The Recurring Myth of Peak Oil
[...] The Peak Oil debate boils down, essentially, to natural versus social limits, or naturally-determined versus socially-determined limits. A similar debate erupted more than 200 hundred years ago over the limits of population growth, on the one hand, and the growth of food supplies, on the other. The debate was prompted largely by a 1978 essay written by the British economist Thomas R. Malthus, titled “An Essay on the Principle of Population.”
Malthus projected an alarming specter of food shortages, hardship, and even starvation “because of faster population growth than food supply.” According to his theory, poverty and distress are unavoidable because, if unchecked, population increases at a geometrical rate (i.e. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.), whereas the means of subsistence grow at an arithmetical rate (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.), thereby leading to inevitable shortages of foodstuff.
As Malthus thus blamed misery and poverty on the poor and the miserable (for giving birth to too many mouths to be fed), he also concluded (logically) that poverty alleviation depended on selective restriction of population growth, that is, curbing the number of the poor and working people.
As checks on population growth, Malthus accepted war, famine, and disease. He also recommended “moral restraint” (marrying late or not at all, coupled with sexual abstinence prior to, and outside of, marriage) as additional checks on the growth of population. His hostility toward the poor was expressed most vividly when he openly argued in favor of dismantling social safety net programs, called “poverty laws”: “We cannot, in the nature of things, assist the poor, in any way, without enabling them to rear up to manhood a greater number of their children.”
By blaming social ills and economic calamities on the poor and working people, Malthus’s views tended, willy-nilly, to exonerate the underlying socio-economic structure, and to prove the inevitability of privation and misery under any social system. [...]