>Malthusian Fears and Enterprise Architecture

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As enterprise architects, we plan for an unknown future. In most cases, we plan to grow and evolve our organizations to provide products and/or services well into the future. In the best case scenario, we are planning for organizational growth in terms of serving more customers, stakeholders, shareholders. We view growth as a sign that we are succeeding in the marketplace.

What happens though as the world grows more populous–is there a limit to the ability of the world to support this growth? And in such a scenario, where growth potential outstrips our ability to meet demand, how is architecture planning affected?

The Wall Street Journal, 24 March 2008, reports that “across the centuries, powerful voices have warned that human activity would overwhelm the earth’s resources…[yet] each time there were new resources to discover, new technologies to propel growth.”

But is there a limit to these resources and technological boundaries that are cause for concern?

As the world grows more populous—the United Nations projects eight billion people by 2025, up from 6.6 billion today” and up from 1.65 billion at the turn of the 20th century. By 2050, the projection is for 9.19 billion people!

The English demographer and political scientist, Thomas Malthus in 1798 forewarned of this problem: “The power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce sustenance for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.”

Similarly, The Club of Rome think tank in 1972 raised these concerns: “If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime in the next 100 years.”

The problem with the population explosion is magnified by the population becoming more prosperous. “The average person is consuming more food, water, metal, and power. Growing numbers of China’s 1.3 billion people and India’s 1.1 billion are stepping up to the middle class, adopting the high protein diets, gasoline-fueled transport, and electric gadgets that developed nations enjoy.”

“The result is that demand for resources has soared. If supplies don’t keep pace, prices are likely to climb further…and some fear violent conflict could ensue.”

Many say not to worry, that economic forces and human ingenuity will spur technological innovation, which will overcome the limits of growth and the scarcity of resources.

As enterprise architects, we play a critical role in matching requirements to technological enablers and in driving business process improvement. These are essential to organizations and the world doing more, productivity-wise, with less resources.

“New technology could help ease the resource crunch. Advances in agriculture, desalinization, and the clean production of electricity among other things would help.”

“Indeed, the true lesson of Thomas Malthus…isn’t that the world is doomed, but that preservation of human life requires analysis and then thorough action.”

For enterprise architects, we are at the center of capturing these data points, analyzing them, and making solid recommendations for our organizations to spur them to action to meet the growth head-on. Growth is good, but it is also challenging. As the population continues to grow, we are about to face extraordinary business and technological challenges for providing for the needs of many a billion.

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