Human population growth can be seen either positively or negatively. If you view population growth positively, then you adopt the Cornucopian viewpoint while if you view population growth negatively and associate this growth with problems, then you essentially adopt the Malthusian perspective. Read further to find out who’s the winner in the population growth debate.
There are two major schools of thought about the increase in global human population. One perspective on population increase adopts a pessimistic viewpoint whereas the other views population increase in an optimistic manner. These are the Malthusians and the Cornucopians, respectively.
What the Malthusians Believe
The Malthusians are adherents of Thomas Malthus, an influential British scholar who popularized the pessimistic view of population increase. This viewpoint assumes that more population means more mouths to feed, thus more resources to support that need. The food required to fill this need will not be enough as food production could not keep pace with population increase. This belief is now popularly known as the Malthusian Theory.
Uncontrolled population growth inexorably results in environmental destruction. The ultimate scenario of the Malthusian theory would be wars, famine, resource depletion, among others as a result of competition for dwindling natural resources.
The Malthusian theory was popular and persisted through time but the doomsday scenario predicted by the theory did not materialize since the worldwide population grew by leaps and bounds. This position seems laden with flaws as data on the population-resources relation have shown outcomes that are contrary to expectations. As a result, new schools of thought arose that try to explain the trend of development despite continued and exponential human population growth (see how the population grew from 1CE to the present 7 billion people in less than six minutes). [update: It’s 8 billion in 2020]
One among the group of scholars who advanced their argument contrary to Malthus’ expectations believed that population growth need not be detrimental to the quality of human life. In fact, a greater number of people can even lead to positive results. This latter group of scholars is called the Cornucopians.
What the Cornucopians Believe
The Cornucopians are those who believe that advances in technology can take care of society’s needs. An increase in population is viewed positively because with more population comes more brains to generate ideas. These ideas generate technology in the form of modern gadgets, procedures, systems, among others that help address the problems associated with human sustenance and improve people’s quality of life.
People became more specialized in their work thus become more efficient and more able to respond to problems that arise in human affairs. Food production increased greatly as a result of modern, more efficient food production systems. Despite increased per capita consumption, virtually enough could be produced from the bounties of the earth.
There is so much reliance on technology as the human population grows. It seems that this reliance on the technological solution is effective in counteracting the predicted negative externalities (to understand what is an externality read my post titled The Mango Grower and the Beekeeper) of geometric population growth predicted by advocates of the Malthusian theory.
The Current Situation: Negative Consequences of Population Growth Persists
While the Cornucopians may be right as technology appears to keep pace with human problems, there are also instances where the Malthusian perspective may be much more acceptable. Unabated extraction of natural resources to meet the demand of the growing economies of the world appears to approach the dangers predicted by Malthus.
The unrest in many parts of the world, especially among developing nations, manifest the negative consequences of increased population growth. The scarcity of food resources hounds many nations in Asia and Africa. Despite the technological advances in developed nations, the negative impacts of pollution persist and threaten human health.
On a global scale, human economic activities apparently cause climate change due to a continually increasing population that requires extraction of more resources that get processed and disposed into the environment in the form of pollution.
The Malthusian Theory may be right after all.
© 2012 December 3 P. A. Regoniel