Sooner or later the neo-Malthusians – those who grasp the fundamental difficulty posed by exponential population growth in collision with a fixed resource base – will turn out to be right. The problem is that, thus far, they have repeatedly turned out to be wrong.
Today’s example comes (via Tyler Cowen) from a piece by Graham Stewart last year in the the Times of Some British Place. It recounts a discussion from London learned man William Stanley Jevons a long, long time ago of Peak Coal:
In his work of 1865, The Coal Question, the distinguished economist cautioned that we had become wholly dependent on the finite resource of coal. Indeed, some calculations – based on the increasing rate of extraction and the geological analysis of how much coal remained underground – suggested that Britain could run out by 1900.
At this point, Jevons maintained, the economy would literally run out of steam, reducing Britons to a medieval standard of living. The cost of shipping coal from elsewhere in the world would be prohibitive and, in any case, the leading geologists calculated that other countries would quickly exhaust their stocks as well.