The morphing of environmentalism to Malthusian disaster theory leaves me with an uneasy feeling. Environmentalists seem more concerned with halting human economic progress than protecting the environment. Elite environmentalists, like their forefather, Malthus, appear to use nature merely as an excuse to discipline less enlightened members of society.
Malthus believed we would be unable to feed ourselves as our numbers expanded. He postulated that short-term gains in living standards would inevitably be undermined as population growth outstripped food production. Malthusian population theory was eventually dismissed for its pessimism and failure to take into account technological advances in agriculture and food production.
Malthusian population disaster theory however covers more than just the limits of food production, it encompasses all of earth’s natural resources – “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man” – Thomas Robert Malthus.
Today Neo-Malthusian environmentalists echo the same popular Malthusian themes – In a recent article in Scientific American Robert Engelman summed up their fears – “In an era of changing climate and sinking economies, Malthusian limits to growth are back-and squeezing us painfully. There will be less water for every cattle herder. The United Nations projects there will be more than four billion people living in nations defined as water-scarce or water-stressed by 2050, up from half a billion in 1995. Less land for every farmer – At a bit less than six tenths of an acre, global per capita cropland today is little more than half of what it was in 1961, and more than 900 million people are hungry. Less capacity in the atmosphere to accept the heat trapping gases that could fry the planet for centuries to come. Scarcer and higher-priced energy and food. And if the world’s economy does not bounce back to its glory days, less credit and fewer jobs.”
Recent years have seen a ratcheting up of the Malthusian rhetoric by so-called “environmentalists”. In a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal by the horticulturist, George Ball, entitled Naturalism Has Been Hijacked – Man is not a cancer on the planet – the author pointed out “that a segment of the Green movement presents a fresh challenge to mankind’s place within nature. Humans, the thinking goes, are one species among the many, a life form coexisting with others, our rights commensurate with those of snail darters, mosquitoes and coral reefs. Conversely, mankind is portrayed as a cancer on the planet.
“Self-described “evo-lutionaries” and animal-rights activists feel justified in spiking trees, burning down housing developments, vandalizing laboratories and threatening the lives of researchers and their families. One activist author posits that the planet can support only one billion people — a number surely including the writer, his friends and extended family. Another activist advocates saving the world through euthanasia, abortion, suicide and sodomy. However, the truly repugnant part of this story is that these are both tenured professors in wealthy universities….. A Yale professor even maintains that owning pets is a kind of species colonialism.”
Indeed the world population is likely to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050 and the challenges ahead are daunting but Malthusian pessimism and the irrational positioning of animals and even plants at the same level as sentient humans is both disingenuous and dangerous.
In the writings of Malthus one can find justification for being protectionist, anti-immigration and limiting the fecundity of the “lower classes”. Today Neo-Malthusian environmentalists are protectionists who support immigration restrictions. Their reasoning goes, if you let poor Mexicans into the United States they will earn money, learn to drive, and participate in other middle class activities. This will dramatically increase their carbon footprint and contribute to the earth’s destruction. The environmentalist logic is presumably that if the poor remain poor the world will be a better place for the privileged few.
Environmentalists are rabid supporters of abortion, which on the face of it seems benign. But their support is not for the same reason that I am Pro-Choice – I believe that women have the natural, and unalienable right to control their own fecundity. The environmentalists see abortion in the traditional Malthusian way, as a means of controlling reproduction of the “lower classes”.
The most pernicious legacy of Malthus is his suggestion that human reproduction can benefit from the techniques of animal husbandry anticipating the idea, which, in 1883, Francis Galton called Eugenics:
“It does not… by any means seem impossible that by an attention to breed, a certain degree of improvement, similar to that among animals, might take place among men. Whether intellect could be communicated may be a matter of doubt; but size, strength, beauty, complexion, and perhaps longevity are in a degree transmissible… As the human race, however, could not be improved in this way without condemning all the bad specimens to celibacy, it is not probable that an attention to breed should ever become general.”
Frances Galton first formulated Eugenics by drawing on the recent work of his half-cousin Charles Darwin and the philosophy of Thomas Malthus. From its inception prominent people such as Margaret Sanger, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill supported Eugenics. Its most infamous proponent and practitioner was however Adolf Hitler who praised and incorporated Eugenic ideas in Mein Kampf, and emulated Eugenic legislation for the sterilization of “defectives”. Racism is the malignant legacy of pessimistic Malthusian theory.
Neo-Malthusian environmentalists would like the world to view them as benign “Tree Huggers” who’s only motivation is saving the planet from impending disaster. History warns us that this is an assumption that should be questioned. We ignore their irrational rants at our own peril.
I too would like to see less carbon dioxide in the air, potable water for the arid areas of the world, clean energy, but I have more ambition than the pessimistic environmentalists – I also want to create a high standard of living for every human being on the planet. Can we do it? Yes we can!
Our focus should be on finding technological solutions to our problems. We should abandon convoluted, bureaucratic, regressive tax schemes such as “Cap and Trade” and focus on direct investment in new technology. It was technological advances that relegated the original Malthusians to the dustbin of history and it is new technology that will save us from the excesses of the Neo-Malthusian environmentalists.
Before you drink the Cool-Aid of Neo-Malthusian environmentalism, I suggest you give some serious thought to – The Real Legacy of Malthus.