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Prophets of Doom

 

There is a lot in the news at the moment of demonstrations and protests about 'Climate Change' and 'Species becoming extinct' because of human activity.  The message is that 'we are all doomed unless action is taken now'.

A bit of historical perspective might be appropriate.

A more recent prophet than the Hebrews of the ancient world was the Rev Thomas Malthus who wrote a book in 1798 entitled On the Principle of Population As it Affects the Future Improvement of Society

Malthus was shocked by the rural poverty in his Surrey (!?!) parish.  In the book he claimed that the population increases at a greater rate than its means of sustenance *.  

To prevent a future of mass starvation the population would need to be kept in check by a drastic cutting of the birthrate, wars and epidemics.  Malthus’s theories had a big effect on social policy in the 19th century. 

It was not felt appropriate to help the poor as it would only encourage them to breed.   Malthus’s prophecy was grim, implacable and wrong. 

In 1800, when Malthus was writing, the population of the world was about one billion with 85 per cent living in extreme poverty (including those in Surrey!). 

Today there are over seven billion of whom a much lower percentage (14 per cent) live in extreme poverty.  There has been a huge reduction in poverty over the last two hundred years.

A more recent prophet of doom is Paul R Ehrlich who prophesied in 1968 'that the battle to feed humanity is over'.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s he forecast that hundreds of millions will starve to death. 

In fact fifty years later famines in the world have been almost eradicated (those that do occur are the results of conflicts or chronic mismanagement as in China in the 1950’s).   From 1950 to 2010 while the population doubled, food production trebled.

Another doom-laden prophesy was produced by The Club of Rome in 1972 with their Limits to Growth.  This was a computer** model of the future and forecast a general collapse in the early 2000’s. 

The Human race would rather listen to The Prophets of Doom than celebrate the huge success we have had in the last two hundred years of reducing poverty around the world.

Maybe the human psyche prefers negative stories in the same way that we prefer crime novels.

* In mathematical terms the population increases as a Geometrical progression (a GP) while food production increases as an Arithmetical progression (an AP)

** Computers have been no better in their predictions. They just sound better.

 

17 April 2019 

 

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