What is observed in the human population is that intensification of production to feed an increased poplulation invariably leads to a still greater increase in population. I’ve seen this called a paradox, but in fact, it’s only what the laws of ecology predict. Listen to it again: “Intensification of production to feed an increased population invariably leads to a still greater increase in popluation.”
Think of it as an experiment that has been performed annually in our culture for the last ten thousand years: Let’s see what happens if we increase food production this year. Hey, whaddya know, our population increased too! Let’s see what happens next year if we increase food production. Hey whaddya know, our population increased again! Do you suppose there’s a connection?
Nah, why would there be?
Well, what shall we do this year? Increase production or decrease production? Well, we gotta increase it, don’t we, because we’ve got more mouths to feed!
Okay, let’s increase food production again this year and see what happens. Wow, look at that! Population up again
Well, let’s increase production again and see what happens. Who knows, maybe this time the population will go down.
Nope, up again. Amazing
These thumbnail conversations describe the results of five annual experiments performed in ancient times. Imagine nine thousand nine hundred ninety-five more of them, bringing us up to the present year, when we have to ask ourselves, well, what are we going to do this year? Decrease food production?
No way, don’t be ridiculous.
Well, whaddya say, let’s just keep it the same as last year just for once. You know, see what happens?
Are you kidding? Civilization would crash and burn.
Why? If we produced enough food for five and a half billion people last year, why should civilization crash and burn if we produce enough for five and a half billion people this year?
Because enough for five and a half billion people wasn’t enough. Millions are starving.
Yeah, but everyone knows that this isn’t because food is lacking. The food is there, it’s just not getting to the people who are starving.
Look, didn’t we have this converstion in 1990?
Sure we had it in 1990
We had it in 1990 and in 1921 during the Russian famine and in 1846 during the Irish famine and in 1783 during the Japanese famine and in 1591 during the Italian famine and in 1315 during the European famine. God, I can remember having this conversation in the sixth century B.C. during the Roman famines.
Well, that’s the point I’m making. How many times have we run this experiment?
About ten thousand times. Ten thousand times we’ve decided to increase food production, and ten thousand times the population has gotten bigger. Doesn’t prove anything, of course. This time could be different. This time the population might go down.
Well, okay, let’s try it one more time. We’ll increase food production again this year and see what happens…
Hey, whaddya know. The poplulationwent up again this time. Quite a coincidence, huh?
from Story of B, by Daniel Quinn