Video: Ian Angus on 'The Malthus Myth'

Most of what you’ve heard about Malthus is wrong. He didn’t predict a population explosion, and he didn’t think we should control our population. His real goal was to convince people that society cannot be improved, that most people will always be poor.

The Malthus Myth: Population, Poverty and Climate Change
Ian Angus, editor of Climate and Capitalism, speaking at Socialism 2010 in Toronto, May 22, 2010

Many thanks to Pance Stojkovski, who recorded this presentation and edited it for LeftStreamed

PLEASE NOTE: This talk, includes a misleading comment on emissions generated by the US military in Iraq. I said:

Between 2003 and 2006, U.S. military action in Iraq alone generated more CO2 emissions than 139 countries. … If the entire population of  more than 100 Third World countries disappeared overnight, it would have less effect on global warming than abolishing the U.S. military.

I should have said:

Between 2003 and 2006, U.S. military action in Iraq generated more CO2 emissions than each of 139 countries. … If the entire population of  any of more than 100 Third World countries disappeared overnight, it would have less effect on global warming than abolishing the U.S. military.

I apologize for the error, which was the result of speaking from rough notes. The environmental devastation caused by the U.S. in Iraq is great enough without me exaggerating it.  —Ian Angus

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Jeff White
6 years 15 hours ago

Capitalism requires growth in order to survive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that capitalism requires unlimited population growth. It is not uncommon nowadays for an advanced capitalist country to have economic growth alongside of declining population. Indeed, capitalist ideologues are often the biggest boosters of plans to curb population growth.

In 1969 Richard Nixon established a Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, chaired by John D. Rockefeller III. In presenting the Commission’s report, Rockefeller observed:

“After two years of concentrated effort, we have concluded that, in the long run, no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the Nation’s population, rather that the gradual stabilization of our population through voluntary means would contribute significantly to the Nation’s ability to solve its problems. We have looked for, and have not found, any convincing economic argument for continued population growth. The health of our country does not depend on it, nor does the vitality of business nor the welfare of the average person.”

6 years 1 day ago

Pretty much everything he said makes complete sense. I had no idea Malthus was such a monster, but then again, I’m not surprised.

One thing he said I have to disagree with, however – that populationism provides a solution that doesn’t require one to question capitalism. A necessary foundation of the capitalist system is unchecked growth. Countries whose populations are declining are facing economic problems due to the fact that they rely on capitalism.

If one of the foundations of capitalism, growth and therefore population growth, is proven to be completely unsustainable, then that shows that capitalism isn’t working. And it’s true that unchecked growth is unsustainable, and given the rate at which the first world is consuming resources, population growth is a problem. For the rich. As long as they continue to consume the way they do, their very presence on this earth threatens our livelihood.

6 years 3 months ago

I really enjoyed your argument about how there are always people complaining that there are too many poor (non-white) people that are causing issues and seem to ignore the fact that it may (and likely is) the rich people that are at fault, and the mention of the US military that causes the majority of the CO2 emissions. Would you suggest that the government is aware of this, and if so, would they be willing to come up with any sort of solution?

Also, in regard to the comment that there are more people dying than people replacing them in countries like Japan and Korea, how do you think that it will affect the population growth over time? Would it simply decrease and then have a sudden “boom” again?

6 years 3 months ago

Regardless of what he was trying to do politically the facts of exponential growth remain true. Exponential growth is counterintuitive and few people grasp it. Without fossil-fuels the earth can support about 2 billion people. We will reduce gradually, or nature will do it her way.