Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Economics, History and Political Science

The Annals is a forum for the free exchange of ideas
among scholars working in the field of social sciences
Volume LVI 2-2022

Un-common Nature. Neo-Malthusian Environmentalism Before 1972 UN Stockholm Conference

Jacopo Bonasera,
pp. 7-26
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This contribution offers an historical conceptual analysis of the population question, as it was articulated by Neo-Malthusian intellectuals G. Hardin and P. Ehrlich before 1972 UN Stockholm Conference. Starting from the conceptualization of nature by T.R. Malthus, the essay then assesses the theoretical and historical continuities and discontinuities that qualify the Twentieth century environmental reappraisal of Malthus’ doctrines. In so doing, the essay also proposes a different understanding of the so-called ‘Malthusian moment’ that contributed to shape the birth of global environmentalism. It is argued that the political core of both Malthus’ and environmental Neo-Malthusianism relates to the effort of making nature an un-common ground for the people, one that legitimizes social and political hierarchies. The case made by both Ehrlich and Hardin for “coercive” birth control – in polemic with women’s claim for reproductive rights – is granted particular attention. Their environmental thinking conveys the idea that all people are passengers of “Spaceship Earth”, while they hold different responsibilities to preserve it. Thus, the environmental revival of the Malthusian law of population reshapes the understanding of the “optimum” relation between population and resources, contributing to the formation of the scientific environment that influenced 1972 UN Conference.