More on Malthus

In: Uncategorized

22 Mar 2009

The Guardian’s Malthus comment discussed in a post yesterday was itself a response to a speech by John Beddington, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, arguing the world is facing a “perfect storm” of energy, food and water shortages by 2030.

Beddington does qualify his remarks by saying that the development of science and technology can help deal with such effects but it is a disingenuous claim. For example, it is almost true by definition that a rising population is a problem if there is not at least a corresponding rise in food supplies. Rather than point out the obvious surely it would be better to work on ways to raise productivity to enable humanity to overcome any shortages – that has been the pattern of modern history.

It is also sad to see the increase in the number of human beings discussed solely in terms of demand and consumption. Humans are producers too – with the ingenuity and capability of finding ways to overcome problems.

A particularly bleak interview with Beddington was that by John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme. Humphrys focused on what he saw as the need for population control and cuts in consumption. In effect he was asking Beddington whether he was being pessimistic enough. With critics like that it is not surprising that environmentalism is making the running.