EPUB EBook by William R. Catton Jr.
EBook DescriptionI've been reading books on “the Problem of Civilization” for several years now. Overshoot EPUB EBookI'm constantly seeking to refine my conceptualization of the way humans interact with each other and their environment.Contrary to what one reviewer says (that most of Catton's book is “common knowledge for any under- EPUB40 environmentalists”), I felt that Overshoot expanded my understanding of environmental issues as a whole more than any book I've ever read – excluding perhaps the big leap that occurred when I was first exposed to the issues – though the books I've been reading were all written 10 to 30 years after it.
Overshoot is a sober, no-nonsense, presentation of ecological facts about the human condition and civilization.There are absolutely no emotional appeals, no aesthetic arguments, and no moral claims distracting from the simple paradigmatic wisdom Catton is pushing.His project in the book is to incite a paradigm shift, in Thomas Kuhn's scientific-revolutionary sense.That Catton's ideas haven't become common knowledge for everyone under 40 who's been paying attention attests to the fact that cultural paradigms function differently than scientific paradigms.A scientific paradigm has inertia, certainly, but it does fold against the pressure of accumulating evidence it can't properly explain.
The cultural paradigm Catton refers to as Exuberance is so deeply entrenched in our culture that even now, 30 years after the release of the book, in an age glutted with environmental awareness and media, practically no one addresses the fundamental revelation Catton presents: that, by using non-renewable fossil fuels and minerals, we have overshot the carrying capacity we had cultivated and irreparably reduced the earth's capacity to sustain us.As fossil fuels, clean water, arable land, minerals, etc, are exhausted, we WILL experience an extremely unpleasant die-off, accompanied by a likely-total collapse of our civilization.
Speaking of paradigm shift, Catton quite handily put the final nail in the coffin of my old, ideological way of thinking, and confirmed my new (since about this time last year) paradigm.This paradigm refuses explanations for large-scale historical, economic, and social trends based on abstract, ideological factors and not on biological, anthropological, and geographical ones.Catton gave me a number of missing links in the exposition of such an understanding.For example, I'd long suspected there must be some physical causes underlying economic recessions and booms.Economic growth depends on wealth creation, and while that could theoretically occur merely from enhanced human innovation, in practice it obviously occurs by expanding our access to and consumption of physical resources.
Other reviewers have complained that Catton is “all problems, no solutions.”I found the way Catton did supply 'solutions' extremely interesting.He says, to paraphrase, 'The American response to any problem is to ask “What can we DO about it?”Instead we must ask “What can we AVOID doing to keep a bad situation from getting much worse?”'The potential carrying capacity of the Earth is a matter of theoretical debate.However, the extent to which we obviously depend on fossil fuels shows that we have definitely overshot our current carrying capacity.Some people believe technological solutions will be found to drastically increase permanent carrying capacity by the time oil runs out. Catton likens these people to the Cargo Cultists of Melanesia, acting out vain rituals to bring back prosperity the creation of which they never understood.Since we have overshot carrying capacity and are extremely unlikely to be able to raise it to a level that can support the population the world will have produced by the time oil runs out, we will necessarily experience a die-off.This is a problem for which there IS NO SOLUTION.What we could do now is to undergo a voluntary recession, reducing economic growth now in order to make the die-off more humane and possible to weather.
Unfortunately, our current economic and political situation make that possibility seem extremely unlikely.Global warming is one issue of overshoot – we have exceeded the capacity of the environment to process our CO2 output – and the way our political and economic leaders are handling that problem is not heartening.
I very much enjoyed Catton's glossary, and had a lot of fun imagining the visual images his terminology implies.Homo Colossus, a giant cyborg human with all these appliances manufacturing goods for him and refining ore he finds and generally performing in one self-contained apparatus all the functions we have a whole global economy spread across the world for.Or acres and acres of phantom fields worked by ghost slaves.
If there is a better introduction and explanation of the ecological history of civilization, I'm not aware of it.Overshoot is unemotional, very clear, and would a wonderful introduction to these issues.I think it would have been nice had parts of this been required reading for my Intro Environmental Science class rather than Hardin's shitty “Tragedy of the Commons” essay.Go on and read more modern books that tackle the issue from a different perspective once you've finished.
Jared Diamond's Collapse is a must-read presentation of the same argument through an abundance of historical and modern geography case studies.Derrick Jensen's Endgame takes a much more emotional point of view, but this is also an important perspective.Value judgments are crucial in making long-term human policy decisions, just as they are in small-scale environmental and social issues.Don't bother with Quinn's Ishmael once you've read these three – it's a rather simplistic rehash of their concepts.Do read E.O. Wilson's The Diversity of Life, which makes emotional arguments about the intrinsic value and rights of biodiversity that are based on even more incontrovertible scientific arguments about the power biodiversity exerts in buffering our ecosystems from collapse. Like this book? Read online this: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Practice, Understanding Social Exclusion.
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