Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Book: William Catton Returns with "Bottleneck"

George Mobus, Assoc. Prof. of Computing Software Systems at the Univ. of Washington Tacoma does a lengthy review of William R. Catton's Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse. The book is posed as a sequel to Catton's 1983 book, Overshoot, which has become a classic of literature in environmental sociology. The review is posted at The Oil Drum.
Warning: this book does not have a happy ending.

"In the sequel, Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse, Xlibris Corporation, he drops the part about we can evade the worst. The subtitle says it all. Now he concludes that it is already too late to mend our ways and somehow avoid the collapse of civilization. Indeed the main title refers to an impending collapse of the human population. An ecological bottleneck (also called a population bottleneck) is where radical changes in the environment of a species causes a die-off of all but the most hardy of the population; hardy, that is, in terms of the selection pressures arising from the change. Of course there may be no sufficiently hardy individuals left or the ones that manage to survive cannot reproduce sufficiently to produce a new population. In that case the species goes extinct.

Catton's arguments for why this is the most likely outcome for humanity boil down to something I have written about in my blog for several years now. It is the rate of change that matters as much as the degree or magnitude of change when it comes to shocking a population. If we look at the rate of climate change due to anthropogenic forcing, or the rate at which our fossil fuel energy sources are depleting, or the rate of aquifer depletion, or the rate of population increase, or the rate of consumption increase per captia in the developed and developing worlds, or... You get the picture. We are changing the world in ways unfavorable to human survivability more rapidly than we can either adapt or mitigate. And we have already passed the point of no return."

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