Reality Blind - Vol. 1

So was Malthus a fiend? Was he simply “dead wrong,” or was he thinking clearly? You’ll find no shortage of opinions if you decide to Google this. And a majority will disagree with what’s being presented here, which is that his main point was not only valid, but obviously valid, as immediately appreciated by Darwin. It is the nature of heterotrophic life to attempt to reproduce more profusely than food does. This strategy allows life to use all of an available food resource, at the cost of any “excess” population dying off, with the population on the margin existing in a state of relative poverty, in which survival is not certain. This is not humane, but it is ecologically efficient and the main dynamic of animal life and the laws of nature. Malthus was not endorsing this state of affairs but describing his conclusions about reality. The reason he is considered to have been wrong is that, he predicted in 1798 a coming global famine which never materialized, and he has had scorn heaped upon his memory ever since. Again, he didn’t want there to be a global famine; he wanted to plan to ameliorate it. Yet he is remembered, if at all, as a kind of creepy guy with depressing ideas. Yet his main failure was in not predicting something which had no prior analog : the human “carbon pulse” which harnessed growing amounts of exosomatic energy to plow more land, transport more food, and generally keep “population growth” going for another two centuries. Why he should have been expected to anticipate this when nobody else in the world did either, is a fair question. Today if you seek to read about Malthus, you’ll come across all sorts of essays referencing human exceptionalism, destiny, humans being rational and clever, and so forth, because those ARE the current consensus views. That is, it is believed by those around us – to the extent they think about it at all – the reason a “Malthusian crash” did not occur is that he considered humans to be constrained by the physical world, but failed to take into account our superior cleverness, high morals, and perhaps being the “favorite child” of whichever god or gods one may believe in. In other words, this is another situation in which our “energy blindness” has led us to spurious conclusions. Indeed, if one looks around at today’s world through an “energy lens” rather than rose-tinted anth ropocentric glasses, it’s blindingly clear what happened: the problems anticipated by Malthus were held in abeyance by an unprecedented increase in food availability, leveraged by fossil energy, which has at this point ballooned the aggregate weight of all terrestrial vertebrates to over five times’ its prior value, while also allowing us to


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