Malthusian Dreams

As we have previously examined, the idea that human population growth and presence is an affront to the earth and nature is grossly overstated and frankly, a myth. In a sad bit of irony, this myth and its resulting environmental extremism have their roots in the writings of an 18th century Anglican preacher named Thomas Malthus. Malthus was one of the first to suggest that environmental catastrophe would be brought on by the unchecked growth of the human population. A London talk by Benjamin Franklin sparked Malthus’ imagination. Franklin had proudly proclaimed to his English audience that the population of their former colonies was growing at a rate of 3 percent per year. Malthus, who fancied himself something of a mathematician, knew that this meant that America’s population was doubling every 23 years or so. He pondered this geometric progression, becoming increasingly concerned about the staggering numbers that would soon result. He imagined the boroughs filling up with people, until every available nook and cranny was choked with human misery. Malthus wrote in his widely published tract, An Essay on the Principle of Population: All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons. … Therefore … we should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and restrain those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. This perspective, especially shocking owing to the fact that Malthus was a member of the Christian clergy, served to persuade the British upper class to take up his cause against humanity. This horrific premise was made palatable by being presented as the “most humane” action given the pending “crisis.” How could the self-perceived bearers of civilization allow such human suffering to result by being indifferent to the unchecked reproduction of the lower classes? These Malthusians, as they came to be called, received coincidental reinforcement for their views from the rise of Darwinism and in particular the ideas of Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton. In Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development, Galton gave a pseudo-scientific gloss to what he saw as the declining genetic stock of the British nation. To counter this trend, he proposed an active policy of “eugenics,” a word he coined meaning “good births.” Eugenics would encourage more children from the “fit,” and fewer—or no—children from the “unfit,” with the ultimate goal of engineering the evolutionary ascent of man. You can see how this notion would have appealed to the British upper classes and it still holds strong appeal among secular humanist elites today. Malthus’ idea identified a plausible problem—runaway population growth—which aroused a primal fear among the wealthy, who felt threatened by the poor and their rising numbers. For Malthusians, Darwinism offered an alternative morality, which could justify their campaign against humanity (namely, the “lower” classes in the mind of the upper-class elites). I contend this same basic premise remains at the root of modern “population control” (e.g. Planned Parenthood) and to a growing extent, the “green movement” and environmental extremism. Another, almost greater, influence within environmental extremism is Marxism. Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace speculates that the latter 20th century collapse of communism left neo-Marxist activists floundering and without purpose. Hijacking the environmental movement would offer these displaced Marxists a new, and even more effective medium in which to oppose capitalist growth and by extension, capitalism itself. With the failure of political Marxism, the environmental movement and its “green language” offered a clever guise for the advancement of Marxist ideals. Moore, who now advocates a “common sense” approach to the environment, became disillusioned with the movement and said in a British documentary: By the mid-1980s, the environmental movement had abandoned science and logic in favor of emotion and sensationalism. … I think one of the most pernicious aspects of the modern environmental movement is the romanticization of peasant life. And the idea that industrial societies are the destroyers of the world. The environmental movement has evolved into the strongest force there is for preventing development in the developing countries. I think it’s legitimate for me to call them anti-human. Up to this point we have examined the foundations of environmental extremism that are driving the argument of climate change as a consequence of human activity. As you can see, this is about much more than environmentalism—at the heart of this issue there exist two competing worldviews. One is true and the other is not and so we seek to expose the truth as all truth edifies Christ who is the Truth. This is the basis of our examination. In the next installments we will begin to dissect the global warming debate, look at what is really happening relative to climate, and evaluate its alleged causes. [Editor’s Note: This is the third in a six-part series. Click on the links below to read the other articles.] Part One: Creation and the Human Equation Part Two: The Population Bomb & Other Fairy Tales Part Four: Cooking the Science Part Five: Sun May be Causing Global Warming—Seriously?   Michael Craven serves as the Director of the Colson Fellows Program at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.


S. Michael Craven


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