The world population has just hit a new peak: eight billion. As is often the case, there are heated debates about the planet’s so-called “carrying capacity” – the total number of people who can live on earth sustainably. Experts are generally divided into two camps. There are those who argue that we need to drastically reduce the human population to avoid ecological catastrophe. And then there are those who believe that technology will find smart solutions without any need to actively tackle the issue head-on.
Scientists have been debating such demographic issues at least since the 18th century, when Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle Of Population, arguably the first global treatise on the relationship between population growth and scarcity. A few decades later, however, the Industrial Revolution (which the British economist had failed to anticipate) ushered the world into an era of abundance, relegating Malthus’ grim predictions about the inevitability of scarcity to the margins of scientific debate.