Tom Hanks Appears To Endorse Malthusian Theory
In 2016, the American actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks appeared on the Today television show on NBC, where he discussed, amongst other things, the theories of Thomas Malthus.
Malthus was an influential British economist, best known for his theory on population growth, which he outlined in his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population. His theory, still referred to today as the Malthusian Theory, argued that a continued increase in human population would affect our ability to provide enough food to sustain everybody equally. It suggested that human population growth could outpace agricultural development and food production.
Hanks’ appearance on NBC was primarily to discuss his 2016 film Inferno, based on the Dan Brown novel of the same name. The plot involves a hunt across Europe for Zobrist, a villain who believes that drastic measures are needed to address human overpopulation before the planet can no longer cope. His ‘solution’ is to unleash a biological plague that will cause infertility in a third of the world’s population.
Discussing his film, and with reference to the Malthusian Theory, Tom Hanks told his NBC hosts that he had been taught the word ‘triage’ by a history professor when he was a student at Chabot College. Hanks revealed that his professor told him the word “represented the concept that eventually, the world will have too many people in it in order to subsist on its own.” He added that this was what Inferno is about and that, in his opinion, “the quantum physics of overpopulation – in an instant there could be too many people on the earth. And actually the math does add up.”
Triage, in the context referred to by Hanks, was explained by Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 book The Population Bomb. Ehrlich endorsed this idea of ‘triage’, where countries could be ranked by their ability to feed themselves. If a nation was deemed to be overpopulated, food aid to that country could be stopped.
Controversially, Ehrlich also proposed that, to control the world’s human populations, governments may consider introducing sterilants into supplies of water or popular foods. He later rejected this idea as impractical due to the lack of medical research in this area.
Malthus and Ehrlich certainly didn’t go as far as to suggest unleashing a virus to keep the human population in check, unlike the late Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. In 1988, the (then) Queen’s consort was quoted as saying:
“In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, to contribute something to solving overpopulation.”
With the world’s population having increased by 1 Billion in the last decade alone, was Thomas Malthus right to be concerned about our future? In the 21st century, the Malthusian Theory is commonly dismissed, based on the fact that Malthus could not have predicted how advanced modern farming and food production techniques would become. However, there certainly remains an issue with inequality and fair distribution of food across the world, with food scarcity predicted to become a critical issue as the human population spirals towards 10 billion by 2050. The combined threats of climate change, pollution, and depleting natural resources will inevitably lead to more people and less to go round.
An increasing number of people means that more food is consumed and food production is intensified. In turn, this leads to higher energy usage, increased CO2 emissions and more pollution. Current studies also show that population growth reduces the quality and availability of natural resources due to overuse, intensive farming and land fragmentation. According to AZo Life Sciences:
“At the current food consumption rate, if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average US citizen, four Earths would be needed to sustain them.”
And according to the United Nations, current food systems around the world, even in developed countries, are not sufficient to combat malnutrition. In 2019, almost 690 million people were undernourished, a situation driven by poor economic growth, war or conflict, humanitarian emergencies, disease and virus outbreaks, pests and climate change (including drought and extreme weather events).
So, although frequently criticised, was Thomas Malthus right about our planet one day being unable to equitably sustain the number of humans that would inhabit it? Tom Hanks is one of many who appear to think so!
“The more of us there are, the more we have to take from the planet to survive.” Yan Vana – Author of The Message
Submitted by Friends of Retha