Malthusian Catastrophe

Malthusian Catastrophe is a theoretical event that is named for the well-known economist, Thomas Malthus. The event is named for him because he was the first person to theorize that such an event could occur. Since that time, many people have agreed with him.

Thomas Malthus’ first published works regarding economics centered on his theory that population naturally increases faster than agricultural resources (or the food supply). He believed that the population would eventually get so large that there would not be enough food to sustain the people. If that were to happen, then natural checks would affect the population, greatly reducing it. War for resources, disease and famine would greatly increase and many people would die. This, in turn, should reduce the population enough to bring humankind back into balance with the resources the Earth (with our help) is capable of providing. In essence, that is Malthusian Catastrophe.

During Malthus’ time, his ideas on population were laughable to many of his peers. However, as time has progressed, we are realizing that Malthusian Catastrophe is possible. Thomas Malthus, on the other hand, thought that it was nigh on inevitable, barring a catastrophe of a different cause. We know now that this is not true. Little things like birth control, abortion and voluntary abstinence can easily steer us away from the road to Malthusian Catastrophe. Malthus did suggest this, but he also suggested that people, as a group could not stop the ‘vice’ of over breeding.

Now, we do know that, should Malthusian Catastrophe occur, it would be needed, in a way. For the species to survive, individuals must be able to eat. Unfortunately, the Earth’s population right now would dictate that possibly billions of people would have to die to restore the balance, but it would be natural and necessary at that point. However, there is the question of what would happen before the population became sustainable again. Hopefully, during the fight for resources, people will have the foresight not to allow any wars to become nuclear. We could at least hope for that. You can probably hold out virtually no hope that the starving people wouldn’t rape the Earth of all of its resources, possibly causing the extinction of many other species, both plant and animal.

A good example of how a Malthusian Catastrophe can reduce more than just the population is to look at the small scale Malthusian Catastrophe that occurred on Easter Island. The battle for resources was fierce and need for resources were strong. In the end, the people killed each other and left the island virtually barren. Easter Island used to be a lush, forested island. Thousands of years after the event occurred, there is still not one single tree on the island. It is not difficult to imagine humankind being capable of such a thing on a global scale. In fact, we are doing it already, as far as the trees are concerned.

As it stands, Malthusian Catastrophe is just a theory, however possible it is. It can easily be avoided by utilizing the means we already to have to stem population growth and even reverse it. If people as a group decide to take precautions against Malthusian Catastrophe (and other negative effects of over population), we may never need to know if Thomas Malthus was right or not.


What is Malthusian Catastrophe?, retrieved 3/30/10,

Malthusian Catastrophe, retrieved 3/30/10,