loops, and humanity, along with the millions of other species supported by our planet, will face an existential crisis. As described in Steffen et. al.’s article, there are two possible trajectories: Hothouse Earth and Stabilized Earth. While both of these trajectories exist now, lack of action will commit us to Hothouse Earth, with little to no hope of return. 

In 1798, Thomas Malthus, an English clerk and scholar, published An Essay on the Principle of Population stating that food production was linear and population growth was exponential, and therefore food production would limit population size. While Malthus’s hypothesis has clearly been disproved, I think it is valid to argue that we may be approaching a situation similar to the one Malthus predicted.

Our current rate of consumption is not sustainable; we are cutting down trees, catching fish, pumping groundwater, and mining coal faster than these resources can be replenished. With an exponentially growing population, and increasing consumption rates due to globalization bringing higher standards of living to previously low-consumption communities, our consumption rate is far surpassing the rate of resource replenishment. We have a linear supply of (sustainable) natural resources (not to mention non-renewable resources), and an exponentially growing population. As a global society we need to realize this disjuncture between our way of life and natural resource production. If not, we will continue hurtling towards Hothead Earth.

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