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Malthus' Principle Of Population: Today And The Future

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967 words
Science & Nature

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Two hundred years ago, Thomas Robert Malthus, a British intellect , wrote 'An Essay on the Principle of Population' in which he argued that the world population would increase faster than the food supply, with disastrous results for the general human welfare. A world population of 250 million at the time of Christ has now grown to 5.7 billion in spite of wars, plagues, famine, and epidemics. World food production has been keeping pace with population growth until recently.
If the world food supply had been distributed equally to each member of society in the mid 1980's, the population of 4.7 billion would have been allocated a weekly diet of 11 pounds of meat, grain and fish per person. In todays world, a billion people have been added to the population and the food supply has decreased to less than 10 pounds per week per person. The typical weekly diet in the U.S. is about 17 pounds, which means a significant number of the worlds people are eating considerably less than the average of 10 pounds per week. A world population of 10 to 11 billion by mid century will have an individual allocation of 6 to 7 pounds per week, equivalent to the diet of todays members of society living in poverty.
Food projections are extremely uncertain since natural disasters are unpredictable and may increase if the forecasted effects of global warming materialize. Also, environmental degradation is increasing while water allocations are decreasing.
Society will not be suddenly surprised by a 'crisis point' at which food supplies are no longer adequate. Todays isolated anarchy and famine (which is politically inspired) in Africa could easily turn into a world wide sustenance inspired problem during the first half of the next century.

Humans are the only creatures endowed with the ability to evaluate the consequences of their own actions. Since the problem transcends all aspects of the worlds religious and political structures, it must be addressed by all speakers from the pulpit or podium who can influence the public mind set.

Our Fertile Society

While the annual population growth seems to have reached a plateau, the the world has added 85 to 90 million people every year for the last decade. Recent regional decreases in population growth rates coupled with dramatic gains in agricultural production mask the severity of the problem which is just now becoming evident in terms of real numbers. A world population of 250 million at the beginning of Christianity has now grown to 5.7 billion in spite of wars, plagues, famine, and epidemics. Unrestrained, this growth could continue until world population approaches 11 billion in the year 2050. (Using currently assumed declining growth rates). An unchecked continuation of the AIDS epidemic would infect 320 million people by the year 2050 but would have a negligible effect on the total food requirements of the 11,000 million.

Each month the world adds another New York City. The 300,000 Somalis who died of starvation in late 1992 were replaced in only 29 hours.

How Our Society Eats Today

The worlds diet is composed basically of three food systems: grain, meat and fish. Grain (wheat, corn and rice) consumed directly supply about 70 percent of human food energy. Unlike perishable fruits and vegetables, grain can be stored over the winter months and is therefore a useful measure of food resources. Grain is also used as feed to supplement the production of meat (beef, pork and poultry) and ocean catch fish. Affluent societies have diets high in animal protein while subsistence level societies rely primarily on the starchy foods of grain products. In general, it appears that an affluent society lives on about 17pounds per week per person while people at the poverty level subsist on about a pound a day, or seven pounds per week per person.

Italy dines on a reasonable balance between meat and grain and has one of the worlds highest life expectancies.

Our Future Diet

World food production has been keeping pace with population growth until recently. Actually, the food available per person has increased each year until the mid 80's, but has been declining for the last ten years.

Food projections into the future become increasingly uncertain for the later years because:

a) Natural disasters are unpredictable, usually not included in projections, but could become more frequent if the forecasted effects of global warming materialize.
b) The ability to control environmental degradation is becoming increasingly difficult.
c) The impact of problems with allocating scarce water are just now beginning to be appreciated.
d) The depletion of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels (gas, oil, etc.) needed for farming and distribution will contribute to the increasing costs of dwindling food supplies.

Grain Harvest Projections

World farmland planted in grain increased until 1980 and then started to decline because of environmental factors such as soil erosion, waterlogging and salting of irrigated land, air pollution, and water shortages.

Urban sprawl reduces farmland at the rate of one acre for each five births.

The loss of farmland has been compensated for by increasing the yield per acre by the development of disease and drought resistant grains which respond well to fertilizers. High yield, early maturing wheat and rice strains now permit multi-cropping (i.e. winter wheat and summer rice in the same field). However, there are growing indications that efforts to increase crop yields have peaked. Available crop varieties have approached the agronomic limits of response to fertilizer and its use has declined for five consecutive years.

Large dams built to irrigate arid desert lands are trapping 25 to 75 percent of the sediments normally carried downstream to become farmland seasonal nutrient replenishment. The trapped sediment also significantly reduce the dams irrigation water storage capacity.

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Keywords: malthus principles of population, malthus theory population, malthus theory diagram

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