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Mankind enhances natural productivity as well as eats it

I have just found at Spiked Online Brendan O’Neill’s superb recent essay on whether
the earth is finite
, and I heartily recommend it. Here’s a

Over the past 200 years, Malthusians have
tended to look at people as simply the users-up of scarce
resources. They have tended to view nature as the producer of
things and mankind as the consumer of things. And their view of
people as little more than consumers – almost as parasites –
inevitably leads to them seeing human beings as the cause of every
modern ill, and therefore reducing the number of human beings as
the solution to every modern ill. Their focus on finiteness means
they conceive of humanity as a kind of bovine force, hoovering up
everything that it comes across.

I read this while sitting in a hotel room at San Francisco
airport. Huge jets queue for take off in full view of my window. I
am in the middle of a great conurbation. But between me and the
jets lies a stretch of water, an arm of the Bay itself. And the
water is a bird watcher’s paradise. There are rafts of ducks such
as buffleheads and wigeon. There are pelicans, grebes and two
speces of gull. Along the shore there are great white and little
egrets, willets, whimbrels, grey plovers, stints, dowitchers,
avocets, yellow-legs and tight flocks of sandpipers. Sea lions
cruise a litle further out, and an osprey has just plunged into the
water after a fish.

My point? The water is presumably `polluted’ by humankind with
nitrogen and phosphorus from farming and sewage run-off, or
`enriched’ as it is sometimes called. Without people I doubt these
would be nearly as much birdlife here. People enhance the
productivity of natural ecosystems as well as agricultural


By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  general