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Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of…
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Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change (edition 1980)

by William R. Catton (Author)

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1488143,971 (4.06)2
Our day-to-day experiences over the past decade have taught us that there must be limits to our tremendous appetite for energy, natural resources, and consumer goods. Even utility and oil companies now promote conservation in the face of demands for dwindling energy reserves. And for years some biologists have warned us of the direct correlation between scarcity and population growth. These scientists see an appalling future riding the tidal wave of a worldwide growth of population and technology. A calm but unflinching realist, Catton suggests that we cannot stop this wave - for we have already overshot the Earth's capacity to support so huge a load. He contradicts those scientists, engineers, and technocrats who continue to write optimistically about energy alternatives. Catton asserts that the technological panaceas proposed by those who would harvest from the seas, harness the winds, and farm the deserts are ignoring the fundamental premise that "the principals of ecology apply to all living things." These principles tell us that, within a finite system, economic expansion is not irreversible and population growth cannot continue indefinitely. If we disregard these facts, our sagging American Dream will soon shatter completely.… (more)
Member:Jan_Steinman
Title:Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
Authors:William R. Catton (Author)
Info:University of Illinois Press (1980), 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change by William R. Catton

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Should be required reading for all human beings.

Catton systematically gores every holy ox of modern civilization. We did not get to where we are because of our opposable thumbs and big brains, we got here because of our ability to "take over" or "draw down" energy sources.

Nor have we learned much from it. Nearly forty years after its publication, it is still a stretch to find a politician or business leader who doesn't think endless growth is anything but a good to be pursued.

If you have friends you would like to influence to lead simpler, more sustainable lives, see that they read this book. ( )
  Jan_Steinman | Mar 15, 2021 |
His heart is in the right place, just his thinking, his arguments, were always weak: Results only had one cause, action at individual and group levels were taken to be related, and other stuff that meant that I just couldn't stick with it.

The same areas covered with surety, detail, insight and discipline would be way worth the time to read.

(oh, and I listened to a kind painful amateur audiobook rendering. . . )

( )
  GirlMeetsTractor | Mar 22, 2020 |
Deeply discouraging view of the economic errors of the last hundred years. More so when one realizes it was written in 1982, when the population was lower by a couple of billion. It is clear from this work that, regardless of the unfairness, poor nations will not be able to achieve the prosperity of the rich. The earth currently contains more people than its carrying capacity and that carrying capacity is being reduced by overuse of non-replaceable resources and by pollution. Climate change is only part of the problem; soil depletion, overfishing, overcrowding, etc. are also factors that will lead to an inevitable crash of human population.
1 vote ritaer | Jul 14, 2015 |
This is a very sober, straightforward assessment of human society in it's ecological context throughout history. There are not many books out there like this one, which is depressing given how extremely unlikely it is that the human population is anywhere near the carrying capacity of a world without fossil fuels. If you want to reproduce after reading this, you probably have a learning disability. ( )
  dmac7 | Jun 14, 2013 |
This is an enormously difficult book. The language and concepts are not very difficult. But how to assess their value and our proper response? Aye, there's the rub!

I have lived with these challenges a good long time. I remember enthusiastically participating, as a high school student, in the 1970 Earth Day. I read M. King Hubbert's Senate Report in 1976, learning about peak oil from the source. This sort of ancient history... that is one of the most gnarly troubles with this book. The copyright is 1980, and indeed no mention is made of Ronald Reagan. This book is an impassioned environmental statement and plea, right before the great turning. I wonder if Obama's re-election will be seen as a similar turning, something of a rejection of Reaganism. But I fear that we have not returned to Carter's environmental vision. Not that Carter was so terribly profound, but he had the courage to put some of the core issues on the table.

Catton's book should have been enough to put any thoughtful person into something of a panic, back in 1980. Now, thirty two years later, years in which we have continued to drill, drill, drill unabated, doesn't that panic seem misplaced?

How can we assess with any objectivity the condition of the global ecological system today, compared to 1980? I think the populations of eagles and wolves and probably buffalo are in much better shape now. I'm sure that one could list any number of species and systems that have declined, such as coral and rain forests. How properly to total up the positive changes and the negative changes? One can easily enough decide ahead of time what result one would prefer, and then build up a convincing enough argument to support that conclusion. One bottom line would be the human population, which has hardly crashed. These days I see the epithet "Neo-Malthusian" tossed about by anti-environmentalists, apparently taking their stand on that absence of a crash. My understanding is that Darwin was thoroughly Malthusian and that modern biologists are thoroughly Darwinian, so I don't see why folks like Catton can't simply be Malthusians too. No doubt Malthus created something of a panic himself, a hundred and however many years ago. If Catton's panic seems a bit misplaced, surely that Malthusian panic was totally out of place. Or?

Despite my long term familiarity and sympathy with the general ecological world view, I learned quite a bit from Catton's book. I think what I am having the hardest time assimilating is the connection between Liebig's Law of the Minimum with localization. Global trade removes the limits that would otherwise restrict growth or large population levels. Relocalization will put those limits back in place. Each locality will have its own particular limits, but with restricted trade, each locality will feel those constraints much more directly. It is not hard to see a tight chain of consequences from a collapse in global finance to a collapse in global trade to a collapse in global population.

My career was largely in the semiconductor industry, which is ruled by Moore's Law, the exponential advancement in microelectronic technology. Moore's Law held for decades, perhaps from 1960 to 2010. Anyone could see that Moore's Law could not possibly hold indefinitely - surely there can be no such thing as a subatomic transistor! But to forecast the end of Moore's Law, just when the technology would slow down - there were many years of failed attempts.

I don't recall seeing any mention in Catton's book to the Limits to Growth book of Meadows et al. Meadows does not appear in the name index. Limits to Growth still seems like as good a forecast as we have of the timing of the collapse. These phenomena unfold in decades and centuries. Unfortunately very little of our planning and very few of our goals are in play at that time scale. Even a single decade ahead seems a future too distant to think about.

Catton was not very optimistic about our ability to think on such scales, nor to act. The intervening decades have confirmed his pessimism in spades. How can we steer ourselves toward a better future? A future better than most other possible futures, that is how that eternal quest must be understood. A future better than today? May we develop the wisdom to understand the best ways to make such comparisons! ( )
1 vote kukulaj | Nov 21, 2012 |
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Our day-to-day experiences over the past decade have taught us that there must be limits to our tremendous appetite for energy, natural resources, and consumer goods. Even utility and oil companies now promote conservation in the face of demands for dwindling energy reserves. And for years some biologists have warned us of the direct correlation between scarcity and population growth. These scientists see an appalling future riding the tidal wave of a worldwide growth of population and technology. A calm but unflinching realist, Catton suggests that we cannot stop this wave - for we have already overshot the Earth's capacity to support so huge a load. He contradicts those scientists, engineers, and technocrats who continue to write optimistically about energy alternatives. Catton asserts that the technological panaceas proposed by those who would harvest from the seas, harness the winds, and farm the deserts are ignoring the fundamental premise that "the principals of ecology apply to all living things." These principles tell us that, within a finite system, economic expansion is not irreversible and population growth cannot continue indefinitely. If we disregard these facts, our sagging American Dream will soon shatter completely.

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