chapter  Chapter 4
25 Pages

The Scientific Roots of Ecological Environmentalism

WithDavid Pepper

Just as we can fairly readily identify elements of 19th-century romanticism in modern ecocentrism, so, too, can we see much of the influence of Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) in the modern debate about limits to growth. We could go further back in history in tracing the roots of concern about a possible conflict between population growth and subsistence. But, as Hollingsworth (1973) says, ‘It was the attempt to be specific and mathematical about the dilemma of an expanding population that is Malthus’ special contribution to thought’. In other words, Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population can be seen as an attempt at making a scientific contribution to the debate. While it is easy to identify romanticism’s input into ecocentrism as non-scientific, the notion of Malthus as science is slightly less accessible to sophisticated modern students of science. Hence we shall have to examine the idea a little more closely.