The Population Problem

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Malthus, in An Essay on the Principle of
Population, reached the conclusion that the number of people in the world will
increase exponentially, while the ability to feed these people will only
increase arithmetically (21). Current evidence shows that this theory may not
be far from the truth. For example, between 1950 and 1984, the total amount of
grain produced more than doubled, much more than the increase in population in
those 34 years. More recently though, these statistics have become reversed.
From 1950 to 1984, the amount of grain increased at 3 percent annually. Yet,
from 1984 to 1993, grain production had grown at barely 1 percent per year, a
decrease in grain production per person of 12 percent (Brown 31). Also
strengthening to Malthus\' argument is the theory that the world population will
increase to over 10 billion by 2050, two times what it was in 1990 (Bongaarts
36). Demographers predict that 2.8 billion people were added to the world
population between 1950 and 1990, an average of 70,000 a year. Between 1990
and 2030, it is estimated that another 3.6 billion will be added, an average of
90,000 a year (Brown 31). Moreover, in the 18th century, the world population
growth was 0.34%; it increased to 0.54% in the 19th century and in the first
half of the 20th century to 0.84% (Weiskel 40). Neo-Malthusians base their
arguments on the teachings of Thomas Malthus. Of the Neo-Malthusians, Garrett
Hardin is one of the most prominent and controversial. Hardin\'s essays discuss
the problem of overpopulation and the effects it will have on the future. In
Lifeboat Ethics, he concludes that continuous increases in population will have
disastrous outcomes. Neo-Malthusian arguments come under much scrutiny by those
who believe that the population explosion is only a myth. Those who hold these
beliefs state that the evidence Neo-Malthusians use to justify their views is
far from conclusive. Critics hold that the Neo-Malthusian call for
authoritarian control is much too radical. Thus, these critics belittle the
theories of Neo-Malthusians on the basis that population is not a problem.
However radical Hardin\'s theories may be, current evidence shows that he may not
be too far off the mark. It is hardly arguable that the population has
increased in the past few decades, for current statistics show that this
actually is the case. Equally revealing, is the fact that vast amounts of land
are being transformed into more living space. More people means more waste,
more pollution, and more development. With this taken into consideration, it
seems that Hardin\'s teachings should no longer fall on deaf ears. When
discussing the issue of population, it is important to note that it is one of
the most controversial issues facing the world today. Population growth, like
many other environmental issues, has two sides. One side will claim that the
population explosion is only a myth, while the other side will argue that the
population explosion is reality. Because of this, statistics concerning this
subject vary widely. But, in order to persuade, it is necessary to take one
side or the other. Thus, statistics may be questioned as to their validity,
even though the statistics come from credible sources.

Lifeboat Ethics

The United States is the most populous country in the world, behind only China
and India. Unlike China and India though, the United States is the fastest
growing industrialized nation. The United States\' population expands so quickly
because of the imbalance between migration and immigration, and births and
deaths. For example, in 1992, 4.1 million babies were born. Weighing this
statistic against the number of deaths and the number of people who entered and
left the country, the result was that the United States obtained 2.8 million
more people than it had gotten rid of (Douglis 12). Population increases place
great strain on the American society and more particularly it causes tremendous
destruction to the natural environment. For example, more than half of the
wetlands in the United States are gone, and of all of the original forest cover,
90 percent has been destroyed. This depletion has caused the near extinction of
over 796 individual plants and animals. At least part of the year, the air that
over 100 million people breathe is too dirty to meet federal standards. And
finally, almost 15 million people are subject to polluted water supplies
(Douglis 12). It is very likely that total destruction of the environment can
take place and probably will if something is not done to curb the population
growth. When discussing Hardin\'s essays it is necessary to confront the
problem of immigration. Immigration