Created: 1995. Updated: 7 July, 2000


Book Reviews - Non-Fiction

EcoFuture (TM) Population and Sustainability

Various book reviews are collected on this page, but this page
does not contain all reviews located at this website. See Books.




Beyond Oil

Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades, John Gever, Robert Kaufmann, David Skole, Charles Vorosmarty; University Press of Colorado; 1991, ISBN 0-87081-242-4.
All the authors were affiliated with the Complex Systems Research Center at the University of New Hampshire at the time the 1991 edition was published. Ed Passerini and John A. Harris IV co-wrote the introduction.
From the back cover:
"The belief that the United States can increase its per-capita material standard of living and its population ad infinitum is a myth that arose from more than a century of economic success. Though U.S. material wealth has increased tremendously, it was created by the extensive depletion or degradation of nonrenewable and ecological resources, a process which is accelerating.
"'Beyond Oil' asserts that the link between resources, energy use, and economic activity is far stronger and quite different than most experts believe, and that dependence on vanishing resources implies that either the population or per-capita material standard of living must stabilize, or both.
"The most thorough blueprint available for our energy future, "Beyond Oil" is the result of one of the most ambitious computerized assessments of future U.S. energy supplies ever conducted. This study incorporates thousands of geological, social, and economic statistics to projecct probable energy, economic, and agricultural outcomes well into the next century. Many divergent opinions from opposing experts give the reader a wide overview of energy supplies and a basis from which to evaluable "Beyond Oil"'s remarkable findings."
This book is very technical but extremely valuable. A keen insight introduced by the book is the concept of energy profit ratio, or the energy in the fuel produced divided by the energy used to produce it. This relates to net energy. The key point is that if the energy profit ratio falls below 1.0 for a given energy source, then no amount of price rises will make it worthwhile to find, extract, transport, process and distribute for any length of time. This is something most mainstream economists who believe in infinite substitutability, overlook or don't grasp.
      -- Leon Kolankiewicz
A significant part of this book is reprinted in the Carrying Capacity Network Briefing Book.



Ending the Explosion

Ending the Explosion: Population Policies and Ethics for a Humane Future, W. Hollingsworth; 1996, Seven Locks Press, 800.354.5348, ISBN 0-929-765-42-7, ($17.95). Also available from Overall an excellent book on dealing with overpopulation.
The author acknowledges the depths of the social and environmental problems caused by overpopulation, as well as the need to do something quickly. However, there are some noticeable topics not covered, or not covered well primarily the concepts of carrying capacity and optimum population on both regional and global scales. Immigration is also not mentioned.
Other nonpopulation-related topics such as pollution and resource scarcity are skimmed over but that seems fair considering the emphasis placed on population. Biodiversity is given emphasis as worth preserving but the direct impacts of humans on all these issues is left for other books to discuss in detail.
The author peppers the book, as he did the subtitle, with words that would place limitations on solving overpopulation. These words and phrases, while certainly politically correct, sometimes seem out of place with the high degree of threat attributed to overpopulation. Such words include ethical, noncoercive, humane, freedom respecting, human dignity, should be content, and more modest goals.
Time is mentioned as being critical in regard to the trends of population growth and worsening environmental and social conditions. But the author does not take his largely incentive driven and noncoercive plans that next logical step by discussing the more drastic actions necessary should conditions worsen further as population doubles yet again. It will be up to another author to discuss such less humane, but possibly all-too-soon necessary, plans including more restrictive laws such as China's one-child policy, firm control of national borders, a selective increase in mortality, or even the "lifeboat ethics" put forth by Garrett Hardin.
Current environmental problems receiving slight mention are overconsumption and the much higher per capita impact of those living in the rich nations. Most of the incentives in the book are aimed at what the author calls the "population-exploding" nations. Other than providing financial aid to the poorer countries, the rich countries and their population problems are hardly discussed.
Very little is said of disincentives though the various methods of incentives are thoroughly discussed. To his credit the incentives and other population-growth slowing ideas presented seem to be workable and politically acceptable if a government was to decide to take action to control its growing population. However, the tone of the book seems pessimistic that the countries most needing to control their population will do so. Only a hope is given that the rich countries will help the poor countries financially.
The author is to be commended for tackling the issue of solving overpopulation. Nothing is more controversial or more needed.
      -- Ed Glaze
Reader Comments:
"It is a joy to see such a thoroughly readable book about serious ethical issues. This work should be `must' reading for anyone concerned with what may be the most critical problem facing humankind in the 21st century." Demographer and author Leon Bouvier, Ph.D.
"Sure to generate heated controversy . . . . In daring to challenge conventional wisdom in a responsible manner, this book performs a vital service." Ansley J. Coale, Ph.D., Princeton Univ. Office of Population Research
"A carefully wrought work of appraisal and counsel. A wide range of readers should find it both informative and thought- provoking." John A. Ross, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, The Futures Group
"Covers new ground in a lively way." How Many Americans? co- author Lindsey Grant.
"A fair and thorough presentation of the world population situation . . . a lively yet accurate portrayal of this vital field of knowledge." Carl Haub, Population Reference Bureau senior demographer and Director of Information and Education
"This is a well-researched, uncommonly sensible, deeply caring, desperately needed book . . . . Unlike others in `the population establishment,' Hollingsworth offers a set of policies with a fighting chance for timely success." Donald Mann, President, NPG
"A very important book. Unlike most, it rightly sees overpopulation as a threat to the human spirit as well as to our physical well-being. In daring to doubt that contraceptive access and social progress will suffice to end high fertility in time, the book is a provocative and needed critique of the Cairo consensus. . . . Its ideas need to be heard. They would be a vital addition to the population policy debate." Virginia Abernethy, Ph.D., Editor, Population and Environment
Ending the Explosion:
Book Copyright 1996 by William G. Hollingsworth
Cairo, Egypt, September 1994: During the UN's nine-day International Conference on Population and Development, the human race increased by two million people. Despite that truth and chronic controversy, the Conference ended in a spirit of hope. Many even left believing that the world's nations are ready to deal in earnest with the threat of untenable population growth.
Unfortunately, with an endless supply of competing crises to capture both rich and poor nations' attention and resources, governments are already losing focus. The world community will not do nearly enough to prevent massive overpopulation unless two things occur. First, nations become sufficiently convinced of the gravity and the urgency of the population crisis. Second, governments gain a realistic view of what is needed to resolve the crisis in time. Because neither seems ready to happen, this book addresses both of the above requirements.
Part I, "The Population Crisis: An Ethical Appraisal." These chapters seek to comprehend the dimensions of the problem. That possibly impossible task is aided by imaginary trips to the future and by a simulated Senate debate.
Part I is beset by debate. It confronts and answers the perennially favorite arguments for denying or belittling the population crisis -- everything from Science Will Save Us to the claim that by renouncing selfish overconsumption we make overpopulation a nonproblem.
Part I concedes that the consequences of further delay in ending the population explosion cannot be proved beforehand. But it rejects using that truism as an excuse for anything less than full resolve. Part I finds today's human and ecological distress to be ample warning: the awesome risks of needless delay are morally unacceptable. Achieving low fertility as soon as humanely possible has become an ethical imperative of the first order.
Part II, "Resolving the Crisis: An Ethical Enterprise." Rather than bemoaning the problem, the bulk of the book deals with how, and how not, to solve it. Chapter 7 looks at two appealing but unavailing solutions. Setting the stage for a more realistic approach, Chapter 8 examines the stark numerical need to find a road to low fertility that is both rapid and respectful of personal freedom.
What role should family planning programs play? Encountering a vast literature of both praise and scorn, the next three chapters opt for guarded praise. Family planning programs are a necessary but insufficient part of the strategy now needed for adequate fertility decline. Most programs could be much improved; all must offer a choice of contraceptive options that values the dignity and the autonomy of every client.
The book's family planning appraisal emphasizes what all scorners and even most praisers often forget: to deny women and men affordable access to safe and effective contraception is itself reproductive coercion. For millions of women, gaining such access would be an essential first step to freedom.
Indirect means. Chapters 12 through 16 look at a variety of indirect means of helping enable fertility decline. Those means include reducing infant and child mortality, increasing the legal age for marriage in some nations, encouraging breastfeeding, restricting the use of child labor, mandating school attendance, and otherwise increasing schooling and literacy. They also include special efforts to improve women's educational and employment opportunities, plus other reforms to hasten the day of full gender equity.
Drawing upon relevant social science research, those chapters offer, in understandable language, a realistic assessment of the likely fertility-reducing potential of the above endeavors. From that appraisal, two conclusions emerge. First, the chief value of the above indirect means is that of their own inherent goodness; they are right things to do with or without a population crisis.
Second conclusion: though indirect means do have antinatalist potential, they are apt to affect fertility too slowly to end the population explosion sufficiently soon. Even when combined, as is essential, with suitable family planning programs, the above means are unlikely to end high fertility in time to prevent massively tragic overpopulation.
The just stated conclusion in Chapter 16 also applies to the 1994 Cairo Conference, whose recommendations for helping fertility decline consisted only of indirect means plus family planning. The problem with "the Cairo consensus" is that, though laudable, its Programme of Action is -- even on paper -- incomplete. Without more, humanity runs too great a risk of losing the race against overpopulation.
Direct means. Going beyond Cairo, Chapters 17 through 22 assess the "more" that is needed. Those chapters consider the direct means that the Cairo Conference cursorily dismissed: positive and negative incentives to encourage people to plan smaller families.
The chapters on direct incentives give careful attention to such ethical problems as possible coerciveness, effects upon children, arguable unfairness, and other risks to human dignity. The result is a qualified endorsement: if incentives are carefully crafted for noncoerciveness and for other ethical attributes, and if they are adequately justified to the people beforehand, they belong in a high-fertility nation's transition to low fertility.
Part III, "For and About the Future." Chapter 23, "The Global Bargain," looks at the complementary duties of developed and developing nations to enable a future of well-being for all. Chapter 24 considers how the book's recommendations would affect life in the developing nations. Chapter 25 describes further steps that may be needed to hasten the day when both natural splendor and human dignity can flourish.
After noticing why saving the planet and its people is a politically feasible enterprise, Chapter 26 tries to "imagine the intangible." It sees psychological and spiritual gain in a world free from the threat of overpopulation -- where the dream of justice for all could at long last become real.
      -- Bill Hollingsworth, Professor of Law, University of Tulsa College of Law



Population Fallacies

Population Fallacies, Jack Parsons; Elek/Pemberton, London, 1977, ISBN 0301740313 (286p, out of print).
Under the three basic categories of Common Sense, Scientific, and Economic Fallacies, the discussion ranges over such topics as the use of statistics, foretelling the future, military power, migration, manpower, economic development, space travel, the myth of the large happy family and the limits to growth. Each fallacy is clearly stated, solidly documented, thoroughly analysed and finally dismissed.
The author concludes that just as an end to population growth is inevitable by one means or another, as well as being desirable, so must mankind soon go through the "economic transition" into an economic steady state and thenceforth remain there as long as the species lasts. He regards this in no sense as a penalty or a cause for gloom but as a re-entry into man's normal condition, in which and for which he evolved, and as a great liberation from the twin tyrannies of the population explosion and conventional growth-oriented economics.
Jack Parsons was Senior Lecturer in Population Studies and Deputy Director of the David Owen Centre for Population Growth Studies, University College, Cardiff, U.K.
The book's dedication is rather unique: "To all those workers by hand and brain whose labour produces the 'surplus' wealth which has enabled me to sit, read, think, discuss and write in comfort and such tranquility as I am capable of. It is not taken for granted."
      -- Leon Kolankiewicz



Road to Survival

Road to Survival, William Vogt; Sloane, 1948. Another of the classic "early warnings," like Osborn's book, but much starker: "The Day of Judgment is at hand," Vogt proclaimed. During World War II, Vogt held a job with the conservation section of the Pan American Union. His wartime experience in Latin America converted him into a stident neo-Malthusian. Thus commenced a lonely crusade to convince ecologists to incorporate human population in their analyses. In Vogt's view, the United States in 1948 at 147 million was already overpopulated, and its self-indulgent materialism doomed it to eventual extinction.
"Road to Survival" became the best-selling environmental book before Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." "Few books have ever sold so well while decrying the major currents of their time," according to author Stephen Fox (The American Conservation Movement, 1890-1975).
Vogt was a former Audubon Society official who went on to become a director of Planned Parenthood.
      -- Leon Kolankiewicz



The Curve of the Future

The Curve of the Future: Food-Trees, Solar Cars, War-Math, the Fun Economy and Other Essential Knowledge, Edward Passerini; Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co, Dubuque, Iowa, 1992, ISBN 0-8403-7381-3.
This book attempts to explain, in plain English, some of the major problems we face and how to solve them. There are no magic solutions in this book, but some of the solutions will seem like magic to a generation which has usually tried to do things the hard way. The book is neither optimistic nor pessimistic; it simply presents the difficult choices we face and shows how to cope with the future. Pessimists will say the solutions won't work; optimists will say that everything will be all right without having to choose solutions. Most people will understand that the choices must be made and that they are, with hard work, achievable."
"Dr. Passerini is a scientist-humanist with a degree in physics from Harvard and one in literature from the University of Virginia. His current research includes such varied areas as the impact of the population explosion, resource destruction, mature economics, photovoltaic (solar) electricity, and the future of the human species." Passerini was a founder and chair of Carrying Capacity, Inc.
Overpopulation is a definite concern of the author. As stated on p. 225: "The United States' population already exceeds the sustainable carrying capacity. Each person in the United States continues to gobble far more than an equal share of the Earth's resources....
"Everyone who has thought seriously about the problem recognizes that the population of the United States (and of the Earth) will reach a maximum density and begin to contract at some point in time. However, people do not recognize that, unless a voluntary contraction begins soon, then a forced contraction in the future is inevitable....
"The following computer projections show how the United States' population could slowly reduce from a peak population of 250 million down to 100 million in a century or less....
"It is difficult to believe that [current immigration levels] will be allowed to continue much longer. But even if we assume that Congress will soon come to its senses and lower the legal limit to, say, 550,000 and stop the wave of illegal immigration at the lower estimate -- 200,000 -- then we get curve #3, an amazing curve that takes us to 400 million before mid-century and to an incredible 500 million -- twice our current population and five times the carrying capacity -- before 2090. Clearly, serious action is needed -- now!"
      -- Leon Kolankiewicz




The Spirit in the Gene

There is a new book out called "The Spirit in the Gene" by Reg Morrison. I highly recommend that everyone... purchase a copy and read it if you want to understand why we are in our present predicament. Morrison, through researching the evolution of our species and the development of the human brain believes we are hard-wired to believe in mysticism and that this may be our downfall. On page 184 he writes:
"We habitually attach some degree of mystical significance to anything that has a bearing on the survival of our genes, now or in the future, and this extends to the very edge of our perceptions and the limits of rationality."

The brain structures and neuronal pathways that produce these beliefs are located in the older regions of the brain. The cerebral cortex, the rational, thinking "new" brain developed much more recently. The primitive, mystical, beliefs we hold, are part of our evolutionary make-up that enabled us to survive over the millennia. Now however, they have turned against us as we have reached a plague stage and we're powerless to do anything about it.
How else can we explain the fact that so many of us today believe in things like creationism and sustainable development. Something should have been done about the population problem many decades ago. If we were all using our cerebral cortexes we would have foreseen the coming crisis. But we aren't able to override our primitive, mystical, emotional brain that keeps telling us technology will save us or God will save us or sustainable development will save us.
Morrison foresees a monumental population crash some time in the early part of the next century. He actually thinks this is a good thing though because it would be far worse for us to come to our senses now and stabilize the population at such unsustainable levels. This would end up destroying far more biodiversity and make the Earth less habitable than an overshoot-and-collapse. He believes humans will survive the collapse in much smaller numbers. Perhaps this is a necessary evolutionary step to rid ourselves of the mysticism that plagues us.
      -- Tom Fugate


Back to Books
Population and Sustainability   o   EcoFuture ™ home

Copyright 1995-2003 Fred Elbel. This material may be freely used and distributed only for non-commercial purposes, with credit. Trademarks and copyrighted items remain the property of the owner.