Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I see that there’s another neo-Malthusian trying to convince us that global starvation and food riots are just around the corner. This time it’s David Archibald right here on WUWT. Anthony had posted a graph showing gains in various human indicators, viz:
But David disagrees, showing various looks at wheat production.
Now, back in 2010, I wrote a post called “I Am So Tired of Malthus” … and I am. For those not born before 1800, a bit of history is in order. Thomas Robert Malthus was an English cleric who made a famous claim in 1798. His claim was that population increases geometrically, doubling every 25 years. But the food supply only increases arithmetically. If you are a fan of original documents as I am, you can find his claim here. In it he says;
Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.
To him, this meant inevitable starvation was provably true … hey, it’s mathematics. However, in the event the population disagreed and kept growing … and we didn’t all die from lack of food. Go figure.
But this colossal failure did not kill Malthus’s idea, oh, no. In the 1960s the cudgel was taken up by the failed serial doomcaster, Paul R. Ehrlich. In 1968 he wrote “The Population Bomb”, which starts as follows:
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate …”
“We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail. We must use our political power to push other countries into programs which combine agricultural development and population control.”
Charming fellow, compulsory population control in the US … of course, he’s a tenured Professor at Stanford so he must be right.
Riight … but once the 1970s were over and he had been proven just as wrong as Malthus, did he change his tune? Oh, no … in 1990 he wrote another book called “The Population Explosion” in which he claimed that there would be widespread food riots by the turn of the century.
Riight … but once the 1990s were over and Ehrlich had been proven just as wrong as Malthus for a second time, did he change his tune? Oh, no. He now says he was 100% correct, but he just got the timing wrong. It’s all gonna happen any day now, he says.
And David Archibald agrees with him.
The Limits To Growth isn’t discredited, just a couple of generations too early.
Riight … so I decided to take another look, as I did seven years ago, at how much food the world actually has. Per capita food consumption is the best indicator for this. A man can own a thousand automobiles on a given day … but he cannot eat a thousand breakfasts on a given day. So there is no distortion of average food consumption by a few rich people as there would be of average car ownership. Here are the latest figures from the FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture Association. I’ve shown the poorest groups of countries, along with the EU countries and the world average for comparison. First, total food consumption in calories per person:
As you can see, people are eating better than ever. The poorest of the poor, the Least Developed Countries (“LDCs”, including the Solomon Islands where I’m writing this) get more food now than the global average in 1961, the first year for which we have data. And in turn, the world average is nearly up to where the EU countries were in 1961 … “widespread starvation”? Hardly …
Note also that the EU countries have leveled off. They are now eating as much as they want.
Nor is this just “empty calories”. Here is the corresponding graph, this time for protein consumption:
Again, we see the same pattern. The LDCs are up to the 1961 world average; the world is approaching the 1961 EU average; and the EU protein consumption has levelled out.
So while Malthus, Paul Ehrlich, and David Archibald all assure us that global starvation and food collapse is just around the corner … well, not this corner but the next corner … well, no, I didn’t mean that corner, I meant the corner after that … meanwhile, the people of the world pay no attention to failed doomcasters and grow more food per capita year after year after year.
Now, the increase in food is usually attributed to the “green revolution” of Norman Borlaug. And while this had a huge effect starting in the 1940s and increasing in the 1960s, Borlaug got the Nobel Prize in 1970 for his work. However, a corollary of that is that by 1995 the further gains from the Green Revolution would have been minimal. Paul Ehrlich specifically said that the Green Revolution is what screwed up his predictions, but with the Green Revolution behind us, he reiterated that we’re all doomed to starvation … not.
Are there still problems regarding food? Assuredly, although these days they are more problems of distribution and storage, not problems of production.
Are people working to solve those problems? Again, assuredly, it’s important work.
But while no one knows what tomorrow may bring, me, I’m not going to concern myself with people feeding themselves. Seems like we’re doing rather well on that score, with no sign of an impending disaster.
Best to all from the warm climes, join me over on my blog for my further adventures in a Least Developed but Most Interesting Country, the Solomon Islands.