An examination of the English population during the 19th century shows that from 1801 to 1901 the English population grew from 8.9 million to a staggering 32.5 million. This means that within the span of 100 years, or precisely 2 generations, the population tripled in size creating a unique problem within Great Britain.
It must be noted that during the 19th century England was undergoing a distinct cultural and social change brought about by the industrial revolution. As populations grew so to did the various populations centers however instead of effectively spreading out people tended to concentrate themselves within particular centers leading to the problem of overpopulation.
In 1798 the English economist and demographer Thomas Malthus stated with population growth following an exponential trend but with food production developing linearly, food demand would eventually outstrip food supply capacity resulting in mass starvation which would in effect naturally cull the population. While such an argument is inherently fatalistic, for me, it does indeed have some merit.
While various critiques may state that Malthusian pessimism was proven wrong in the 19th century wherein instead of starvation massive migrations took place the fact remains that it is logical to assume that a closed off system with limited resources cannot hope to contain exponential population growth.
I group myself among the Malthusian pessimists due to the irrevocable truth that the Earth is a closed off finite system of resources that cannot hope to endure consistent population growth. The fact is even now I can see the results of an overburdened ecological system with forests turning into deserts, harsh droughts and fierce storms being common and the inevitability of a culling of the population coming soon in the future.
For me, the reason why Malthusian pessimism was shown to be faulty during the 19th century was due to the fact that it neglected to take into account the potential for populations to migrate to areas with more resources. My view takes into account the current global situation wherein humanity at the present does not have the means to merely transfer to another resource rich location.
Based on humanity’s current technological level and the rate in which it develops, it is unlikely that the technology can develop to a point in the immediate future where people could easily just transfer to another planet. Not only are the distances infeasible but even if it were attempted only the smallest fraction of the current population could even do so.
On the other hand various theorists, such as Lomborg state that the Malthusian premise regarding population growth and proper resource growth is faulty. They state that with developing technologies in food production the Earth itself could provide exponential growth in terms of food production as well. They cite technologies that have created greater harvests and faster growing rates for livestock.
For me such a view, while based on scientific fact, is inherently naive since even if food production could be increased beyond a linear fashion the fact remains that exponential population puts far too much of a strain on the global ecology that eventually it can be expected that the planet’s ecology may fall under the strain.
While such a view may seem to be fatalistic for me it is a realistic assumption of possible future events should exponential population growth continue.