Opinion: Sadly, Malthus was right. Now what?


The full article by Madeline Weld was originally written for the Montreal Gazette

Saturday marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Robert Malthus. I would like to wish him many happy returns.

And he does keep on returning, doesn’t he, despite those who say he is wrong or passé.

His Essay on the Principle of Population argued that, if left unchecked, human population growth would encounter limits: “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the Earth to produce subsistence for man.” He foresaw famine, disease and much suffering, especially among the poorest. But in addition to these “negative checks,” he also recognized “preventive checks” like limiting birthrates and later marriage. As a cleric, he advocated “the chaste postponement of marriage.”

Some 218 years after the first edition of his controversial treatise was published, we are still arguing about it. In 1798, the world population was under one billion. Now it’s 7.4 billion and counting. For the last 40 years, it’s been increasing by one billion every 12 to 13 years.

Opinion: Sadly, Malthus was right. Now what?