ITHACA, N.Y. -- Two hundred years after the essay that put "Malthusian" in the lexicon, the consequences of overpopulation are more dire than ever, warns Cornell University anthropologist David Price.
"Since the productive capacity of the planet is finite, a disastrous Malthusian correction looms ahead," Price says, referring to T.R. Malthus' seminal "Essay on the Principle of Population." This dire outcome, says Price, is a possibility that no one wants to accept as an inevitable consequence of natural forces.
On June 7 scholars around the world will be commemorating the 200th anniversary of the first publication of the essay. Price, a research associate with Cornell's Population and Development Program, is marking the occasion with an essay, "Of Population and False Hopes: Malthus and His Legacy," in the journal Population and Environment (Vol. 19, No. 3, 1997).
According to Price, Malthus' legacy is the observation that population expands to the limits imposed by means of subsistence. Malthus believed, says Price, that the tendency for population to outstrip its means of subsistence is counterbalanced by "preventive checks" such as infanticide, abortion and contraception, and by "positive checks" such as famines, plagues and wars.
In the intervening 200 years, world population has grown to about 6 billion from around
1 billion in Malthus' time -- despite the many millions lost to famines, plagues and wars. Proportionately more will be lost, now that the stakes are higher, Price fears.
"Almost everyone urges measures to avert the crisis, although strategies differ," Price concludes in his essay. "Whether human beings can, in fact, take such control of their destiny remains to be seen."
Price's essay examines the context in which Malthus developed his ideas and their influence on subsequent thinkers. Price points out that Malthus was not "just a country parson," as he is sometimes portrayed, "but a man in touch with t
Contact: Roger Segelken
Cornell University News Service