A very Happy Birthday, Thomas… we listened to you (us lucky nations). You helped us get it right.
It takes an exceptional mind to come up with a universal law of nature. Newton did it. Einstein did it. And then a man born on February 13th, 1766 came up with this:
All animals outbreed the carrying capacity of the land they inhabit. That’s the key thing that Thomas Malthus tried to tell us, to warn us about. Yes. You can put off the shortage of food with a Green Revolution. We did. Which is why the 3rd World didn’t starve after World War Two. But the main result of the Green Revolution was to produce people. Well-fed mums have babies that live. There are now more than double the numbers of us… but the Earth hasn’t got any bigger along with us. Oxfam did the same over the same chunk of recent history; it doubled the population of Ethiopia, so the new drought has a bigger target.
We’re clever, and we used to escape this trap by moving. Millions scarpered from over-crowded Europe to `empty’ North America (a few redskins don’t count, do they?) Irish folk went from 2 million to 8 million chomping on that miracle, nourishing food – spuds. The spuds got sick… and the quickest way out was a boat to New York.
All animals outbreed the carrying capacity of the land they inhabit. That’s not a prejudice, nor an economic theory and it isn’t politics. It’s a fact of life.
Because we don’t have anywhere left to escape to. And no other animal has ever shaken free from this natural law. So… Can we?
As the floods come, the ice melts, the water dries up, the soil loses its growing power EVERYBODY, especially politicians are yelling `Technnology’. That’ll get us out of the mess. But technology is hugely expensive, a long way off and untested. But…
But… have you noticed how many celebrated ladies are only having two kids… one kid – or none. Lucy Worsley, Lionel Shriver… And when you know that 40% of kids are unintended, or unwanted, and that contraceptive implants and patches and condoms and vasectomies are dirt cheap AND AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW, unlike `technology’… why aren’t we pushing our politicians to help stabilise and then, over the next fifty years, reduce our own numbers till we’re in balance with what’s left of our resources? What’s wrong with these politicos? Many of them know we’ve got a numbers problem – a human numbers problem, but they only mutter about it in dark corners? Are they scared of offending us? Or…
Or perhaps you’ve got a spare room that you are, as we speak, getting ready for some person or some family that’s setting off from a grotty part of the planet to move in with you? Perhaps there are millions of high-minded, selfless folk all over the UK – and Europe – making their homes ready for the thousands, the millions, the thousands of millions who are not having a good time on the bit of the earth they’re stuck on.
Right now the Japanese, the Germans don’t realise how lucky they are – because their populations are falling and sad economists and vote-hungry politicians are telling us that’s bad. No. It isn’t. Because once their economies adjust, there’ll be more cash and good air and opportunities to go round for each of us. Perhaps – I don’t know – you think there’s something romantically rakish about living in a Brasilian favela…? 800 million people, or more, live like that… inside plastic or cardboard walls, with no running water or sanitation. Not for me. Chiswick and Hammersmith, right now, suit me, personally, better. And catch hold of this; the Cubans have been 11 million forever. They got it right from the start, and now that the Americans are off their backs, they’re going to have a really good time – not having to split a finite, but rising, income from here on in. I hope they’re celebrating Thomas Malthus’ birthday as rhapsodically as only they know how!
And don’t, I plead with you, don’t believe the rubbish about reducing our own standard of living to save the planet. That’s green crap talk. Nobody wants to do that – why should they? But we can all – even the poorest – have a good standard of living if there are fewer of us. Our labour will be worth more and we’ll be better paid. And, before too long, waiting times for NHS treatment will get back to normal and new families will find a house they can afford to buy – even in London. And we’ll have enough teachers again, and doctors…
I’ve had chats with social scientists who think we are a special creation. That we aren not subject to the laws of nature… they say we’re not like frogs or lions; and that our ingenuity, our spectacular brains will find a way to live happily with eleven thousand million of us sharing this Earth – because that’s what’s ahead of us!
Do you want your kids, or their kids, to find out if that’s possible? Or would you prefer to get cracking on avoiding the bad stuff now… because, either we give ourselves a chance for a soft landing – or we gasp our way through the big Disaster Movie to come.