The Population Problem

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The Population Problem

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Malthus, in An Essay on the Principle of Population, reached the conclusion that the number of people in the world will increase exponentially, while the ability to feed these people will only increase arithmetically (21). Current evidence shows that this theory may not be far from the truth. For example, between 1950 and 1984, the total amount of grain produced more than doubled, much more than the increase in population in those 34 years. More recently though, these statistics have become reversed. From 1950 to 1984, the amount of grain increased at 3 percent annually. Yet, from 1984 to 1993, grain production had grown at barely 1 percent per year, a decrease in grain production per person of 12 percent (Brown 31). Also strengthening to Malthus' argument is the theory that the world population will increase to over 10 billion by 2050, two times what it was in 1990 (Bongaarts 36). Demographers predict that 2.8 billion people were added to the world population between 1950 and 1990, an average of 70,000 a year. Between 1990 and 2030, it is estimated that another 3.6 billion will be added, an average of 90,000 a year (Brown 31). Moreover, in the 18th century, the world population growth was 0.34%; it increased to 0.54% in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century to 0.84% (Weiskel 40). Neo-Malthusians base their arguments on the teachings of Thomas Malthus. Of the Neo-Malthusians, Garrett Hardin is one of the most prominent and controversial. Hardin's essays discuss the problem of overpopulation and the effects it will have on the future. In Lifeboat Ethics, he concludes that continuous increases in population will have disastrous outcomes. Neo-Malthusian arguments come under much scrutiny by those who believe that the population explosion is only a myth. Those who hold these beliefs state that the evidence Neo-Malthusians use to justify their views is far from conclusive. Critics hold that the Neo-Malthusian call for authoritarian control is much too radical. Thus, these critics belittle the theories of Neo-Malthusians on the basis that population is not a problem. However radical Hardin's theories may be, current evidence shows that he may not be too far off the mark. It is hardly arguable that the population has increased in the past few decades, for current statistics show that this actually is the case. Equally revealing, is the fact that vast amounts of land are being transformed into more living space. More people means more waste, more pollution, and more development. With this taken into consideration, it seems that Hardin's teachings should no longer fall on deaf ears. When discussing the issue of population, it is important to note that it is one of the most controversial issues facing the world today. Population growth, like many other environmental issues, has two sides. One side will claim that the population explosion is only a myth, while the other side will argue that the population explosion is reality. Because of this, statistics concerning this subject vary widely. But, in order to persuade, it is necessary to take one side or the other. Thus, statistics may be questioned as to their validity, even though the statistics come from credible sources.

Lifeboat Ethics

The United States is the most populous country in the world, behind only China and India. Unlike China and India though, the United States is the fastest growing industrialized nation. The United States' population expands so quickly because of the imbalance between migration and immigration, and births and deaths. For example, in 1992, 4.1 million babies were born. Weighing this statistic against the number of deaths and the number of people who entered and left the country, the result was that the United States obtained 2.8 million more people than it had gotten rid of (Douglis 12). Population increases place great strain on the American...
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