PEOPLE ARE GETTING RICHER — SOME PROBLEM! Global population hits 8 billion, but per-capita consumption is still the main problem.
Scientists have been debating such demographic issues at least since the 18th century, when Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population, arguably the first global treatise on the relationship between population growth and scarcity. A few decades later, however, the Industrial Revolution (which the British economist had failed to anticipate) ushered the world into an era of abundance, relegating Malthus’s grim predictions about the inevitability of scarcity to the margins of scientific debate.
In a bestselling book published in the late 1960s, The Population Bomb, Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich brought the topic back, advocating for immediate action to limit population growth on a finite planet. This recommendation was reiterated a few years later by the Club of Rome, an international network of scientists and industrialists. Its 1972 report The Limits to Growth aptly demonstrated the dynamic relationship between increasing consumption and the idea of “planetary boundaries” which cannot be crossed without risking severe environmental change.
Translation: The doomsayers are always wrong except for this time*.
*Repeat as necessary.