Reviving Malthus

June 14, 2009 at 8:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Staying in L.A. for a moment, and it seems that the hitherto inoffensive Cameron Diaz has become an unwitting target for Brendan O’Neill’s latest instalment of “hahaha, look at this idiot!”

Ms Diaz recently dipped her toes into the debate about global demographics and attributed her childlessness to a concern that there may already be too many Hollywood Brats people populating the planet.

In his typically charming “I know far more than you, imbecile!” style, O’Neill decries Cameron for signing-up to the fashionable re-emergence of Malthusianism – which, simply put, suggests that population growth will send us all to our starving, skinny deaths.

As it happens, I share O’Neill’s scepticism about these modern-day doomsayers; whilst there are very real sustainability issues facing the planet, I’m not convinced that it’s going to be impossible to feed them all, at least on paper. Sure, there are parts of the world which suffer the most horrendous famines, but that’s more as a result of shortages in individual countries coupled with an inadequate international delivery system to prevent malnutrition. In other words, we could feed everyone; we’re just not doing a very good job of it.

But that’s not to say we can simply dismiss the concerns of these new Malthusians or deny that the dead reverend’s ideas have re-emerged because of very serious questions about the way we live now & in the future.

For example, the planet is currently suffering from a food crisis, and unless co-ordinated international action is taken it could be significantly more acute than what we’ve seen over the past two years. Naturally, the people who will be most vulnerable are those who already have the least. This can’t be waved away as misanthropic over-reaction.

What’s more, we shouldn’t necessarily shudder when people talk about controlling the birth rate, providing you approach it from the perspective of improving a people’s material conditions. Whilst there many religious/cultural reasons for high birth rates, two of the main culprits are poverty & a lack of access to contraception. For as long as birth control remains a privilege for some and a large family is economically necessary, you’ll continue to have a high birth rate, rapid population growth and a greater burden on the Earth’s resources. If people were more free and less poor, I reckon you’d see birth rates stabilising.

So all we need to do is secure women’s right to reproductive freedom and all peoples’ freedom from want. Whilst that’s obviously far easier said than done, it’s ultimately something that me, Ms Diaz and even the cantankerous Brendan O’Neill could all agree on.



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  1. Yes yes yes. Although you neglect the real key to lowering fertility whilst raising female empowerment- education. ‘Freedom’ is important, but probably only in Sen’s sense of the term.
    I’m not sure if Mr McNeill was doing it deliberately, but to jump from an individual’s perception of excessive population growth to attribute a Malthusian rationale for that being a problem is idiotic. There are heaps of reasons why one less child in California might be a good thing.
    Implications for unsustainable natural resrouce extraction, increasing pressure on groundwater stores, the excessive carbon footprint of LA tweens and their contribution to traffic congestion, to name but a few. One doesn’t need to believe we’re all going to die to wish to opt out of the big reproductive game. In fact, if there’s one thing good about this current ‘celebrity trend’, its demonstrating the possibility of adoption as a viable alternative to traditional family-making technology. If only they would look a little closer to home than Malawi…

  2. Hehe… “traditional family making technology”.. Heh.. I’ve got me some of that…

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