Soylent Green

distributorcap NY

One day the premise of this movie might not be too far from reality.

Thomas Robert Malthus was an 18th century British economist who is best known for his theories and views on population growth. Malthus’ writings – An Essay on the Principle of Population — warned that overpopulation would bring severe poverty and shortages to societies and inevitably the entire planet. A crowded planet would stretch the limited resources of Earth – the only home we can ever have – to a breaking point or even a point of no return.

The way in which, these effects are produced seems to be this. We will suppose the means of subsistence in any country just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants. The constant effort towards population… increases the number of people before the means of subsistence are increased. The food therefore which before supported seven millions must now be divided among seven millions and a half or eight millions. The poor consequently must live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe distress

For you math people, Malthus believed population increased at a geometric rate (1,2,4,8,16), while food supply increased at an arithmetic rate (1,2,3,45). Guess which grows a lot faster?

The theories of Malthus (Malthusian economics) have had considerable influence over many philosophers and scientists and are still used in many analyses. Charles Darwin incorporated the doctrines of Malthus in his work on evolution. Many people believe that there is a limit to how many people the earth can support from an economic and vitality point of view. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb – which re-examined the issue of population outstripping food supply. Population theory has also been applied to political change and violence – and demographic factors strongly influence the roads a society takes. Of course there are detractors, but there is no doubt that the growth in the sheer number humans is dramatically changing a planet that is quickly being drained by its inhabitants.

Lets look at some facts and figures:

Year Milestone
1804 1,000,000,000
1927 2,000,000,000 123 years
1961 3,000,000,000 34 years
1974 4,000,000,000 13 years
1987 5,000,000,000 13 years
1999 6,000,000,000 12 years
2012 7,000,000,000 13 years
2025 8,000,000,000 13 years

It took 123 years for the population to double to 2 billion in 1927. It took 47 years to double again to 4 billion, and 51 years to double to 8 billion. While it seems that growth has slowed – from a percentage point of view – we are growing astronomically in absolute numbers. A low percentage growth does not mean the planet can continue to absorb, feed and house all these inhabitants.

Eleven countries have over 100,000,000 people – which is over 2/3 of the world’s total

China 1,320,000,000
India 1,130,000,000
USA 304,000,000
Indonesia 232,000,000
Brazil 187,000,000
Pakistan 163,000,000
Bangladesh 159,000,000
Nigeria 148,000,000
Russia 142,000,000
Japan 128,000,000
Mexico 108,000,000

19 cities have over 10,000,000 in the urban areas (top 10)

Tokyo 35,700,000
New York 21,100,000
Mexico City 20,500,000
Mumbai 19,200,000
Sao Paulo 18,900,000
Delhi 15,900,000
Shanghai 15,000,000
Calcutta 14,800,000
Dhaka 14,100,000
Buenos Aires 13,600,000

So is there an overpopulation problem? Many have argued that the world has been able to develop new technologies and methods to increase the food supply, find more energy and purify more water. But there has to be a limit – and when is that limit reached? And what of the other “side effects” from overpopulation

  1. the spread of disease and the mutation of other bacteria and viruses
  2. the destruction of ecosystems in the name of development
  3. the disappearance of plants and animals
  4. the change in climate
  5. increase in mental stress
  6. increase in violence
  7. increase in unsanitary living conditions
  8. decrease in non-renewable resources
  9. decrease in the availability of potable water
  10. decrease in living standards for all societies – the haves and have-nots

The idiot wing of the Republican Party (and maybe even some non-Republicans) believe the ‘market’ will correct itself out of this mess. Mutated viruses? Well someone will want to make enough money to discover the right vaccine/cure/panacea that will heal the world. Non-renewable resources running out? The ‘market’ will push people to develop substitutes – after all you will get rich!. Disappearing wildlife? The ‘market’ says who needs them – they are competing for the same things humans are – when was the last time an animal produced a car?.

You know what – the market is working. Since there are just too many people competing for too few things (like water, food and energy) – prices are rising and the limited resources out there are getting reallocated.

Problem is, this time around — the world cannot possibly support all the have-nots that are resulting from the combination of Malthusian population growth and capitalist economics. We are running of potable water, out of easy energy, out of clean air, out of stress-free psyches, and out of time. There are just too many people, and way too many of them have absolutely nothing – nothing but misery and hunger and despair – and now perhaps nothing to lose. We live in a country that often demands certain conditions (like the end of abortions) when doling out monies to help this crowded world improve. We have religious body with over 1,000,000,000 adherents that spurns birth control. We have extremely wealthy individuals who turn their backs on helping the very people who have made them wealthy. We have a population mess with no clean end in sight.

Soylent Green –


~ by distributorcap on April 21, 2008.

17 Responses to “Soylent Green”

  1. Give war a chance.

  2. It’s all my fault. I had four kids, what was I thinking?

    Great post, very scary, and I’m glad I’m old and I’m going to die. I’ll be the next batch of soylent green.

  3. Sometimes I think that war is the planet’s way of limiting our numbers. What a shame that enlightenment can’t be used instead. And I must add, NYC has 21 million people? I thought the number was closer to 7 million.
    Maryellen: I don’t have kids, so I have you covered. By the way, with enough time and heat, we eventually become petroleum. Sadly, we can’t eat it, but some humans are willing to kill for it.

  4. That was my favorite part of that movie. But who knows? The old gun toter may be right. But will we have to grind him up before or after we pry his weapon from his dead, cold hands?

    BTW, I saw this story in the NY Times on this a few days ago.

  5. Great post and what a great set up to it via Soylent Green.

    As for Spartacus’ link – the news, although no front pages, has been filled with stories about food shortages and rioting and so forth. I have not been able to write about it in a way that confounds me.

    You did a great job here though DCap. The reality is that the problems are closer than we think.

  6. Damn, I won’t even eat a fucking Filet Mignon, and now I have to eat my fat, sweaty, loud ass neighbor?

  7. fairlane you should see my very hairy neighbor across the street. I’d starve first.

  8. It’s curious to me that we spay and neuter our dogs and cats but straight people refuse to practice birth control. I’ve lived all over the country in more than 10 different states and I know for a fact that condoms as well as other forms of birth control are available free to anyone who wants it. There is simply no rational or compelling reason to give birth to 4, and 5 and 6 children today. Especially, when there are hundreds of thousands of kids in foster care who desperately need homes. I’m sure what I say will piss off a few people and that’s OK with me but, if you’re going to fuck, use birth control and practice safe sex. If you can’t manage this then you shouldn’t be in the bedroom.

  9. Stanley Greenberg wrote the screenplay for Soylent Green. I was fortunate enough to grow up within couple of miles from him in Berkeley (Kensington) Ca.
    His daughter Ruthie was my sisters best friend.
    I always wondered why they never ate meat.
    I heard he passed away recently.
    He was prophetic.

  10. Some very interesting things to think about, but what bothers me the most is not knowing what kind of toppings will be available for the soylent green.

  11. Very, very interesting post DCAPNY; and full of stuff I would never have known otherwise. However, and certainly no offense, but this is kind of depressing. I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps ignorance really is bliss. I’m hoping the next post is, like, pictures of kittens or something?


  12. […] hoping the next post is, like, pictures of kittens or something? […]

  13. My neighbors all either too fat or too stringy-looking. Not very appetizing.

    I will volunteer to leave this planet if we can get a decent space ship. Who’s with me?

  14. And, good post DCAP. A student of mine wrote a paper on this topic last semester that was interesting.

  15. Great post. Thanks for doing the math.

  16. Wyld – interesting concept

    ME – you are too divine to be blamed. Which condiment do you want to be

    PINY – wouldn’t it be nice if enlightenment was utilized more often. Greater NY including Conn, NJ, LI and upstate has over 21 million people – a lot of soylent green

    Spart – I really like that movie, tho I wish Heston was turned into green earlier

    FIA – food shortages are only beginning.. Potable water is the REAL problem

    Fairlane – we can feed your neighbor to the Bushes

    POP – and yours too

    Christopher – amazing that people still WONT use birth control or wont let their kids

    David – He was prophetic, and a good writer – and If I wrote that I would eat only carrots

    Randal – mustard, Dijon only – no mayonnaise

    Anita – I promise something uplifting soon. George my cat doesn’t like soylent green

    Scarlet – it is a fascinating and scary subject – thanks!

    Nunya – numbers are my life. You should me at work

  17. Existence is overrated.

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