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Publisher's Summary

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.

The book is published by University of Illinois Press.

©1980 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (P)2016 Redwood Audiobooks

What listeners say about Overshoot

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A Five Star Book... In Print Form.

As CJ's review points out, the narrator is, shall we say, subpar. The voice is nasally, grating, and sounds almost as if the narrator was trying to portray Catton as a college nerd in an 80's flick. I stopped noticing it after a while, however. Partially I got used to it, but mostly I was taken away by the content.

The ideas presented in this book are intellectually bracing. I think, to most people, the word ecology calls up a vague sense of plant and animal food chains, maybe in the context of climate. Humanity is removed from ecology's proper focus, except maybe as a kind of walk-on villain, entering the picture and disrupting how nature "should" be. But this is wrong; humans are animals, in the end, and ecology’s laws control predator as much as prey. This book takes that thought and runs with it.

Essentially, Catton wants to apply the principles of ecology to everything human. He does this with a sort of detached relentlessness. The history of civilization is brought under the microscope, as well as the American Dream, Manifest Destiny, liberty, and progress. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are described as broadly foreseeable results with ecological causes. The physical limits approaching industrial civilization are discussed. The overpopulation of the world is discussed. This is a strikingly clear-eyed book, and one which rebuts human exceptionalism. One of the best passages is when he points out that given the opportunity, both yeast and reindeer will overpopulate then starve, and humans are much closer to reindeer than reindeer are to yeast. Throughout it all, Catton presents neither glib solutions nor vague optimism nor apocalyptic doomerism nor bitter hatred for past generations. That last one impresses me the most. By his argument, the harms our forefathers have passed on to us are really much worse than usually supposed, yet he doesn't hate them. He's fully capable of appreciating the importance of ideals and sincerity with which our predecessors held them.

Like most things, Overshoot is not perfect. As might be expected of the book described above, sometimes I felt Catton over-reached. I felt this especially when he expounded on World War 2 as being caused by "redundancy anxiety", as if the three decades prior to that war could be reduced to the rest of Europe saying to Germany, "You're redundant!" followed by Germany getting an army and screaming back "Noooo, YOU'RE redundant!! You're ALL redundant!" Another problem, this book thinks it's won. It doesn't so much suggest a new paradigm so much as it describes people acting the way they do because they aren't aware of the new paradigm. They still aren't, forty years after publishing and five after his death. I hope he wasn't too much invested in the day when everyone would have to admit he was right.

At times I wonder how much of his generosity came from a sense of victory. What would he have written had he known Carter would be out, Reagan in, and the problem simply ignored? In essence, “got mine, screw yours” across generations. The doomers have been far from helpful in this regard. Lacking Catton’s restraint, they’ve churned out a line of imminent, all-consuming damnations, unfailingly wrong, giving a clean conscience to who support business-as-usual forever. Yet the general premise stands: things that can’t go on forever will end, even if said thing is having more food than mouths. It feels, at least to me, that environmentalist stories are taking a steadily increasing share of the news cycle: forests burning, aquifers running down, fisheries running down, ocean levels rising up… the check has arrived, and even the masses, famously dull as they are, can’t ignore it forever. Sometimes I worry, what will happen when it finally clicks?

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    4 out of 5 stars

Good primer Basic information. Dry presentation

This book provides a comprehensive introduction to overpopulation pressures in the future. It is basic ecology presented as dry sociology.
Try some more modern authors to get the same information. It takes real commitment to work through this book to acquire basic ecological concepts.

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  • CJ
  • 02-14-18

Worst narrator ever

What disappointed you about Overshoot?

Sounded like it was read by a robot.

What do you think your next listen will be?

I need to listen to some good dystopian fiction after this dry, rambling book.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The worst narrator I've heard, by far.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Good points were made, many, many times over.