In The Media
March 14, 2014
In his bestselling book The World Without Us, Alan Weisman considered how the Earth could heal and even refill empty niches if relieved of humanity's constant pressures. Read more...
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In his bestselling book The World Without Us, Alan Weisman considered how the Earth could heal and even refill empty niches if relieved of humanity's constant pressures. Behind that groundbreaking thought experiment was his hope that we would be inspired to find a way to add humans back to this vision of a restored, healthy planet-only in harmony, not mortal combat, with the rest of nature.
But with a million more of us every 4 1/2 days on a planet that's not getting any bigger, and with our exhaust overheating the atmosphere and altering the chemistry of the oceans, prospects for a sustainable human future seem ever more in doubt. For this long awaited follow-up book, Weisman traveled to more than 20 countries to ask what experts agreed were probably the most important questions on Earth--and also the hardest: How many humans can the planet hold without capsizing? How robust must the Earth's ecosystem be to assure our continued existence? Can we know which other species are essential to our survival? And, how might we actually arrive at a stable, optimum population, and design an economy to allow genuine prosperity without endless growth?
Weisman visits an extraordinary range of the world's cultures, religions, nationalities, tribes, and political systems to learn what in their beliefs, histories, liturgies, or current circumstances might suggest that sometimes it's in their own best interest to limit their growth. The result is a landmark work of reporting: devastating, urgent, and, ultimately, deeply hopeful.
By vividly detailing the burgeoning effects of our cumulative presence, Countdown reveals what may be the fastest, most acceptable, practical, and affordable way of returning our planet and our presence on it to balance. Weisman again shows that he is one of the most provocative journalists at work today, with a book whose message is so compelling that it will change how we see our lives and our destiny.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-05-27
- Reviewer: Staff
In this follow-up to The World Without Us, journalist Weisman visits more than 20 countries to explore four urgent questions. How many people can our planet hold? Is it in our own best interest to limit population growth? Which species are essential to our survival? And how can we design a prosperous economy that does not depend on endless growth and consumption? Weisman argues that this will be the century in which we must manage our population, “or nature will do it for us in the form of famine, thirst... crashing ecosystems, and wars over dwindling resources.” To seek answers, he visits some of the planet’s most overcrowded regions, including the Philippines, Niger, and India—with its “archetypal new megalopolis,” Mumbai, swollen beyond comprehension at 21 million. He also visits countries that have slowed their population growth (Iran and Thailand), and those whose populations are dwindling, such as Japan. Weisman interviews Catholic clerics; Buddhist monks; biologists, including Paul Erlich (The Population Bomb); physicists, demographers; and others. He also analyzes the repercussions of China’s one-child policy; the Haber-Bosch fertilization method that led to higher food yields; and the chronic malnourishment afflicting one billion people today. Provocative and sobering, this vividly reported book raises profound concerns about our future. (Sept.)
The consequences of the human race
If there’s one thing we humans are good at, it’s surviving. Look at us go: “Over the past two centuries,” writes environmental journalist Alan Weisman in Countdown, “we have become brilliant at beating back diseases or preemptively protecting ourselves from them. . . . Through much of the world, we’ve doubled average human lifespans from under 40 years to nearly 80.”
In fact, we’re so good at surviving that we’re about to self-destruct; our planet runneth over. “Saving more lives than anyone in history also means there are more lives, period,” he writes. The dilemma: “how to keep growing . . . in a space that does not grow.”
In 2007’s best-selling The World Without Us, Weisman envisioned an Earth free of people, describing in vivid detail the impressive speed with which it might recover. His new book looks at what we must do if we intend to have both a healthy planet and a thriving human race. The problem, in his view, is clear: There are simply too many of us. The solution is a whole lot murkier.
Talking about population control is a tricky business, balancing altruism and self-interest. Family planning is OK for “them,” out of the question for “us.” Nobody wants to starve, but nobody wants their line to die out, either; if only half your babies live, you tend to have lots of them, even if more means hungrier.
Weisman avoids us-vs.-them generalizations by getting down to a micro level. Shrinking resources are a global emergency, so he goes everywhere: Pakistan, Japan, Uganda, Iran, Costa Rica, Jerusalem, Beijing. In each place he talks with people about their families, how they feel about how many children they have and whether that’s changed since their parents’ generation. Some have managed successfully and happily to reduce their family size, while others believe that big families are their only chance to beat their rivals—a sort of genetic arms race.
The stories Weisman tells are equally fascinating and maddening. He knows what’s at stake, but he also understands how people feel. He finds no easy answers, but in most places he finds people willing to take the long view.