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The History of Population studies: An Extended Book Report

Neurath, Paul. From Malthus to the Club of Rome and Back : Problems of Limits to Growth, Population Control, and Migrations. Columbia University Seminar Series. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1994.

Neurath has been teaching population biology for a number of years, and in this book, he takes that experience to reconsider the historical development of population consciousness.

Neurath, Paul. From Malthus to the Club of Rome and Back : Problems of Limits to Growth, Population Control, and Migrations. Columbia University Seminar Series. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1994.

Neurath has been teaching population biology for a number of years, and in this book, he takes that experience to reconsider the historical development of population consciousness.

His presentation of the pre-history of populations as prior to Thomas Malthus uncovers quite a few notables, from Aristotle, Confucious, Tertullian, Bodin, Machiavelli, Walter Raleigh, to the English political arithematicists, to the German university statisticians (those studying political states, an old meaning of statistics). One of the earliest estimates of what we would now call carrying capacity for humans – the maximum number of humans who could inhabit the earth at one time – was given by Johann Peter Suessmich (1707-1767) in 1741 as 13.942 billion people (p 33). The author then quotes a 1974 United Nations World Population Conference in Bucharest report that estimated that the earth’s population  would stabilize at around 13 billion people in the middle of the 22nd century (p 34) – far higher than the current 9 billion estimate stabilization by 2050.

Malthus’s codification of the population problem is that people can reproduce faster than agricultural capacity can be increased. As Neurath points out, ever since Malthus, the debate has shifted to just how rapidly agriculture can be expanded. In a sense, no one actually challenges Malthus’s premise that there is a limit to human population growth: the debate has been over just how close to the limit we are, and thus, whether we need to worry about this. The modern discussion of these matters, as enunciated by the Club of Rome, simply added resourced and/or pollution as additional factors along with agriculture which could potentially limit human population.

Through until 1950, virtually all discussion of the possible maximum human population size involved agricultural production alone as the limiting factor – although one researcher acknowledged that phosphate could also play a role. However, these researchers stated that estimates would vary wildly according to what average standard of nutrition was used, and according to estimates of possible productivity in different geographical areas, quite apart from any assumptions about future agricultural improvements. The estimates in this period generally ranged from 3 to 11 billion. Bear in mind that we currently have over 6 billion right now.

After 1950, the numbers increased, often up to 50 billion, and even as high as 100 billion. What happened? These later numbers used agricultural productivity that had been achieved by modern agriculture – this means heavily mechanized agriculture, often with multiple crops per year. Even higher numbers have been proposed, hypothesizing algae as the principal source of food. The author does not state what would happen with these theoretical values when cheap petroleum ceases to be available.

What Neurath does point out is that, from the 19th c. on, almost all the estimates, no matter how high, put that date at which such a maximum would be achieved as occurring roughly 200 years after the author’s proposal – thus, as he points out, far enough in the future for a technological solution to be found. The more recent computer models have considerably shortened the time span when the rubber meets the road – and he suggests that this is part of why the newer models have proved so controversial.

His later chapters refer to specific issues relating to models proposed in the 1970’s, such as the Bariloche model.

However, one chapter remains extremely relevant today: Chapter 7, The Price and Availability of Oil and the Food Situation in the Third World. Many people today are only dimly aware that, when increases in agricultural productivity are being touted, the reality is that those increases in productivity are in great part because of the addition of fertilizers, and the production of fertilizers such as phosphates are directly related to by-products from the petroleum industry. The rule of thumb for fertilizers is that one ton of fertilizer applied to a field will result in an increase in production of 3-8 tons of food. These numbers serve to make the non-farmer aware that artificial fertilization is a massive project, not like applying a few drops of liquid fertilizer, the way many apartment dwellers treat their houseplants. Add to that the need for gasoline to run the engines involved with irrigation,

Chapter 8 on the Chinese one-child policy gives the early history of the development and implementation of that system. That the Chinese had little choice but to adopt this system is shown by figures that he cited for the period from 1954 to 1973. In that period, the net growth in per-capita food consumption was 35% in the industrialized world, 9 % in the non-communist developing world, and only 7% in China. Considering that the one-child policy began being enforced just as China otherwise would have been experiencing a baby boom due to a large cohort of potential parents coming of age, the population dampening effect of this policy cannot be over-emphasized as a key to an enhanced standard of living for the Chinese people.

The final chapter takes up the history of mass migrations in the 19th – 20th centuries.

How relevant is this book, fifteen years later? A history of demographics is certainly still more than relevant, and a critical appraisal of the demographic models of the 1970s by someone who didn’t actually write them, and who thus maintained a level of objectivity about them, is still highly valuable.

While this work did not capture certain demographic trends, such as the development of negative population growth in Europe, it is nonetheless true that many of the issues laid out here have not been resolved

SheVille Team

We are a one-of-a-kind magazine that provides local, regional, national and international information about women’s lives and education, performing and visual arts and writing, the environment, green living and sustainability and regional Western North Carolina business, people and events. “Villages preserve culture: dress, food and dance are a few examples. As villages grow in population and turn into towns, local cafes make way for large American chains. Handmade leather sandals are discarded for a pair of Western sneakers. Due to its small size, a village fosters a tight-knit sense of community. explains the meaning of the African proverb, “It takes a village,” by stating that a sense of community is critical to maintaining a healthy society. Village members hold a wealth of information regarding their heritage: they know about the ancient traditions, methods of production and the resources of the land. When villages become dispersed or exterminated in times of war, this anthropological knowledge disappears. Large cities are not as conducive to growing and producing foods such as fruits and vegetables. Villages, on the other hand, usually have ample amounts of land and other resources necessary for growing conditions.” The Importance of Villages by Catherine Capozzi Our Mission provides readers with information important to women’s lives and well-being. We focus primarily on the areas of education & health, business & finance, the arts & the environment. We are particularly interested in local & regional resources, organizations & events.

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