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Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
You can prove my 2 ex-comrades wrong by donating to my blog En Passant at BSB: 062914 Account: 1067 5257, the Commonwealth Bank in Tuggeranong, ACT. More... (12)

My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/18-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-g20-meeting-age-of-enttilement-engineers-attack-of-austerity-hardship-on-civilians.mp3 (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2014/02/11/john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-2/ (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/4-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-end-of-the-age-of-entitlement-for-the-needy-but-pandering-to-the-lusts-of-the-greedy.mp3 (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole
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Sick kids and paying upfront

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Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2013/12/03/john-passant-australian-national-university-8/ (0)

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Are there just too many people?

There is a “common sense” belief that has been at the heart of much discussion on the environment for many years – that there are simply too many people on the planet.

Leading environmentalist and adviser to Gordon Brown, Jonathan Porritt, is a patron of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT). He believes that “each individual is responsible for their own carbon footprint”.

The trust argues that Britain’s population needs to drop to 30 million – the level it was at in the late 19th century. Other environmentalists, such as David Attenborough and James Lovelock, are also patrons of the trust.

Groups like the OPT believe that by simply reducing the world’s population we can create a more sustainable society.

Increase

It is an idea that informs government thinking at the highest level. Immigration minister Phil Woolas believes that, “You can’t have sustainability with an increase in population.”

The argument echoes the ideas of the 18th century writer Thomas Malthus, who believed that growth in population would inevitably outstrip available food supply.

In particular, Malthus believed that the “lower orders” were primarily to blame, being too inclined to have children.

Malthus’ ideas have no basis in science. Britain for instance comfortably contains a population far in excess of that which Malthus believed would lead to mass starvation.

Improved science and agriculture have enabled us to produce far more food than ever before.

Rather than living in a time of shortages, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation points out that there is 15 percent more food today per person than there was 20 years ago.

Recently it has shown that the total amount of land for crops in the world could be more than doubled.

Only 10 percent of the Guinea Savanna region of Africa, a vast area of around 600 million hectares, is cultivated. An estimated 400 million hectares are suitable for farming.

When the great revolutionary Frederick Engels criticised Malthus, he turned the argument on its head. Rather than asking why people are hungry, he wondered why there isn’t enough food produced.

“The limits of production are determined not by the number of hungry bellies but by the number of purses able to buy and to pay,” he wrote.

“Bourgeois society does not and cannot wish to produce any more. The moneyless bellies, the labour which cannot be utilised for profit and therefore cannot buy is left to the death-rate.”

Capitalism had introduced gigantic steps forward in production. More food could be produced than ever before, yet if you didn’t have any money, you starved.

There are more than enough resources to meet the needs of everyone on the planet – and there is the potential to revolutionise production and the way we organise society to do this in an environmentally sustainable way.

The priorities of the system stand in the way of doing this, not a growth in population.

This article first appeared in this week’s edition of the British magazine Socialist Worker.

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Comments

Comment from Tony
Time September 20, 2009 at 4:50 am

Malthus’ ideas have no basis in science. Britain for instance comfortably contains a population far in excess of that which Malthus believed would lead to mass starvation.

Improved science and agriculture have enabled us to produce far more food than ever before.

What you are actually saying here isn’t that “Malthus’ ideas have no basis in science,” even though these are the words you have chosen, but rather “Malthus failed to predict some of the improvements in agricultural production.” Just because he didn’t know what the future held, in exact terms, doesn’t mean his ideas were wrong. However, in a way they were.

Only 10 percent of the Guinea Savanna region of Africa, a vast area of around 600 million hectares, is cultivated. An estimated 400 million hectares are suitable for farming.

Let’s say these other 360 million hectares are converted to farmland. What then? Well, an increase in food production, obviously. What then? Well, as Daniel Quinn pointed out in Ishmael, another increase in population, resulting in a “Food Race.” Others have tackled this as well. In this essay, Jason Godesky explores the food-population link and the ideas of Malthus, says “So why were the Cornucopians so right, and Malthus so wrong? Because Malthus got the entire problem almost completely backwards–and it has remained backwards ever since,” and concludes that human population is a function of food supply, just as it is with any other animal species.

Where Malthus was wrong was in thinking more and more people would consume more and more of a, it seems, constant food supply. In reality more and more food is produced to produce more and more people. But Malthus was exactly right in regards to one point: Since our agricultural techniques are unsustainable, that means that food production will eventually stop growing, production will become less efficient, less land will be usable for farming, and so on, which will mean, inevitably, that sometime in the future the food supply will shrink. If that shrinkage occurs rapidly then humanity will experience that Malthusian Catastrophe it has been avoiding.

There are more than enough resources to meet the needs of everyone on the planet – and there is the potential to revolutionise production and the way we organise society to do this in an environmentally sustainable way.

The priorities of the system stand in the way of doing this, not a growth in population.

With this point I believe you’re right and wrong. You’re right on this point: the priorities of the system are never-ending, constant growth–the more of it the better, and the more rapid the growth the better. But you’re wrong on the exact same point: you believe growth can be sustained when it cannot. Population growth cannot be sustained forever.

Dr. Al Bartlett has become pretty well known for a presentation he makes titled “Arithmetic, Population and Energy,” and he has been presenting it in front of many audiences for over 30 years. One of the most vivid images I took from it was that of the one-person-per-square-meter-Earth.

Now, if this current modest 1.3% per year could continue, the world population would grow to a density of one person per square meter on the dry land surface of the earth in just 780 years, and the mass of people would equal the mass of the earth in just 2400 years. Well, we can smile at those, we know they couldn’t happen.

Any person with a scientific mind, reason, and common sense should be able to admit to themself that a world in which humans cover every square meter of the planet’s dry land … well, it couldn’t even be done. And this admission is also the admission of something else: population growth cannot be sustained indefinitely. So you must ask yourself this question: Do I believe population growth can continue forever? You must ask yourself this because denying that population is a problem is to deny that it will ever be a problem. Just think about it.