Two hundred years ago, Thomas Malthus, in An Essay on the Principle of
Population, reached the conclusion that the number of people in the
world will increase exponentially, while the ability to feed these
people will only increase arithmetically (21). Current evidence shows
that this theory may not be far from the truth. For example, between
1950 and 1984, the total amount of grain produced more than doubled,
much more than the increase in population in those 34 years. More
recently though, these statistics have become reversed. From 1950 to
1984, the amount of grain increased at 3 percent annually. Yet, from
1984 to 1993, grain production had grown at barely 1 percent per year,
a decrease in grain production per person of 12 percent (Brown 31).
Also strengthening to Malthus? argument is the theory that the world
population will increase to over 10 billion by 2050, two times what it
was in 1990 (Bongaarts 36). Demographers predict that 2.8 billion
people were added to the world population between 1950 and 1990, an
average of 70,000 a year. Between 1990 and 2030, it is estimated that
another 3.6 billion will be added, an average of 90,000 a year (Brown
31). Moreover, in the 18th century, the world population growth was 0.
34%; it increased to 0.54% in the 19th century and in the first half of
the 20th century to 0.84% (Weiskel 40).
Neo-Malthusians base their arguments on the teachings of Thomas Malthus.
Of the Neo-Malthusians, Garrett Hardin is one of the most prominent
and controversial. Hardin?s essays discuss the problem of
overpopulation and the effects it will have on the future. In Lifeboat
Ethics, he concludes that continuous increases in population will have
Neo-Malthusian arguments come under much scrutiny by those who believe
that the population explosion is only a myth. Those who hold these
beliefs state that the evidence Neo-Malthusians use to justify their
views is far from conclusive. Critics hold that the Neo-Malthusian
call for authoritarian control is much too radical. Thus, these
critics belittle the theories of Neo-Malthusians on the basis that
population is not a problem.
However radical Hardin?s theories may be, current evidence shows that
he may not be too far off the mark. It is hardly arguable that the
population has increased in the past few decades, for current
statistics show that this actually is the case. Equally revealing, is
the fact that vast amounts of land are being transformed into more
living space. More people means more waste, more pollution, and more
development. With this taken into consideration, it seems that
Hardin?s teachings should no longer fall on deaf ears.
When discussing the issue of population, it is important to note that
it is one of the most controversial issues facing the world today.
Population growth, like many other environmental issues, has two sides.
One side will claim that the population explosion is only a myth,
while the other side will argue that the population explosion is
reality. Because of this, statistics concerning this subject vary
widely. But, in order to persuade, it is necessary to take one side or
the other. Thus, statistics may be questioned as to their validity,
even though the statistics come from credible sources.
The United States is the most populous country in the world, behind
only China and India. Unlike China and India though, the United States
is the fastest growing industrialized nation. The United States?
population expands so quickly because of the imbalance between
migration and immigration, and births and deaths. For example, in 1992,
4.1 million babies were born. Weighing this statistic against the
number of deaths and the number of people who entered and left the
country, the result was that the United States obtained 2.8 million
more people than it had gotten rid of (Douglis 12).
Population increases place great strain on the American society and
more particularly it causes tremendous destruction to the natural
environment. For example, more than half of the wetlands in the United
States are gone, and of all of the original forest cover, 90 percent
has been destroyed. This depletion has caused the near extinction of
over 796 individual plants and animals. At least part of the year, the
air that over 100 million people breathe is too dirty to meet federal
standards. And finally, almost 15 million people are subject to
polluted water supplies (Douglis 12). It is very likely that total
destruction of the environment can take place and probably will if
something is not done to curb the population growth.
When discussing Hardin?s essays it is necessary to confront the problem
of immigration. Immigration is responsible for approximately 40
percent of the population growth in the United States (Douglis 12).
The United States now accepts more immigrants than all other developed
countries combined (Morganthau 22). It is estimated that approximately
one million immigrants from all over the world are making the United
States their new home each year (Mandel 32). This estimate does not
include illegal immigration, which makes this total even greater
It is obvious that immigrants have a much better life in the United
States than in their previous homes. Immigrants come to the United
States to benefit from the United States? economy, and return to their
original homes with more money. Take for example a quote form a
Malaysian immigrant working illegally in the United States:
?If you take one dollar back to Malaysia, it is double the value. You
work here to earn U.S. dollars so you can greatly improve your living
standard in Malaysia.? (Mandel 32)
While immigrants benefit themselves by coming to the United States,
they leave natural born Americans competing for jobs.
By 2050, it is estimated that the population of the United States will
be close to 383 million. Of this, approximately 139 million, or 36
percent, will be immigrants and their children. This will make
Americans of European descent, which in 1960 were an 89 percent
majority, a minority of less than 50 percent (Brimelow 42).
Immigration poses great threats to the national economy, and costs
taxpayers millions of dollars every year. Studies show that post-1970
immigrants, legal and illegal, used $50.8 billion of government
services in 1992. Subtracting the $20.2 billion they paid in taxes,
the difference, which American taxpayers had to make up, was $30.6
billion. These figures, averaged out, account for $1,585 for every
immigrant. Over the next ten years, it is estimated that an additional
$50 billion in American tax money will go toward supporting immigrants
According to Garret Hardin?s idea of Lifeboat Ethics, continuing to add
to the population of the United States will create many hardships. In
order to bring the population within a reasonable number, Hardin
suggests population control. Like other Neo-Malthusians, he states
that this can only be accomplished under authoritarian government.
Under authoritarian control, couples would no longer be able to receive
private benefits from reproduction, while they pass the costs of their
fertility on to society (Chen 88). He claims that individual rights–
particularly reproductive rights–are too broad. He argues that
population control cannot be achieved with birth control alone. Birth
control simply gives the person the choice of when to have children and
how many to have (Chen 90). Thus, in order to attain a stable
population, the right to reproduce freely can no longer be allowed.
Hardin begins his argument by noting that poor countries have a GNP of
approximately $200 per year, while rich countries have a GNP of nearly
$3,000 a year. Thus, there are two lifeboats: one full of equally
rich people, the other disastrously overcrowded with poor people.
Because of the overcrowding in the poor lifeboats, some people are
forced into the water, hoping eventually to be admitted onto a rich
lifeboat where they can benefit from the ?goodies? on board. This is
where the central problem of ?the ethics of a lifeboat? becomes a
primary issue. What should the passengers on the rich lifeboat do
First, Hardin notes that the lifeboat has a limited carrying capacity,
which he designates at 60. Fifty people are already aboard the
lifeboat, leaving room for 10 more. He also notes that the 10 empty
spaces should be left empty in order to preserve the safety factor of
the boat. Assuming there are 100 swimmers waiting to be taken aboard,
what happens next (Hardin 223)?
Hardin suggests three solutions. First of which is to allow all 100
people to board the lifeboat. This would bring the total passengers of
the lifeboat to 150. Because the boat only has a capacity of 60, the
safety factor is destroyed, and the boat becomes overcrowded.
Eventually the lifeboat sinks and everyone drowns. In Hardin?s words,
?complete justice, complete catastrophe? (Hardin 224).
The second solution is to allow only 10 more people on the boat,
abolishing the safety factor, but keeping the boat from becoming too
overcrowded. The problem with this solution though is which swimmers
to let in, and what to say to the other 90 left stranded in the water
The final solution is to allow no one in the boat, thus greatly
increasing the chances of survival for the 50 passengers already on
board. This solution, to many of the passengers, would be wrong, for
they would feel guilty about their good luck. Hardin offers a simple
response: Get out and give up your seat to someone else. Eventually,
if all of the guilt ridden people relinquish their seats, the boat
would be guilt free and the ethics of the lifeboat would again be
restored (Hardin 224).
Hardin next argues the issue of reproduction. He notes that
populations of poor nations double every 35 years, while the
populations of rich nations double every 87 years. To put it in
Hardin?s perspective, consider the United States a lifeboat. At the
time Hardin wrote his essay, the population of the United States was
210 million and the average rate of increase was 0.8% per year, that is
doubling in number every 87 years (Hardin 225).
Even though the populations of rich nations are outnumbered by the
populations of poor nations by two to one, consider, for example, that
there are an equal number of people on the outside of the lifeboat as
there are on the lifeboat (210 million). The people outside of the
lifeboat increase at a rate of 3.3% per year. Therefore, in 21 years
this population would be doubled (Hardin 225).
If the 210 million swimmers were allowed onto the lifeboat (the United
States), the initial ratio of ?Americans? to ?Non-Americans? would be
one to one. But, 87 years later, the population of ?Americans? would
have doubled to 420 million, while the ?Non-Americans? (doubling every
21 years) would now have increased to almost 3.5 billion. If this were
the case, each ?American? would have more than 8 other people to share
with (Hardin 225).
Immigration causes more problems than those discussed by Hardin. It
causes social friction, and the decline of English-speaking Americans
(Morganthau 22). As more and more immigrants poor into American cities,
they collectively will feel no need to learn the English language. If
one city becomes a majority of immigrants rather than a majority of
natural born Americans, tension is the result. This tension will
result in societal separatism, which will finally lead to political
separatism (James 340).
There are many arguments that focus on the benefits of immigration.
Arguments that conclude that immigration creates jobs, promotes a
diverse culture, and even arguments that immigration may produce the
next Einstein. These arguments, that the United States should not
close its borders, come primarily from those people who claim that the
United States is a melting pot. If the United States continues to live
by the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, it is destined to
create more bad than good, not only socially and politically, but also
Arguments for immigration tend to miss the primary problem that
immigration causes: the environmental problem. Immigration means more
people. More people give rise to the need for more living space which
in turn leads to destruction of the environment. Even though
immigration may be beneficial in some ways, the United States must
protect its national identity, and even more importantly, it must
protect what land it has left.
Failure to close the doors to immigrants will continually increase
environmental, economic, and societal problems in America. Without
proper legislation, these problems will never be solved. Although
America is the land of opportunities, the environment must not be taken
for granted. For if it is, disaster is inevitable.
The Book of Genesis tells the story of creation of man. God said to
man, ?be fruitful and increase in numbers; fill the earth and subdue it.
? Prior to the nineteenth century, it was believed that God would
provide for those who came into the world (Day 101). But, in 1798,
this view was shaken by Thomas Malthus? An Essay on the Principle of
Population, in which he concluded that while population increases
geometrically, agricultural production only increases arithmetically.
Thus, eventually, food production will not be able to keep up with an
increasing number of people. The question is, which theory can be
Those who say the we always have room for more people fall into the
category who feel that the Bible justifies increases in population.
What these people fail to understand is that when more people are added,
the standard of living decreases. These people who say that living
space is near infinite may be correct in their beliefs. The question
is, which is more desirable: the maximum number of people at the
lowest standard of living–or a smaller number of people at a
comfortable standard of living (Hardin 58)?
In order to further exemplify how increasing population decreases the
standard of living, consideration should be given to a study done by
the National Institute of Mental Health. The study was done to show
the negative effects of overpopulation (Calhoun 6). This study shows
what the world has to look forward to if Garrett Hardin and Thomas
Malthus are correct.
Four male and four female mice were placed in an eight foot square cage.
The eight mice were not subject to problems they may have faced in
the outside world. In two years the eight mice turned in to 2,200 mice.
During this time, the effects of overcrowding had become relevant, as
not one newborn mouse had survived in the two year testing period.
Finally, after two years and three months, the final mouse (a female)
died (Calhoun 6).
During the experiment, various abnormalities were considered related to
the overcrowding. Once the carrying capacity of the cage was reached
(620), strange things started to occur. Aggressiveness and cannibalism
overcame some of the mice. Sexual activities became perverted. Some
mice become excessively active, while others became ?passive blobs of
protoplasm? (Calhoun 6).
One of the experimenters stated the implications of the study. He
noted that the mice were subject to a perfect universe, free from
disease, weather, etc. The mice progressed and took advantage of their
ideal habitat, but only until they ran out of room. The abnormalities
of the mice became so predominant that even after the mouse population
returned to its original carrying capacity (620), there was nothing
that could be done to alter their behavior. Before all of the mice
died some were taken out and placed in a new environment, left to
freely reproduce again. This resulted in failure though, as all of the
offspring soon died. In conclusion, the study showed that the
situation of the mouse population would grow worse until the animals
destroyed their entire world (Calhoun 6).
If this experiment would hold true for the human race, it is time
(maybe even past time) to make some changes. Either way, the earth is
not to be taken for granted. No longer can natural resources be used
as if there is an infinite supply. Even if there is an infinite supply
(and one may never know) sustainability remains to be the best way to
totally ensure that natural resources are used in the most effective
manner. But if natural resources are not infinite the future of human
survival is in jeopardy.
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Brown, Lester R. ?The Earth is Running Out of Room.? USA Today
Magazine, January 1995, pp. 30-32.
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