A Bicentennial Malthusian Essay: Conservation, Population and the Indifference to Limits

Learn more: the Malthusian Bicentennial

NPG Executive Director Sharon McCloe Stein’s Review

“In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus wrote the controversial Essay on the Principle of Population in which he stated: “… the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” Two hundred years later, a far more congested world must make room for 250,000 more people every day (total births minus total deaths). Malthus suggested there might be an inverse relationship between the quantity and quality of human life.  Approximately one billion people now go to bed hungry every night. Several hundred thousand die of malnutrition every year. Violence and hostility are in the rise in increasingly overpopulated regions.  Malthus recognized limits. Was he just a “squeezing, grasping, covetous old sinner” inspiring Dickens’ fictional Scrooge? Or does the Malthusian message of 1798 have relevance to the present world?” 


“Just as Malthus did two centuries ago, John astutely points out that ignoring population will result in more than an indifference to limits. It’s sure to prove ruinous.”
-Keith Schneider
Executive Director,
Michigan Land Use Institute


“Get ready for some straight talk you might find difficult to hear.  Like Malthus before him, you may not always agree with what John Rohe has to say. But his essay is oddly hopeful if enough of us question, as he does, the path we’re on and begin to blaze a new one.”

-Julie Stoneman,
Land Programs Director,
Michigan Environmental Council 



There is no remedy that can possibly avert disastrous Climate Change and Global Warming unless we first address the problem of world population size and growth, and its impact on the size of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.That means that we need to address the population size and growth of each nation, which together make up the world total.

World population, now over 7.3 billion, is predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050, an increase of almost two billion, or 23%, in the short space of only 34 years from now.In the highly unlikely event that per capita greenhouse gas emissions could possibly be decreased by an equal percentage in such a short space of time (a blink of an eye) the total amount of worldwide emission would remain the same!

From this simple illustration it would appear that without drastically reducing the size of world population, there is no solution to the problem.None at all.So then why do our world leaders pretend that there is one?What is to be gained by pretending rather than by proposing a solution that would solve the problem – a reduction in the size of world population to not more than 1- 2 billion?
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