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The Future of Food
Image source: https://www.greenandgrowing.org/overpopulation-problems-101/
In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, biologist
Paul Ehrlich warned of impending environmental
disaster and wide-scale suffering due to human
overpopulation. He revisited this idea in a 2013
essay titled “Overpopulation and the Collapse of
Civilization.”
Born of the interaction between “two gigantic
complex adaptive systems”:
• the biosphere system, and
• the human socio-economic system.
“The Human Predicament”
“The seriousness of the situation can be seen
in the prospects of Homo sapiens’ most
important activity: producing and procuring
food….”
“Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor” (1974)
by Garrett Hardin
Lifeboat Ethics
• In 1974, ecologist Garrett Hardin posed a troubling ethical
question: “does everyone on earth have an equal right to an
equal share of its resources?” Hardin argued no.
• He explained, “...If we divide the world crudely into rich
nations and poor nations, two thirds of them are desperately
poor, and only one third comparatively rich, with the United
States the wealthiest of all. Metaphorically each rich nation
can be seen as a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. In
the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world,
who would like to get in, or at least to share some of the
wealth. What should the lifeboat passengers do?”
The Scenario
• Rich nations represented by 50 people floating in a lifeboat
that can hold 60.
• The boat has a “safety factor” equivalent to the resources needed to
support ten people.
• Safety factor—an engineering principle that accounts for a possible
emergency such as a new disease or drought.
• Poor nations represented by 100 people swimming or
drowning in the water and hoping to get onboard the lifeboat.
Population Growth
• Complicating this ethical dilemma is the disparate rates of population
growth between rich nations (aka “the Global North”) and poor
nations (aka “the Global South”).
• At the time of Hardin’s writing, poor nations were reproducing at 2.5
times the rate of rich nations.
• Hardin argued that, if rich nations continued to provide aid to poor
nations (nations that are “hungry”), the rate of population growth
would continue to grow in poor nations and remain the same or shrink
in rich nations.
• Hardin (like Singer and Ehrlich) argued for population control
measures. But how?
Tragedy of the commons:
• According to Hardin, the “tragedy of the commons” illustrates that, without
some form of control or regulation of communal resources, mutual ruin in
inevitable. This is because people will act in their own individual self-
interest even when doing so is detrimental to the interests of the group.
This is the “ethics of the lifeboat.”
• Therefore, Hardin argues, societies need to pair rights with responsibilities.
(E.g. If you have the right to fish in a lake, you have a responsibility to take
no more fish than you need and no more than the ecosystem can replenish.
• If those who benefit from public policies or resources have no responsibility
to maintain those resources, then the policies become suicidal for society.
What constitutes a “commons”?
From an environmental perspective:
• Grazing/grasslands (Boston Common 1630s-1830s)
• Natural resources like bodies of water
• Wild fish and game that can be hunted
• Clean air / water
Without regulations or responsibilities, individuals or
corporations abuse these resources (“public goods”),
harming everyone’s interests.
What constitutes a “commons”?
From a policy perspective:
• A world food bank
• Immigration policy
Hardin argues that, without regulation, people outside rich
nations will take advantage of their resources without a
sense of responsibility to protect those resources, harming
the rich nations in the long run. This is view leads Hardin to
some troubling conclusions.
Given this scenario: “What should the lifeboat passengers do?”
Possibilities:
• Let all aboard.
• Everyone is treated equally, but the boat will overturn and all will die.
(“Complete justice, complete catastrophe.”)
• Let ten aboard.
• Ethical dilemma of how to choose: Those closest to the boat? Most in need?
Most likely to survive? Most beneficial to the needs of the passengers (e.g.
those with useful skills)? Those able to reproduce? Those unable to
reproduce?
• The lifeboat would lose its safety factor and become vulnerable to future
emergencies like food shortages.
• Admit no one. (*Hardin’s position)
• People will die even while others nearby have the power to help them.
• Preserve the safety factor.
Reflection and Review:
“Lifeboat Ethics”
Slides: The Future of Food
Slides: The Future of Food
Slides: The Future of Food

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Slides: The Future of Food

  • 1. The Future of Food Image source: https://www.greenandgrowing.org/overpopulation-problems-101/
  • 2. In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, biologist Paul Ehrlich warned of impending environmental disaster and wide-scale suffering due to human overpopulation. He revisited this idea in a 2013 essay titled “Overpopulation and the Collapse of Civilization.”
  • 3. Born of the interaction between “two gigantic complex adaptive systems”: • the biosphere system, and • the human socio-economic system. “The Human Predicament” “The seriousness of the situation can be seen in the prospects of Homo sapiens’ most important activity: producing and procuring food….”
  • 4.
  • 5. “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor” (1974) by Garrett Hardin
  • 6. Lifeboat Ethics • In 1974, ecologist Garrett Hardin posed a troubling ethical question: “does everyone on earth have an equal right to an equal share of its resources?” Hardin argued no. • He explained, “...If we divide the world crudely into rich nations and poor nations, two thirds of them are desperately poor, and only one third comparatively rich, with the United States the wealthiest of all. Metaphorically each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world, who would like to get in, or at least to share some of the wealth. What should the lifeboat passengers do?”
  • 7. The Scenario • Rich nations represented by 50 people floating in a lifeboat that can hold 60. • The boat has a “safety factor” equivalent to the resources needed to support ten people. • Safety factor—an engineering principle that accounts for a possible emergency such as a new disease or drought. • Poor nations represented by 100 people swimming or drowning in the water and hoping to get onboard the lifeboat.
  • 8. Population Growth • Complicating this ethical dilemma is the disparate rates of population growth between rich nations (aka “the Global North”) and poor nations (aka “the Global South”). • At the time of Hardin’s writing, poor nations were reproducing at 2.5 times the rate of rich nations. • Hardin argued that, if rich nations continued to provide aid to poor nations (nations that are “hungry”), the rate of population growth would continue to grow in poor nations and remain the same or shrink in rich nations. • Hardin (like Singer and Ehrlich) argued for population control measures. But how?
  • 9. Tragedy of the commons: • According to Hardin, the “tragedy of the commons” illustrates that, without some form of control or regulation of communal resources, mutual ruin in inevitable. This is because people will act in their own individual self- interest even when doing so is detrimental to the interests of the group. This is the “ethics of the lifeboat.” • Therefore, Hardin argues, societies need to pair rights with responsibilities. (E.g. If you have the right to fish in a lake, you have a responsibility to take no more fish than you need and no more than the ecosystem can replenish. • If those who benefit from public policies or resources have no responsibility to maintain those resources, then the policies become suicidal for society.
  • 10.
  • 11. What constitutes a “commons”? From an environmental perspective: • Grazing/grasslands (Boston Common 1630s-1830s) • Natural resources like bodies of water • Wild fish and game that can be hunted • Clean air / water Without regulations or responsibilities, individuals or corporations abuse these resources (“public goods”), harming everyone’s interests.
  • 12. What constitutes a “commons”? From a policy perspective: • A world food bank • Immigration policy Hardin argues that, without regulation, people outside rich nations will take advantage of their resources without a sense of responsibility to protect those resources, harming the rich nations in the long run. This is view leads Hardin to some troubling conclusions.
  • 13. Given this scenario: “What should the lifeboat passengers do?” Possibilities: • Let all aboard. • Everyone is treated equally, but the boat will overturn and all will die. (“Complete justice, complete catastrophe.”) • Let ten aboard. • Ethical dilemma of how to choose: Those closest to the boat? Most in need? Most likely to survive? Most beneficial to the needs of the passengers (e.g. those with useful skills)? Those able to reproduce? Those unable to reproduce? • The lifeboat would lose its safety factor and become vulnerable to future emergencies like food shortages. • Admit no one. (*Hardin’s position) • People will die even while others nearby have the power to help them. • Preserve the safety factor.

Editor's Notes

  1. https://www.greenandgrowing.org/overpopulation-problems-101/