Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Population Growth

As of 11 am on January 5, 2008, the estimated world population is 6,642,100,544 people – and growing . . . learn more about Population Growth»

As the world becomes more crowded, we are pressed to find meaningful responses to the issues outlined above. The recommended books in this section on offer objective data concerning population growth and resource depletion, and project current trends into the future. They provide reasoned approaches to meeting the challenges of population growth in the years ahead.

Recommended Books on Population Growth

Beyond MalthusBeyond Malthus: Nineteen Dimensions of the Population Challenge
Lester R. Brown

During the last half century world population has climbed from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 5.9 billion in 1998. The U.N. predicts that another 3.3 billion will be added by 2050. This Worldwatch Institute report evaluates the effects of the world's burgeoning population in 19 different areas, including water supply, biodiversity, waste control, food supply, education, housing, jobs, and more. Brown explores the interactions among the various issues: for example, insufficient water affects farmers' ability to produce food; insufficient food affects health and may contribute to social unrest. The book calls for the immediate expansion of international family planning assistance and educational efforts to help promote a shift to smaller families. 1999, W. W. Norton

The Collapse of Complex SocietiesThe Collapse of Complex Societies
Joseph Tainter

This thought-provoking book looks at the issue of how societies address ever-increasing complexity. While not focused on population growth specifically, the ideas presented here are relevant. Tainter looks at 20 different societal collapses and focuses on three in particular: Rome, the Maya, and the Chacoan Indians of the American Southwest. Each of these cultures diversified to meet continually escaling complexity as they grew in wealth and power and population - and eventually overreached their ability to keep expanding. These societies wastefully expended their resources trying to maintain their bloated condition until they finally collapsed into smaller, simpler, more efficient units. While a historical study, there are disturbing parallels to the issues facing the world today. 1990, Cambridge University Press

The Coming Population CrashThe Coming Population Crash: and Our Planet's Surprising Future
Fred Pearce

Deep concern about overpopulation has been a staple of apocalyptic prediction since Thomas Malthus warned in the early 1800s of too many mouths and too little food. The worry is essentially unjustified, maintains Pearce. He makes his case on the grounds of demography, beginning with a historical review. A world traveler, Pearce visits regions of high population growth—India, Bangladesh, and Africa—and supplies anecdotes to support the statistical trends that he describes. The signs all point toward world population cresting soon; Pearce cites declining fertility rates, aging baby boomers, and migration in this optimistic perspective. 2011, Beacon

A Concise History of World PopulationA Concise History of World Population
Massimo Livi Bacci

This new edition of the standard history of world population has been updated to include projections to the year 2050. It includes the latest data on fertility and infant mortality and new sections on migration and the impact of HIV. The discussion of U.S. population growth has been completely rewritten to give a fuller view of historical developments, and coverage of China has been expanded. A Concise History of World Population offers an integrated and comprehensive look at global population, highlighting trends that are affecting population growth today, such as lowering of fertility among developed countries and current population movements. 2006, Wiley

The Empty Cradle
Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books

The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity And What to Do About It
Phillip Longman

Overpopulation has long been a global concern. But between modern medicine and reduced fertility, world population may in fact be shrinking--and is almost certain to do so by the time today's children retire. The troubling implications for our economy and culture include: the possibility of a fundamentalist revival due to the decline of secular fertility; the threat to the free market as the supply of workers and consumers declines; and the eventual collapse of the American health care system as inordinate expenses are incurred by an aging population. Phillip Longman's uncompromisingly sensible solutions fly in the face of traditional ideas. State intervention is necessary, he argues, to combat the effects of an aging population. We must provide incentives for young families, and we cannot close our eyes and hope for the best as an entire generation approaches retirement age. 2004, Basic Books

The End of World Population Growth in the 21st CenturyThe End of World Population Growth in the 21st Century: New Challenges for Human Capital Formation and Sustainable Development
Wolfgang Lutz

This volume provides new ways of thinking about population trends in the 21st century. While the 20th century was the century of population growth with the world's population increasing from 1.6 to 6.1 billion, the 21st century is likely to see the end of world population growth and become the century of population aging. At the moment we are at the crossroads of these two different demographic regimes, with some countries still experiencing high population growth while others are already faced with rapid aging. Lutz presents a new framework for discovering the underlying unity in this demographic diversity. 2004, Earthscan Publications

Feeding the Ten BillionFeeding the Ten Billion
L.T. Evans

At the current rate of increase, the world's population is likely to reach ten billion by the middle of the twenty-first century. This fascinating book looks at the intimate links between population growth and agricultural innovation over the past 10,000 years, illustrating how the evolution of agriculture has both shaped and been shaped by the course of world population growth. This historical context serves to illuminate our present position and to aid understanding of possible future paths to food security for the planet. 1998, Cambridge University Press

FewerFewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future
Ben J. Wattenberg

In Fewer, Wattenberg offers a detailed breakdown of trends toward global depopulation. Previous population projections, he considers, have grossly overestimated peak population numbers. The discrepancies are due to dramatically decreasing fertility rates throughout the world, making population growth rate much slower than anticipated. He predicts that after peaking in the next decades, the birth rate will drop sharply. Wattenberg’s book examines these numbers, their causes and their ramifications, while keeping his statistics comprehensible to the demographic novice. 2005, Ivan R. Dee

The Growth of HumanityThe Growth of Humanity
Barry Bogin

This book provides an introduction to key concepts, methods of research, and essential discoveries in the fields of human demography and human growth and development, particularly in relation to disease, nutrition, and aging. It explores the relationships between food, demography, and growth; migration and human health; and explains how and why humans have had greater reproductive success than any other mammal. 2001, Wiley-Liss

Hot, Flat, and CrowdedHot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America
Thomas L. Friedman

NY Times columnist Friedman takes a fresh look at two of the biggest challenges we face today: America’s surprising loss of focus and national purpose since 9/11; and the global environmental crisis, which is affecting everything from food to fuel to forests. He explains how global warming, rapidly growing populations, and the astonishing expansion of the world’s middle class through globalization have produced a planet that is “hot, flat, and crowded.” In this provocative new book, he shows how the United States can step up now and take the lead in a worldwide effort to replace our wasteful, inefficient energy practices with a strategy for clean energy, energy efficiency, and conservation that Friedman calls Code Green. 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

How Many People Can the Earth Support?How Many People Can the Earth Support?
Joel E. Cohen

This book does not directly answer the question posed in its title - but it does take a hard look at population realities and growth trends worldwide. Nobody really knows how many people can live on our planet, thanks to constant technological advances in areas like crop yield. Cohen is skeptical of the Malthusian doomsayers who constantly predict catastrophe, but he also shows that current rates of population growth cannot continue forever. 1995, W. W. Norton

Limits to GrowthLimits to Growth: The 30-Year Update
Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadows

Using extensive computer models based on population, food production, pollution and other data, the authors demonstrate why the world is in a potentially dangerous "overshoot" situation - we have been steadily using up more of the Earth's resources without replenishing its supplies. The consequences, according to the authors may be catastrophic: "We believe that if a profound correction is not made soon, a crash of some sort is certain. And it will occur within the lifetimes of many who are alive today." The book discusses population and industrial growth, the limits on available resources, pollution, technology and, importantly, ways to avoid overshoot. 2004, Chelsea Green

Outgrowing the Earth
Short List

Outgrowing The Earth
Lester R. Brown

The author dramatically details how human demands are outstripping the earth's capacities - and what we need to do about it. Future security, Brown says, depends on raising water productivity, stabilizing climate by moving beyond fossil fuels, and slowing population growth. 2005, W. W. Norton



OvershootOvershoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
William R. Catton

Catton uses the term "Age of Exuberance" to characterize the period since 1492 when first a newly discovered hemisphere and its abundant resources and then the invention of fossil-fuel-driven machines allowed Old-World humans to excape the constraints imposed by a population roughly at Earth's carrying capacity. He then reminds us that we are soon to be squeezed by the twin jaws of excessive population and exhausted resources, as our current population is utterly dependent on the mining and burning of fossil energy. Overshoot provides a solid background of research and a realistic view of the likely consequences of humanity's failure to notice that we have overreached the limits of Earth's carrying capacity. 1982, University of Illinois Press

The Rapid Growth of Human Populations 1750-2000The Rapid Growth of Human Populations 1750-2000: Histories, Consequences, Issues, Nation by Nation
William Stanton

This book graphically illustrates the global population explosion of the past 250 years. Every nation with a recorded population history is represented among the graphs, which make a case for a fundamental shift from a Darwinian world of ruthless competition to a gentler one with weak restraints on growth. Ultimately this growth becomes self-destructive because the expanding population is rapidly devouring finite resources. Stanton concludes that this growth is unsustainable and will lead to dire consequences if not checked. 2004, Multi-Science Publishing Co.

Sparing Nature
Short List

Sparing Nature: The Conflict Between Human Population Growth and Earth's Biodiversity
Jeffrey K. McKee

Every day there is a net gain of more than 200,000 people on the planet. McKee demonstrates that nature is too sparing to accomodate both a richly diverse living world and a rapidly expanding number of people. He argues that the single most effective measure to save earth's biodiversity is to slow the growth of human populations. 2005, Rutgers University Press

State of the World 2007State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future
Worldwatch Institute

The Worldwatch Institute's award-winning research team focuses on the urbanization of our planet to provide comprehensive analysis of the environmental problems we face, together with descriptions of practical, innovative solutions. The report shows what is needed to foster sustainable cities on a planet where urban areas are home to half the human population and use a far larger share of natural resources. 2007, W. W. Norton

Whole Earth DisciplineWhole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary
Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand, co-author of the seminal 1969 Whole Earth Catalog, reflects on lessons learned from more than 40 years as an environmentalist in Whole Earth Discipline, a compelling attempt to inspire practicable solutions to climate change. He exhorts environmentalists to become fearless about following science; his iconoclastic proposals include transitioning to nuclear energy and ecosystem engineering. Brand's fresh perspective, approachable writing style and manifest wisdom ultimately convince the reader that the future is not an abyss to be feared but an opportunity for innovative problem solvers to embrace enthusiastically. 2010, Penguin

World in the BalanceWorld in the Balance: The Population Paradox (DVD)

As the global population swells to nearly 9 billion by 2050, the social and environmental strains will be enormous. 98 percent of that growth will take place in our planet's poorest regions. The People Paradox reveals many startling trends. In Japan, Europe and Russia, birth rates are shrinking and the population is aging. But in parts of India and Africa, more than half of the still growing population is under 25. The surprising conclusion: world population is now careening in two dramatically different directions. The second hour, China Revs Up, is an insider’s look at China’s booming economy and its growing impact on the environment. 2004, WGBH Boston

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