Asked whether or not the growing world population will be a major problem, 59% of Americans agreed it will strain the planet’s natural resources, while 82% of U.S.-based members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said the same. Just 17% of AAAS scientists and 38% of Americans said population growth won’t be a problem because we will find a way to stretch natural resources.
— Pew Research Center
“If humanity is to have a long-term future,” writes James Dyke at the Conversation, “we must address all these challenges [of population growth] at the same time as reducing our impacts on the planetary processes that ultimately provide not just the food we eat, but water we drink and air we breathe. This is a challenge far greater than those that so exercised Malthus 200 years ago.”
Thomas Malthus was a pioneer in political economy who wrote a famous 1798 essay on the dangers of population growth. Nowadays, environmentalists concerned with “sustainable growth” typically invoke Malthusian concerns as they recommend government interventions.
Free-market thinkers tend to reject such “solutions” as unnecessary, but beyond the technical policy debate, there is also a strand in the free-market community that embraces population growth with optimism.
The crux of Malthus’s original essay was that unchecked populations grow exponentially, whereas food production grows — at best — linearly. The following passage sums up the bleak Malthusian view of life: