Lance Scranton: Welcome to Scare City
We are studying the ideas of Thomas Malthus in class as part of our unit on philosophy. Self-confidence, happiness, the good life, hardship, and self-esteem are the topics students gain knowledge about from the likes of Socrates, Senneca, Epicurus, and Montaigne. Mathus offers a truly apocalyptic view of civilizations that collapse due to the demands of population and the scarcity of resources. Put simply, there are too many of us and not enough energy, land, or water to sustain life unless, as he wrote, something takes place to adjust resources or population.
The implications of his scholarly writing are popular today among the environmentalists and in “elite” institutions around the world that proclaim the exponential population increases on the planet spell doom for all of mankind. Their essential premise is that the planet is driving headlong into disaster due to a scarcity of resources. Check out The Constant Investor website under “charts” for some truly remarkable world population data.
Socrates was pontificating well before Malthus came on the scene, and the Greek philosopher might have taken issue with the scarcity theory and was fond of asking a few clarifying questions before simply “following the herd.”
First, he would try and understand the difference between the ideologies of scarcity and abundance.
Energy is dependent on development, use, and technological advances that have made it clear during the past 10 years that scarcity may not be a pressing issue. Actual proven reserves of fossil fuel alone (this doesn’t include the increasing technological advances in alternative sources of energy) could provide 367 years of energy, even if we began consuming twice as much. Check out the BP Statistical Review of World Energy for more information.
Water is a huge issue in Colorado, not only because of natural droughts, but also due to the complicated nature of water rights issues that amounts to a major volume of Colorado’s water leaving the state. In the past few years, technological advances in desalination and high-rise agriculture, to name a few, have made it clear that water as a finite resource might not be as true today as we once thought.
Land has always been an issue, and for some people, the planet just seems to be getting smaller. But, long term trends in population are predicting a different future. By some estimates, 68 percent of humanity will live in urban centers by 2050, making land abundantly available. Sure, cities will have some thinking to do, but it is evident land scarcity won’t be as big an issue as we once thought.
Socrates might ask if scarcity is a reality or an ideology and if the idea of abundance might be an attitude that could shape our future. Environmentalism is important, but does it always have to be about anti-growth?
Technology has rapidly expanded our understanding of how our resources can be managed and how emerging nations can benefit from an attitude of abundance.
Thomas Malthus and the philosophers were serious about their view of the world, and we should be, too. Maybe we can all, as my students keep saying, “just sit down and talk about this stuff without everybody getting all extreme all the time.”
Lance Scranton is a teacher and coach at Moffat County High School.