Avoiding a Malthusian Future – Watt With It?

Out of masterresource

By Richard W Fulmer – September 13, 2022

“Inasmuch as the challenges the article documents are more real than Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 declaration that ‘the struggle to feed all mankind is over,’ the best answer is to ignore the scientists’ solutions.”

In January 2021, Paul and Anne Ehrlich and a host of other famous scientists published the article grimly titled Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future. The article appeared in the online journal Frontiers in Conservation Science, “where”, according to the imprint title, “scientists strengthen society”.

The heavily footnoted article warns that continued population growth will lead to increased consumption, which in turn will lead to biodiversity loss leading to a 6 , rising terrorism, war over resources and greater material inequality.

The authors also warn against “inflation” and “overshoot” of sustainability:

A central concept in ecology is density feedback – as a population approaches its environmental carrying capacity, average individual fitness decreases. This tends to… [slow or reverse] Growth of population. But for most of history, human ingenuity has increased the carrying capacity of the natural environment for us, creating new ways to increase food production, expand wildlife exploitation, and improve the availability of other resources.

This inflation included changing temperature through housing, clothing, and microclimate control, transporting goods from remote locations, and generally reducing the likelihood of death or injury through community infrastructure and services. But with the availability of fossil fuels, our species has pushed its consumption of natural goods and services much further beyond long-term carrying capacity (or more specifically, the planet’s biocapacity), making readjustment after an overshoot that is inevitable, if not far more catastrophic carefully managed.

Though obviously appalled by the fruits of human ingenuity, the authors seem only faintly aware that material wealth is essential to solving the myriad problems they predict, but only to the extent required for “political capacity.” :

The added burdens on human health, wealth and well-being will perversely reduce our political ability to mitigate the erosion of ecosystem services on which society depends.

Their solution, of course, is less freedom and more state:

The seriousness of the situation calls for fundamental changes in global capitalism, education and equality, including the abolition of perpetual economic growth, appropriate pricing of externalities, rapid phasing out of fossil fuel use, strict regulation of markets and the acquisition of property include in [sic] Corporate Lobbying and Women’s Empowerment.

Unfortunately, while we are told that government solutions are essential, the government’s focus is misplaced:

Halting biodiversity loss is far from the top priority for a country, far behind other concerns such as jobs, healthcare, economic growth or currency stability.


Nations have generally failed to meet the goals of the 5-year-old Paris Agreement (United Nations, 2016), and while global awareness and concern have risen, scientists have proposed major transformative changes (in energy production, pollution reduction,… protection of nature). , food production, economics, demographics, etc.), an effective international response has yet to emerge.

What to do? Scientists (who “empower society”) need to get up and get scary:

While more recently the scientific community in particular has been urged to speak louder in its warnings to humanity, these have not been sufficiently foreboding to do justice to the magnitude of the crisis. Given the existence of a human “optimism bias” that causes some to underestimate the seriousness of a crisis and ignore expert warnings, a good communication strategy must ideally undermine that bias without evoking undue feelings of fear and despair. Therefore, it is a duty of experts in all disciplines concerned with the future of the biosphere and human well-being to avoid reluctance, not to sugarcoat the overwhelming challenges, and to “tell it like it is”.

Since the challenges the article documents are more real than Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 declaration that “the struggle to feed all mankind is over,” the best answer is to ignore the scientists’ solutions. Instead I suggest:

  • Stop attacking free markets. Capitalism promotes growth and prosperity, which reduces population growth and promotes a cleaner environment.
  • Stop subsidizing “green” energy sources. Governments around the world have focused on impractical alternatives to fossil fuels:
    • Biomass power plants, which are more polluting than coal and require deforestation to provide fuel.
    • Wind turbines whose unreliability has increased costs and prompted homeowners and businesses to install backup generators.
    • Solar farms, which are also unreliable.
    • Biofuels like corn-based ethanol, which is dirtier than gasoline and (depending on the study) may contain less energy than it takes to make it.
  • End cabotage laws (e.g. Jones Act) that lead to the use of less efficient means of transport.
  • End-of-farm subsidies leading to forest loss, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, overproduction of commodities, and unnecessary carbon emissions and air pollution.
  • Allow controlled burns to prevent forests from becoming tinderboxes.


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