Re: virus: Malthus and assumptions

Twirlip of Greymist (
Tue, 28 Nov 1995 18:37:48 -0800 (PST)

/Thomas Malthus was an Englishman who wrote a famous work in 1798 called
/_Essay on Population_. It has been echoed many times by eco-hysterics
/since that time even though it has been proven wrong time after time.

It would be more useful if you stated what he wrote... Malthus noted
that population increases exponentially while increase in food supply
increased linearly, therefore at some point we would run out of food and
have famines. For simple lifeforms the analysis was not only correct
but generous, as they tend not to increase their food supply. The
natural state of bacteria is near starvation. Prey-predator cycles are
more complex of course. The flaws with humans are that the food supply
has not necessarily been increasing only linearly, that the obvious to
him limitation of land has been ducked by fertilizer and other
technology, and that population growth in much of the First World is
stable or negative.

The basic point is going to be relevant sometime; once we stop at a
boundary there will be only so much we can do with the available energy
and resources and if we tried increasing our population we'd have a
disaster. When this point will occur is unknown. If we expanded into
the universe the frontier might never reach this point until the
universe itself ran down. But it is true that simple Malthusian
predictions have failed to come true for us. Believing that they cannot
come true is less hubris than arrogance (since I think the belief is
wrong I call it arrogance. :-) )

/Or arise spontaneously out of changing conditions. Education is the most
/effective form of birth control. There are feedback mechanisms that work


/in demographics that make growth self limiting. Yes, some of these
/involve unfortuante things such as disease, war and famine. I do not

Which are exactly what Malthus predicted. The point is to avoid them.

/Mass extinctions occurred long before mankind was on the scene and the
/world goes on. Why are the current destruction of species and ecosystems
/so much different in the larger scheme of things?

Because the rate of extinction is probably far higher than it ever has
been, is continuing (not just one asteroid strike) and because you
really wouldn't have wanted to be around during one of the previous mass
extinctions either. The fact that over a few million years the
biosphere can recover from an ecological disaster does not lessen the
extent of the disaster.

/My major point is that the countries that are dealing with environmental
/damage are Western countries with democratic and capitalist systems. The
/countries with the worst problems are the former communist countries and
/those that were involved in Cold War maneuvering.


If the developing countries can develop with solar power the Great
Disaster would lose another strut, as the tragedy of their consuming as
much power as we do rests largely on their getting the power from nasty
sources. Given that many of the del. countries are in the areas of
highest insolation this is fairly feasible. African desert countries
could even export power to higher latitudes.

An industrialized world is quite sustainable, it just has to be a
different world. The Earth intercepts about 10^16 watts of power;
humanity currently uses about 2x10^12. We couldn't tap all of the solar
power -- most of it is busy driving the oceans and atmosphere -- but
tapping one thousandth should be fairly doable. We should be able to
live on 10^13 watts, especially with more efficient use. As a perverse
note, inefficiently generating pure drinking water by distillation or
hydrolysis would be a noticeable, but still small, fraction of these

Chemical and radioactive pollution, and widespread extinction, are still
problems. Also soil erosion, which in my opinion might be the biggest
threat to the First World. Between loss of soil and quifers we might
Malthus ourselves even with negative population growth. We'll see.

-xx- Damien R. Sullivan X-) <*>

"Send a policeman and have it arrested."
-- Bismarck, when asked what he would do if the British Army landed.