As a keen amateur historian I was very interested in the piece by Allister Heath on Thomas Malthus. I would like to play the role of Devil’s advocate here and suggest that things might not be quite so rosy regarding our future comfort on the planet. Malthus was plainly wrong in not considering the incredible capacity of humans to innovate and develop technologies regarding supplies of essential commodities. In one respect however he may still be correct in his basic proposition, namely population growth of our species outpacing our resources at some point. In 1800 there were about 1 billion people on the planet. Today 7.3 billion rising to 11 billion in 2050. While it is true rabbits cannot control their birth rates and we can. The fact is we don't. The control that women have over their bodies is reserved for a privileged few in well-educated western style economies. For vast areas of the globe women are, for cultural or religious reasons totally subservient to men, having no control whatsoever over their bodies. I have just been reading the latest statistic concerning teenage pregnancy here in South Africa. Whereas there were 60 thousand teenage pregnancies in 2011, last year this figure was more than double. Many of these girls are under 15. The whole matter of population of course, impacts directly on climate change and our use of fossil fuels. The development of China over the last 30 years has changed everything. All our talk of green energy is all very well but China still relies on fossil fuels for 85% of its energy needs. On official statistics it burns 3.5 billion tonnes of coal as compared to the US one billion tonnes Last year extreme weather events made headlines again, the main one being a record breaking El Nino currently wreaking havoc in the UK and here in South Africa causing a year long drought and record high temperatures. I think we have at least to consider the possibility of global warming entering an acceleration phase.
Many thanks for your interesting and thoughtful email, covering many points.
Regarding the forecast of 11 billion people in 2050, which I have also heard, I am wary of such extrapolations that far into the future. It could be right, for all I know, but if we consider the possibility of global warming entering an acceleration phase, as you suggest, subject to severity that could easily reduce populations. More likely, I hope, education and greater prosperity, leading to a larger middleclass in the world’s poorer regions would also reduce or at least slow population growth.
Regarding air pollution, I have long maintained that we need a little luck, mainly in terms of time, to successfully curb this problem before it is seriously out of control. Thereafter, technology is the key and fortunately the world is increasingly focussed on this challenge. Great strides have been made and China’s government is now engaged in the effort to reduce CO2 emissions. So I am hopeful, but far from complacent.Back to top