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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

The Poor, Still With Us

By Bryan Welch 

Tags: green revolution, Malthus, overpopulation, poverty, starvation, famine, positive visualization,


At the beginning the 19th century during the rosy dawn hours of the Industrial Revolution the world’s human population finally surpassed 1 billion individuals. [1] After about 200,000 years of evolution our extraordinary intellect and extreme mobility had brought us that far. We had, by then, colonized every continent except Antarctica. Civilized cultures were generally aware of the world as a finite sphere, 70 percent of it covered in water. We lived everywhere, from the sweltering tropics to the icy arctic wastelands.

We dominated everything we surveyed, but we couldn’t survey the microscopic yet, at least not very effectively. The germs still pretty much had their way with us. They limited human population growth. Average Europeans were lucky to live to 40 years of age. Almost a third of babies born in Europe’s cities died before their third birthdays, mostly due to diseases borne by microbes. People flocked to the cities where they found new affluence in factories and textile mills. The crowding in city tenements gave the pathogens an ideal habitat and accelerated the spread of disease.

Louis Pasteur was born in 1822[2] and soon began whipping the germs into shape.  With an uncanny instinct for the nature of disease, Pasteur revolutionized our understanding of the world and helped us train new weapons on the microbes that made us sick. Pasteur gave us the specific tools to fight cholera, anthrax and rabies, but more importantly he revolutionized our knowledge of microbes and their effect on our lives – both good and bad. We had been drinking wine for thousands of years but we didn’t know that bacteria caused fermentation. Pasteur identified disease-causing germs and invented tools for fighting them. Soon, people were living longer. More babies survived. Modern medicine was born, and human population growth accelerated.

By 1900 there were more than 1.6 billion of us, up 60 percent in one century. That population doubled in about 60 years, then doubled again in half the time. I was born into a worldwide human population of about 3 billion people. Based on current United Nations projections and my expected lifespan, there will probably be about 9 billion people on earth when I die.

So far we’ve done a remarkably good job of feeding all these new people. When you think about it, it’s almost miraculous that we’ve kept up with our own expansion. Shortly before Louis Pasteur was born, the English philosopher Thomas Robert Malthus made himself one of the world’s most famous thinkers by suggesting that unless we did something about population growth, we could never ease the burden of poverty. His basic thesis was that because our population expanded geometrically while food production expanded arithmetically, and because birth rates increase with prosperity, we would never be able to create consistent surpluses in food supply.

The poor, as Jesus of Nazareth said, would “always be with us.”[3] 


[1] The World at Six Billion, United Nations Population Division.

[2] Debré, P.; E. Forster (1998). Louis Pasteur. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5808-9.

[3] New Testament, Book of Matthew, Chapter 26, Verse 11.

len buckholtz
12/24/2008 7:09:54 PM

one other thing. the hollyweird elite who chide 'we the commoners' for not helping more. let's set up a homeless shelter on madonna's lot. and one on each of the other whining leftists who are 'special' and have more than 1/2 acre of land on their lots. they do all these mea culpa telethons. sorry, that era has ended. belly up to the juice bar, fellas. pull out your big, fat, juicy ........... mastercard. :-)

len buckholtz
12/24/2008 7:04:15 PM

well, the politically correct will hate this. so be it. we need a war. a big war. a war to end the following: 1 fornication of any sort 2 greed of any sort 3 dishonesty of any sort 4 governmental kickbacks of any sort 5 any non-compliant religion the above will remedy the following: 1- illegitimate children 2- people/ govts/ groups/ unions not sharing 3- same above in not being 100% truthful 4- no subsidies of any crop that is not grown 5- the good one: hindus must teach their women how to protect themselves; muslims must treat women with respect, not with whips; ro caths must assign wives to each priest if they are incapable of finding one; assign a husband to any not unable to find a one; frisco will counsel homosexuals to marry one of the opposite sex and stay monogamous. baptist churches will tell bill clinton, jesse jackson, billy carter[s], all said wanna-be 'males' of that ilk, and a host of breeding women in the south of phoenix [about 30 i found] who have kids by over 5 men to KNOCK IT OFF. or get the tubes tied. or whack off whatever the doc does to guys. have i offended enough folks out there? good. my job is done here. that, or let GOD bring Armageddon and do it fast. your choice folks. Jonah lettin' you all know what is going to happen.

12/22/2008 11:27:00 PM

Carla, Even if you are correct that all of humanity could fit in Nevada and Texas then if you read the story, in another thirty to forty years you would need another Nevada and Texas for the 12 billion souls. Then the population would double in half of that time (20 to 30 years) to 24 billion and you would need still another 2 Nevadas and 2 Texas. Then in the next doubling in 15 to 20 years there will be approximately 48 billion people breathing out carbon dioxide and using up other natural resources. Then in the next doubling in about 5 to 10 years there will be nearly 100 billion people. Yes scince and technoligy can make significant increases but not at the same rate that people can breed without some kind of restrictions. The sooner the better for the rest of us to have some kind of quality of life.

phillip deane
12/22/2008 7:04:27 PM

Thank you for the Biblical reminder from Jesus the Christ- one who would know as to the poor AND eternity. We can do all that we can and yet it will continue for some of the reasons listed in the comments and more. And we should but never overlook the the first sentence of my comments. The rest of you I pray for!

12/22/2008 6:27:07 PM

Ok, lets remove the words of Jesus. The article was about food and the poor. In Zimbabwe there were lots of land poor but low starvation rates. The farms were owned and operated by the 'oppressive white farmers'. They grew so much food that Zimbabwe was known as the bread basket of Africa. Then the biggest killer in the world took over, atheistic marxism. The 'oppressive white farmers' were killed off or driven away. The land was given to the landless poor and the war veterans of the marxist dictator. Now the land rich poor starve to death or die due to cholera. Lets bring Jesus back and his 'Golden Rule'. He FED the masses. Ken P.s. thankyou ms hunt @ mother for explaining how my post disappeared. Ken

carla hanson
12/22/2008 5:51:27 PM

I'm surprised at you, Mother, for printing this article. It doesn't have the sensibility that most of your articles do, and I'm saddened by so many of the comments that go with it. Malthus was way off when he wrote in 1798, and Paul Ehrlich's theories in The Population Bomb have been proven wrong as well. Just look up The Population Bomb and click on Wikipedia's site and see what they have to say. FACT: Every household of the entire world's population of 6 billion plus people could fit in the space of Nevada and Texas with a typical American suburban quarter acre lot, leaving the entire remainder of the world available for agricultural production. If you don't believe me, do the math yourself. I know this is contrary to everything we hear, but it is absolutely true. FACT: The largest reason that people are starving has nothing whatsoever to do with over population and insufficient food. It has everything to do with corrupt governments that leave the food we send to rot in warehouses because they don't care about their people. The problem is not overpopulation. Instead, it is an utter lack of care for the dignity and rights of the individual and the family. FACT: Agricultural production continues to become more efficient, making it possible for every acre to feed more people than ever before. The amount of food available per capita in the world is greater than it was with a much smaller population. FACT: USAID sends millions of condoms (which fail up to 30% of the time) to Africa every year, but people are dying for want of simple antibiotics. FACT: Europe is dying and America is soon to follow. In Italy, for example, only 1.33 children are born to each couple. In Spain, it's 1.25. That means that there are not enough children to support the elderly. I got these statistics from The reason the social security system in America is failing is

12/22/2008 5:33:24 PM

The only way to eliminate poverty is to make it uneconomical. There are four ways to control populations; 1. Major wars 2. Major diseases 3. Gov't enforced- as in China, one child per family, not one child per person( or 5,8, or 15) 4. Economically with taxes on children(not tax credits-Taxes). If a person can pay the gradually increased tax on increased no. of children they can probably support them without Gov't assistance. First child no tax, 2nd $5oo per year,3rd $1,000 plus the first $500 per year,4th child $1,500 plus $1,000 plus $500 per year and so on. The money would go to a Social Security fund. Each country could adjust the tax amount according to each countries situation. There is no way enough money can be given away to eliminate poverty. Giving money will only increase the numbers of poor people.

12/22/2008 3:41:18 PM

Thank you Tanya, for bringing this discussion back into the realm of reality : Let's use modern science instead of the Bible for our discussions. Can we please put the world of fantasy and religion aside and come back to the real problems at hand : wordlwide overpopulation, women's lack of education, environementally harmful agricultural practices,and a crazy thirst for unecessary consumption of goods. We think the human race is sooo successful, yet how can we dare say such a thing when half of humans wordlwide are starving to death, killing each other, riping the life out of Mother Earth's womb, and refusing to change anything to our way of life ? It's all nice and rosy to reproduce, but are we ready to take responsiblity for every child put on the Earth ? Having children is NOT a right, it is a PRIVILEDGE. And wether we like it or not, NOT everyone is suited for parenthood, not everyone is equiped for such an honour. And its not a matter of having enough money to feed a brood, its a matter of good sense, a good heart and love galour !

12/22/2008 2:41:48 PM

Can we please talk about population growth issues in the U.S.? We always blame this on those in developing countries. I know we do this because it's not comfortable to talk to friends and family about changing behavior; it's not viewed as a social matter that needs to be addressed. Having children, whether it's one, two, or seven, always finds justification by the parents. Let's use modern science instead of the Bible for our discussions.

12/22/2008 11:56:15 AM

It is common knowledge that societies in which women have access to education, and in which they have the choice to decide how many children to have, families are smaller. You have explosive population growth in areas of the world in which universal education has yet to reach girls and women. You have explosive population growth in areas of the world in which a woman's status is measured by how many children she has. Additionally, children are many parents' retirement plans in poorer nations, and in countries where people live in poverty and experience high child mortality rates (as well as low female literacy rates), such as India, you will continue to see explosive population growth. It is economic suicide for the poor in those countries to have no children to support them. As long as the aging populations of the poorest countries must rely on having many children to care for them as they grow old, and women's status remains abysmally low, there will be nothing anyone can do to stem the tide. Advancements in agricultural technology will not be able to keep up and eventually there will be widespread famine and resource wars.

12/22/2008 11:24:05 AM

Regrettably, we saw fit to jump onto "free trade". I understand that pure profit resulting from the access to lower wages and the absence of environmental and consumer/worker safety laws was not the only motive. Some "goodhearted" albeit naive individuals also thought they would be "lifting up" the populations of formerly third-world countries - or at least they told themselves that before they began pocketing "speaking fees". But it was a mistake that goes beyond asinine and greedy and well into tragic: The primary outcome is that we exported our consumption model. Attempting to run the global economy with the same inefficient and wasteful energy and natural resource consumption model that the West uses will just burn what is available up faster and result in the four horsemen riding harder and further.

9/29/2008 9:11:38 AM

I'm not being politically correct, I think, when I say that people who compare Buddha and Allah to George Jetson are directly contradicting the example set by Jesus, who exalted the Good Samaritan and embraced the Roman tax collector. As profound and painful as the abortion issue is, it's also unfortunately a philosophical scapegoat for those who don't wish to address any other issue. I'm pro-life and pro-human, but I don't believe the American fetus is more important, in the eyes of God, than the 20-year-old Muslim starving to death in sub-Saharan Africa.

p l
9/29/2008 1:12:41 AM

Perhaps we should stop trying to be so "politically correct" and this "we are all different and have different faiths" should INCLUDE Christianity. We've all run around trying not to "offend" someone, that we have abandoned basic right and wrong values. As long as it doesn't hurt anybody, it's ok. Well, in the immediate sense, a lot of stuff the U.S. people do doesn't "hurt" anybody, if you just look at the surface. But if you look at the big picture, ten years down the road, even twenty, every action we take affects the lives of our children, their children, etc. I still don't get it in this country, why it's illegal to abuse a dog, or a pet, but it's ok to terminate an unborn baby (no wait, it's not a BABY, it's a "fetus", that makes it not real, right?? Then why does it MOVE awasy and cry out in pain when the abortionist rips it limb from limb????). That's just really screwed up. Sigh.. .the whole point of this article was about poor people, and the advances in the disease prevention and population control, etc. This person that posted up here just jumped right on the Jesus thing and had to be all "let's just forget about Jesus and have one world religion", because these folks just can't stand having the name of Jesus thrown out there. Heaven forbid! Ok, how about if I say Buddha instead??? Would that be politically correct enough? Or Allah... Or George Jetson. Sigh...

teri nesja
9/22/2008 12:13:38 PM

Perhaps we should take Jesus out of the entire picture and learn to embrace a global community of many different faiths. By accepting diversity as a part of our "community" we can build a world that has a greater more honest love of helping those that are poor. This has been the biggest obstacle to many religions, especially christianity. We are not all Christian or meant to be Christian. We are meant to be a community that helps each other out in a way that is a part of our "tribal" ancestry. We have no infrastructure to care for the old, and single parents and young children that struggle daily. It is all laid on the doorstep of those that are poor that it is their own fault they are in their situation. The teachings of Jesus will not bring about this community but an eye opening understanding that we all have different faiths in our communities and an acceptance of each person's choice to follow their own faith will make it easier for all people in the community to give to others....

9/21/2008 3:27:17 PM

Perhaps this conversation should include mention of Catholic and Muslim birth control policies, and the white supremacy views of much of the Christian Right. The Bible will possibly prove to be our greatest roadblock to erasing poverty and the litany of other problems associated with unhindered population growth. In a sense we are witnessing a race condition between the anti-science of religion and the science that will possibly ensure that civilization isn't crushed beneath the impossible weight of 9+ billion people.

9/11/2008 9:50:03 AM

Nice to hear from you, Dan. I couldn't agree with you more and I certainly didn't mean to use Jesus' words as an excuse, only a reinforcement of a troubling truth: No matter how successful we've been, as a species, many of us continue to starve. We obviously need to address this in a new way, perhaps a new way starting with Jesus' fundamental teaching that told us to feed the poor first, before we spent money on other less imperative things.

dan ruth
9/11/2008 8:27:37 AM

It's true, poverty has continued to confound us. However, it's unfortunate, even tragic, that for much of history people have read Jesus' words as a once-and-for-all assurance, therefore dropping the issues of hunger and poverty from the priority list of faith. This is not the point of Matthew 26:11. It's too easy to read this verse as a promise for the future, rather than putting the verse into its context and seeing that Jesus' words were in response to a specific situation. We forget (or politely ignore the fact)that just a chapter earlier Jesus condemns his followers who did not feed those who were hungry, saying "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink . . . Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." (Mt 25:41-42, 45) We are in a unique situation today where Americans living in poverty are not dying of starvation. Yes, they may be malnourished, but not because they are not consuming enough calories. The corn industry has flourished as the price per calorie drops (and taxpayers foot the bill for farm subsidies), yet we cannot adequately find a way to holistically "feed" those who need it most. The conversation needs to change. World hunger cannot be separated from population growth. But neither can we focus solely on greater production yields. We need to prioritize healthy, whole food that is available to all people and stop using Jesus as an excuse to ignore the poor.