Malthusianism as a potential solution to the environmental crisis

Malthusianism is an ideology that proposes that without moral restraint, population will continue to increase at a higher rate than what the Earth can sustain. In our contemporary society, it is an undeniable fact that the planet is experiencing vast environmental destruction. The human population is to blame for the current ecological crisis as the world population continues to increase and deplete available resources. The remaining resources are not enough to sustain the current rate of human population growth. To decrease population growth, governmental policies to decrease human fertility must be implemented. In addition, access to reproductive health services is important in developing countries where fertility rates tend to be higher. Immigration from emerging countries to rich countries through Malthusianism expansionism can help control population growth in critical areas. Resource rationing should be implemented through Marxism in order to put an end to capitalist societies that continue to create fictitious needs and destroy the environment with unnecessary production of articles.

Is Malthusiansim the best solution to the contemporary environmental crisis? Yes, this ideology is the best solution to the current ecological crisis. Malthus proposed that the entire problem of the ecological crisis is exponential population growth because resources are scarce. Environmentalist Malthusians believe that it is a human right to not have children for the well-being of society and the planet. Foucault argues that humans must be forced to follow the rules and be strictly governed. Furthermore, the current government is responsible for the wellbeing of all the people who are governed. For Malthusiansim to be successful, population growth, immigration and resource rationing should be controlled, regulated and enforced by the government.

What is Malthusianism?

Malthusianism, a theory about population growth and food supply, originated in An Essay on the Principle of Population by Malthus. Malthusianism is a potential solution to the current environmental crisis. Malthus’ demographic theory, developed during the late 16th and early 17th century, was a cohesive and predictive model for the behaviour of human populations. Malthus explained that Earth resources are limited, therefore it is important to bring awareness to society of the scarcity of resources and the importance of rationing those resources. Malthus believed that populations increase exponentially, while resources increase linearly. Exponential population growth leads to environmental problems and the rapid reduction in Earth’s resources. Furthermore, wasting resources could lead to premature death, misery and hunger. A

decrease in the growth rate of the population is a proposed solution to environmental destruction.

Neo-Malthusianism is a new kind of thinking that arose with the current climate crisis. Neo-Malthusianism reintroduces the ideological and classical elements of Malthus\’ theory for the analysis of current environmental problems. The key difference is that capitalism has changed, and society\’s structure and neo-Malthusianism takes that into account.

Population Control

To reduce population growth, it is essential to consider methods to decrease the birth rate. These methods can range from biological solutions (e.g. contraceptives/prophylactics) to governmental policies (e.g. a “one-child policy”). Since 1972, when the Supreme Court legalized birth control for all citizens in the United States, the use of birth control around the world has increased. According to the World Bank, the birth rate in the United States has decreased from 2.48 births per woman in 1970 to 1.766 births per woman in 2016. Malthus governmental policies have been deemed unethical by human rights activists, but they have proved to be effective in reducing population growth.An end to environmental destruction necessitates a decline in the population growth rate, especially in developing countries (Munuz-Rubio,1998). Brazil is a prime example of how population growth has affected the environment. In the 1960s, when the government tried to address the poverty crisis, they encouraged impoverished Brazilians to move into the Amazon basin. The county’s military rulers promised the impoverished population land, rapidly increasing migration to this new area of the country. The result of this massive migration was a land rush where people were profiteering from slash and burn agriculture (Tollefson, 2013). The population of Brazil continues to increase along with the poverty of the country. People do not have an option for higher education and continue to be part of a cycle of poverty with minimal-to-no access to reproductive health services.

Malthus further hypothesized that population growth would be balanced by a natural, preventative fertility check provided by the unequal distribution of natural resources and the fatalistic nature of humans. The current climate change crisis is an early manifestation of this proposal, whereby humans have depleted Earth’s natural resources — in particular, fossil fuels and minerals — and the planet has fought back with natural disasters (e.g. droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, failed crops). This has led to a division of society into two distinct groups: climate change “believers” and “deniers” (Rothschild, 1995). His theory talks about two types of checks — preventive and natural checks — that would correct this disequilibrium. These checks would lead to a “Malthusian Catastrophe” that would eventually bring the population to a sustainable level. 

A neo-Malthusian researcher, Paul Ehrlich, was influenced by Malthus’ theories and brought them into the 20th century in his book The Population Bomb. The central theme of this book was that the cause of all contemporary environmental problems was accelerated by population growth and overpopulation. Elrich proposed that facing an “eco-catastrophe”, society must take extreme measures to cut out “the cancer of population growth” (Ehrlich, 1978). Access to reproductive health services is essential to decrease unwanted pregnancies and control population growth. Countries like China and India have implemented government policies to control population growth in the past. For example, in China, a Malthusian family planning one-child strategy was introduced 35 years ago and has significantly decreased the birth rates from 2.75 births in 1979 to 1.62 births in 2016. By 2050, the Chinese population is expected to start shrinking, demonstrating that the one-child policy was a success in terms of reducing population growth rates (Kou, 2019).  In 1975, Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi promoted her son Sanjay’s compulsory sterilization program in order to control population growth. The program required men with two or more children to undergo vasectomies (Robertson and Cronon, 2005).Access to contraceptive methods are essential in impoverished countries in Latin America and Africa, which tend to have higher birth rates than first-world countries because women lack access to reproductive health services. For example, in Ethiopia (the most populous country in Africa), family planning reduced the fertility rate from 5.5 in 2000 to 4.6 in 2018 (Paek, Kim, Cho et al., 2018). Organizations like SHAPE are giving a woman a choice of whether or not they want children and when they want to have them. Slowly, it has become culturally acceptable to have fewer children and have them later in life after completing personal career goals. Focusing on reproductive health services has been an essential way of executing necessary cultural change in third-world countries around the world (Dean, 2015).

The current climate change crisis is caused by an exponential growth in human populations. Therefore, it is necessary to control human population in order to reduce human impact on the planet’s resources. Malthusianism is a paradigm for recurrent problems with human fertilization and procreation given limited resources and space (Dean, 2015). Biological solutions and governmental policies are essential in order to decrease the birth rate. Developing countries like Brazil tend to have larger populations and higher poverty. Governmental policies regulating the number of children a family can have is an excellent solution to decrease population growth rates. Access to prophylactics is important in order to decrease unwanted pregnancies and lower birth rate. Malthus believed natural forces would correct the disequilibrium between resources and overpopulation.


Malthusian expansionism is composed of two seemingly contradictory ideas: (1) that new land abroad should be available to accommodate surplus people from an overpopulated society, and (2) resources and land should be available in the domestic society to promote overall population growth. The logic behind this theory stems from the idea of overpopulation, but not the pressures, effects, and consequences of actual overpopulation. In other words, some citizens from the domestic society feel the need to emigrate due to a feeling of overpopulation; however, no real, physical consequences of overpopulation have been realized. Then, the society is able to flourish in both the new land abroad and domestically (Lu, 1981). It is an undeniable fact that some cities are overpopulated, and others are looking for people to populate them because of the lack of immigration.

A way to control population growth is by promoting migration to areas that are less populated. For example, during the 17th century, England was in a state of crisis due to the plague, crop failures and civil war — it was a tough period to survive. This led to a mass migration to America where the population was small, space was available, and resources were plentiful (Smith-Laing, 2017). According to Robertson (2012), overpopulation in Asia, Latin America and Africa in the 1960s was identified by US policy-makers as the leading cause of poverty in these areas. Population growth is also the main cause of ecological damage (Monuz-Rubio, 1998). Voluntary migration from developing countries to rich countries reduces income inequality. Emigration from a place with high rates of pollution to a place with stricter control may mitigate global warming (Harry, 1995).

Rich countries like Canada are not as concerned with the issue of overpopulating. Immigration can be something positive when it is regulated, but can be detrimental when out of control. Malthusian expansionism can be applied to the concept of immigration in Canada in a positive way. When travelling to western or northern Canada, where population density is low compared to other parts of the country, the benefits of immigration immigration are evident. Migration as a way of reducing overpopulation and poverty in other areas will depend on the rich countries\’ political needs.

Resource Rationing

Although Malthus did not fully comprehend how the industrial and agricultural revolutions would fundamentally alter demographics, he did discuss resource rationing and how resources are limited. Neo-Malthusians believe that economic development in current times is threatening humankind by creating an ecological crisis (Munoz-Rubio, 1995). Many first-world countries currently operate as capitalist societies. Capitalism is a system entirely focused on profit in which consumption is subordinate to production. Presently we are living in a monopolistic, capitalist and imperialist period, based on creating false, superfluous needs and producing waste, which fuels the current environmental crisis. Neo-Malthusians demonstrated that it is impossible for the whole of humanity to live at the material level of the middle class in the USA, Japan or western Europe because of the waste of resources that are characteristic of those countries (Munoz-Rubio ,1995).

In the past, people would use something until it was not working anymore, or it was completely destroyed. Nowadays, the majority of consumer products are manufactured with an expiration date in mind — a so-called planned obsolescence (a planned  design product with an artificially limited useful life, so that it becomes obsolete, no longer fashionable or functional) after a certain period of time. With trends like fast fashion, people change their clothes every season — a wasteful and unsustainable habit. The constant production of superfluous and needless articles is one of the fundamental causes of the ecological crisis. Transnational corporations make huge profits from the production and repeated sales of these seemingly disposable items. It is vital to portray the morals and ethical side of what can be seen as having no meaning in a present-day, capitalist society.

To help society free itself from the current trends of disposable items and fictitious needs, personal morality and social values must be restored (Munoz-Rubio, 1998). The foundation of ethical capitalism is the creation of an endless amount of fictitious needs. For people to decrease the production of waste caused by their fictitious needs would be for them to understand that these needs are, in fact, not necessary. A capitalist system promotes the withdrawal of humankind from nature and makes humans focus more on materialistic gains. As a potential solution, neo-Malthusians propose a change in current consumption patterns by incrementing the “half-life of capital”. However, this proposal is fundamentally at odds with the core beliefs of capitalism. This dichotomy of conflicting paradigms parallels the contrasting relationship between climate change believers and deniers presented earlier.

Marxism, the belief that the government should control all resources and production, is a solution to control waste production and reduce society’s environmental impact. By eliminating the entire class system and giving resource control to the government, total societal equality can be maintained in theory. Marxism promotes the responsible extraction of resources and controlled economic progress with the marriage of science and ecology. Malthusianism, with the idea of resource-rationing in a Marxist way, could transform the world and help with the current environmental crisis.


The problem of population growth and its relation to the ecological crisis is tied to the ideology of governmentality. Michel Foucault proposed this concept, a portmonteau of “government” and “rationality”, to address the common neo-liberal form of governance, which rules by consent and subjugation of subjects rather than by domination, external control and/or oppression. Governmentality (the problem of government) is the regulation of behaviours (Sokhi-Bulley, 2014). The definition of what a government is has changed substantially as Foucault explains it in the following quote:This word [government] must be allowed the very broad meaning it had in the sixteenth century. ‘Government’ did not refer only to political structures or to the management of states; rather, it designated the way in which the conduct of individuals or of groups might be directed – the government of children, of souls, of communities, of the sick … To govern, in this sense, is to control the possible field of action of others. (Foucault, 1954-1984) Nowadays, with the contemporary definitions of government, there is no way to control capitalism, enforce strict environmental laws or population control.

Governmentality is a great way to regulate individuals, as governmentality strives to produce a governable subject. Foucault’s central theme is to make human beings controllable subjects. The problem with the current government is that the government works for the people and does not work to control the people. Governmentality can be thought of as three separate, but equally important components: the ensemble formed by institutions, procedures, and tactics against the target population; the inevitability whereby this form government to surpass all others; and thirdly, the tendency for newcomers to government to adhere to the standards of those around them — in other words, they become “governmentalized”. Governmentality is an art by which some people are taught the government of others and some let themselves be governed (Sokhi-Bulley, 2014). Foucault makes it very clear that man is who should be governed. He based his idea of governing man from Christian religious doctrine. Pastoral power strives to imitate shepherd flock relations between “deities and their men” or “kings and their subjects.” He stressed how pastoral power is benevolent, as the overall goal is the salvation of the entire flock. The shepherd always looks out for the wellbeing of each member as well as the whole flock. Foucault emphasized that a pastor would sacrifice himself for the flock as well as the whole flock for any member(Foucalt1977-1978).

To understand governmentality and how to govern a man, according to Foucault, one must pay attention to one of the expressions he emphasized — oikonomia psuchon — an ancient Greek phrase that means “the conduct of the souls.” Conduct consists of two things: first, the action of leading (conduire) and how one behaves, and how one finds oneself acting under the effect of conduct or leadership (Hoffman and Donnelly, 2006). By adopting Foucault governmentality theories, where the figure in power makes people follow the rules and the people being governed are forced to follow the rules or face consequences, there would be a chance to fix the environmental problems society is facing. A Malthusian solution can be applied to current ecological crisis and enforced by authoritative figures.

Regulating Immigration, Population growth and Resource Rationing 

Immigration must be regulated, and Malthusianism expansionism can be a positive thing, but the government must regulate it. Unregulated immigration can lead to civil strife due to overpopulation (Munoz-Rubio, 1998). Also, a system of choosing the most qualified people to migrate is the most beneficial for the host country, as they can contribute to their new society and not be a danger to society. Also, too much emigration from an area can have a negative effect because as the population decreases, the fertility rate of the people that remain home will increase. This happens because more space and more resources become available. Malthus opposed emigration from Britain in the 19th century because it was not regulated, and the benefits were only short term because this massive migration encouraged people to have more children (Abernathy, 1993). The one-child policy was useful because it was regulated and enforced. Hefty fines were in place for the people who broke the law and had more than one child. The fine was calculated depending on family income so that it would be fair for every citizen and prevent the rich from paying an affordable fine and continuing to have children. The Chinese government has collected over $315 bn since 1980 in fines (Kuo, 2019).  Over more than two centuries, Malthusians concerns over population at disequilibrium and environmental resources have proved to be a reality. Many Malthusian environmentalists have fought against the UN resolution of 1960, which stated that humans had the right to have children. Malthusian environmentalists argue that societies should have the right to curtail fertility and force sterilization. By helping societies to control population growth, the future of all human beings on Earth can be protected (Robertson, and Cronon, 2005). Foucault is another proponent of forced sterilization as he believed that in society, one individual must be sacrificed for the good of the whole society as the whole society must be sacrificed for one individual (Hoffman and Donnelly, 2006). Foucault raises the issue of controlling demographics in order to control resources.Malthus explained how resources are limited and emphasized the importance of rationing.

A Marxist system where everyone is treated equally and the classes are eliminated is the best way to end the current capitalist system that creates fictitious needs and drives waste production. In order to adopt Marxism, the government would have to enforce rationing and equal distribution of resources (Munoz-Rubio, 1998). The economic system would have to change to a command economy where the government, rather than the free market, determines which products are produced and how much will be produced (O\’Connell, 2018). In other words, the economy needs to be controlled by the government. If the government adopted a Malthusian environmentalist way of thinking and controlled the economy, a balanced society would be attainable in order to reduce society\’s ecological footprint. In order to enforce and regulate immigration, population growth and resource-rationing through the use of military and police force would be necessary. To Foucault, police were responsible for assuring the wellbeing of the people and wellbeing of the society as a whole (Hoffman and Donnelly, 2006).

Malthusianism is an ideology that proposes that population grows exponentially, and resources grow linearly. To decrease population growth, governmental policies and birth control should be enforced. Human fertility should be curtailed, and there must be access to reproductive health services. In developing countries, access to prophylactics has helped reduce fertility rates and change cultural ideologies of early marriage and large families (Robertson, 2012). Malthusianism expansionism can be a successful tool to help critically overpopulated areas recover in the short term (Lu, 2019). Marxism should be enforced to put an end to the capitalist ideologies that promotes the production of unnecessary articles. Orthodox Marxism leads us closer to deep ecologism and to the preservation of Earth (Munoz-Rubio, 1998). Foucault believed that the government should strictly control the people and create a governable subject. Furthermore, he believed that the government is responsible for the wellbeing of all the people who are governed and must therefore make all decisions for its citizens. For Malthusianism to be prosperous, population growth, immigration and resource rationing should be regulated and enforced by the authorities in charge. Is it ethical for a government to control peoples’ lives? Without a decline in population growth, there is no hope for the environment. Malthusianism is the best solution for the contemporary environmental crisis.