The matter of population growth has been a prominent social and economic issue in the last few centuries. Consequently, experts have tried to predict population patterns with the view of aligning global planning matters. Nevertheless, most of the population trends that have transpired in the course of history have caught the world by surprise. Population levels only began to grow exponentially in the last two centuries.
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Before this period, the world was experiencing very slow growth in population. For example, the world’s population hit the one billion mark in 1800 and since then global inhabitants have reached more than six billion. With these unprecedented population increments, there are deep concerns as to whether the world has enough resources for all of us. Although technology has played a great part in the sustenance of the global economy, the rising competition for global resources such as water and land is a cause for concern. Another trend that has been rising concern in regards to overpopulation is the food prices that have been increasing uniformly across the world.
One of the earliest authorities on the subject of population growth is Thomas Malthus. In 1798, Malthus wrote an essay titled “An Essay on the Principle of Population” and it had grim predictions when it comes to overpopulation (Holdren & Ehrlich 2004). According to Malthus, the earth’s resources could only support a population of approximately three billion. Furthermore, any growth in population beyond this point would only lead to a scenario where the earth would ‘react’ by autocorrecting the population issue through catastrophic means. This essay supports Malthus’ concept of the need to keep the population growth in check but it does not align with his mass reduction approach.
The population increase that has occurred since Malthus made his predictions has not done so under the conditions that he envisioned. Consequently, even though he was right to caution people about population growth, he was wrong about the earth’s carrying capacity. The resource-capacity of the world can only occur through incremental means while the population has been growing exponentially. For example, in 1800 the population of the world stood at one billion.
However, the population doubled in the next century and by 1900 there were approximately 2 billion global inhabitants (Smail 2002). One of the facts that Malthus might not have considered is that a reduction in mortality would have significant effects on the rate of population growth. The industrial revolution that occurred in the early 1900s had a significant effect on both resource-generation capacity and reduction in mortality rates. By the mid-twentieth century, the global population was growing at unprecedented rates. For instance, by the 1950s the global population had reached three billion and half a century later, the population now stands at seven billion.
These trends are nothing like Malthus envisioned owing to their exponential nature. One of the factors that have facilitated the fast population growth is the reversal in birth and mortality rates. For instance, in 2011 “there were approximately 135 million births and 57 million deaths, thereby creating a population increment of 78 million” (Cohen 2005). Experts reckon that the world will continue to grow at these fast rates. Consequently, the total global population is expected to hit over nine billion people by the year 2050. Most of this population growth will occur in developing countries where fertility rates are still high.
Malthus was right to raise a concern about the earth’s capacity to feed a big population. However, the threshold of three billion inhabitants only applied to a world where the industrial revolution was absent. Currently, all global population stakeholders agree that earth resources are spread thin (Wealth 2008). The most important factor when it comes to resources and sustenance is the ability to strike a balance. At any given time, the innovativeness of the world has to match the demand for resources. For a long period, the need for resources has been a good thing. For example, different segments of the population can sustain each other over the long haul. Furthermore, “the balance between empty and full stomachs (as envisioned by Malthus) has been instrumental in transforming the long-term outlook for economic growth” (Azariadis & Drazen 2000).
The fact that most economies have been expanding faster than their populations have almost refuted Malthus’ original sentiments. However, external factors such as global warming and the perennial risk of food shortage around the world have served to substantiate Malthus’ original concerns (Somerville, Essex, & Le Billon 2014). Although the population threshold is not three billion as Malthus claimed, the world has a certain capacity and it depends on technological capacity.
Currently, the world is imbalanced in terms of resources and the standard of living has been the most relevant tool for measuring resource-distribution. An increase in the standard of living translates into countries and blocs spending more per capita energy (Bloom 2011). Before high standards of living are achieved, there occurs what experts refer to as a ‘demographic dividend’. This dividend transpires when the working-age population spurs an economy to perform at accelerated rates (Smail 2002). This factor will transpire in most of the developing regions in Asia, South America, and Africa where the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) does not match the current population trends. Current statistics indicate that only “about 20% of the current world population (about 1.2 billion people) could be said to have an ‘adequate’ standard of living” (Bloom 2011).
Most of these people are only found in select regions of the world such as Europe, Japan, and North America where population growth is relatively slower. The wastefulness that is associated with developed nations is important to the balance between resources and population growth. Consequently, if the developing nations engage in these levels of wastefulness, Malthus’ predictions about unsustainable resources might be realized (Knox & Marston 2014).
It is important to note that so far the world has successfully avoided the disaster that was predicted by Malthus in the late 1700s through simple adaptations. For example, when the population of the world doubled between 1800 and 1900, people found ways through which to produce more and control their reproduction rates. This adaptation is expected to continue in future and people will successfully avoid imminent failure of vital systems.
However, the capacity of the globe remains constant. Even though individuals might find a way to maximize the available resources, the resources themselves remain constant. One economist notes that “the idea that improved know-how and voluntary fertility reduction can sustain a high, indeed rising, level of incomes for the world remains correct, but only if future technology enables us to economize on natural capital rather than finding ever more clever ways to deplete it more cheaply and rapidly” (Hanlon 2006). Lack of innovativeness could lead to an imbalance of resources that resonates with Malthus’ predictions.
The adaptation of the human race negates the probability that the human population would face a sudden and an abrupt end as Malthus predicted. Malthus was primarily wrong when he assumed that populations would keep growing as prosperity increased. Recent trends indicate that regions that have reached a state of success have also experienced a state of demographic transformation. This state occurs when “economic development brings greater prosperity and both birth and death rates to drop and population growth eventually starts to slow” (Ehrlich & Ehrlich 2013).
Furthermore, population jolts are only occasioned by a lack of adaptation between birth rates and death rates. Overall, Malthus had not envisioned advances in public health, birth control methods, urbanization, and other modern trends. All these factors make his predictions about impending doom inaccurate.
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History is one of the factors that offer comfort when considering Malthus’ simplistic predictions on population and resources. The population threshold that the scholar had predicted was realized in the 1900s and since then there have been few concerns about earth’s ability to sustain its inhabitants. Growth of the population race has mostly been exponential. The only cause for concern when it comes to Malthus’ predictions is the need for higher living standards among various demographics. However, the proposal that growth often leads to problems has been proven wrong over the years. In future, the ability to adapt and innovate holds the key to the fortunes of the human population.
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