Thomas Malthus redux

“It takes a good crisis to get us going. When we feel fear and we fear loss we are capable of quite extraordinary things.”

(Paul Gilding)”

Thomas Malthus got it right. It’s a pity we took a century and a half to admit it..

He pointed out that “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”, in other words, you can’t expect continuous growth of consumption on a finite planet. He was vilified in his lifetime with the same fervour that the denial industry applies to climate change advocates today. More so in fact. His predictions of when we’d hit the wall didn’t turn out to be correct so his reputation has been assaulted ever since.

But he was right. His predictions went astray because he had no way of anticipating that the discovery of oil would allow us to extend the illusion of “sustainable growth” for another century or so by mining the sun’s energy from past millenia.

Paul Gilding spells it out in this 17 minute TED talk:

Have we used up all our resources? Have we filled up all the livable space on Earth? Paul Gilding suggests we have, and the possibility of devastating consequences, in a talk that’s equal parts terrifying and, oddly, hopeful.

Paul Gilding is an independent writer, activist and adviser on a sustainable economy. Click through to watch the onstage debate that followed this talk.