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Overpopulation: Resource Depletion and Human Innovation

Discover the effect of overpopulation on resource depletion and explore various environmental perspectives.

Different people taking different natural resources to represent overpopulation on resource depletion

Recognise the impact of overpopulation on natural resources

Studies show that the world population is growing at a steady rate, increasing by tens of millions every year. With unsustainable growth in the human population, scarce resources could be consumed, endangered flora and fauna may go extinct, and carbon emissions could spiral out of control.

On this four-week course from the Adam Smith Centre, you’ll explore the depletion of resources in relation to overpopulation. You’ll study various perspectives on resource management and the importance of human innovation in cultivating a sustainable future.

Explore Malthusian theory and Thomas Malthus’s influence on environmentalism

Thomas Malthus was an English economist best known for Malthusian theory – an economic pessimist perspective on resource management and population growth.

On this course, you’ll study Malthusian theory in-depth and analyse its key points to understand the impact Malthus had on environmental discourse.

Discover Julian Simon’s work and other fascinating environmental perspectives

Another notable contributor to economic and environmental discourse is Julian Simon.

You’ll tackle Simon’s theories of environmental optimism to understand the role that human innovation can play in sustainability. At the end of the course, you’ll have the knowledge to compare and contrast Malthusian and Simonian approaches in the context of today’s world.

Learn how to measure and manage resource usage

An essential facet of environmental management is the understanding of how resources are being used and depleted.

With the guidance of the experts at the Adam Smith Centre, you’ll learn to use Julian Simon’s Simon Abundance Index to analyse resource management and use your skills to advocate for sustainable practices and innovation.

Syllabus

  • Week 1

    Malthusian perspectives

    • Course introduction

      Overpopulation was a global fear in the early 1970s. Explore the problem of overpopulation through the lens of Thomas Malthus and environmental optimist, Julian Simon.

    • The Malthusian trap

      What did Malthus predict about population growth in the eighteenth century?

    • What changed?

      While Malthus was right about pre-modern economies, he did not account for the explosion in productivity, wealth and trade that would come later.

    • Modern Malthusians

      The ideas of Thomas Malthus have influenced many organisations and thinkers since

    • End of Week 1

      Let's discuss what we've learned in this week.

  • Week 2

    Why Julian Simon?

    • Environmental optimism

      Julian Simon was an environmental optimist who believed in the power of the human mind.

    • Economics, not physics

      The key contribution of Simon was to shift the debate to focus on value and how human knowledge creates value, of which are not defined by physical limits.

    • End of Week 2

      Let's discuss what we've learned in this week.

  • Week 3

    Overpopulation: A Simonian perspective

    • Population bomb?

      Stanford biologist sounded the alarm about population in 1968. What are some population trends since then?

    • More people = More innovation

      Julian Simon believed that more people wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Another human is not 'just' a mouth to feed, but one more mind for innovation and two more hands with which to work.

    • Beware population control measures

      More people around do not necessarily spell doom, as long as society embraces them as valuable human capital that drive progress in society.

    • End of Week 3

      Let's discuss what we've learned in this week.

  • Week 4

    Resource depletion: A Simonian perspective

    • Markets & innovation

      Julian Simon's argument was not an unconditional one. Resource growth and conservation are facilitated through market institutions.

    • Resource abundance

      This section presents original research by Gale Pooley and Marian Tupy based on 'time-prices', as a measurement of the growth of knowledge over time.

    • End of Week 4

      Let's discuss what we've learned in this final week.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain the influence of Thomas Malthus and Malthusian principles in environmental discourse
  • Explore the distinctive perspective of economist Julian Simon
  • Compare Malthusian and Simonian approaches to environmental challenges
  • Calculate resource abundance using the Tupy-Pooley framework and Simon Abundance Index
  • Present a rational case for environmental optimism

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for professionals in sustainability and public policy, or those involved in governance.

It will also be of interest for young adult learners in fields of study such as environmentalism, economics, business or political science.

Who will you learn with?

Dr. Gale Pooley is an Associate Professor of Business Management at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. His major research activity has been on the Simon Abundance Index.

Who developed the course?

Adam Smith Center

The Adam Smith Center is an independent, non-profit organisation in Singapore dedicated to economics and public policy education.

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