Following up The World Without Us (2007), which explored how the Earth might heal from our depredations if humans became extinct, journalist Weisman writes a more conventional but equally astute analysis of how humans might avoid extinction.
Overconsumption, not overpopulation, will destroy the planet, but no one except enthusiasts expects us to renounce our meat, cars, single-family houses and air conditioning anytime soon. After traveling the world, Weisman delivers a dozen often painful journalistic essays on efforts to answer four questions: How many people can the Earth hold at a tolerable standard of living? How much ecosystem do humans need; at what point do we eradicate an organism our existence depends upon? Today every nation depends on growth for prosperity. How can we design an economy for a stable population? Is there an acceptable way to convince people of every religion, culture and political system that it’s in their interest to stop having so many children? Despite the maxim that poor people yearn for huge families, that turns out to be true only for poor men. Poor women mostly yearn for birth control, and Weisman offers heart-rending portrayals of nations already suffering demographic collapse (Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda and Niger are the worst) and admirable individuals and organizations struggling to help despite little support from national governments or American aid. “I don’t want to cull anyone alive today,” writes the author. “I wish every human now on the planet a long, healthy life. But either we take control ourselves, and humanely bring our numbers down by recruiting few new members of the human race to take our places, or nature’s going to hand out a pile of pink slips.”
Some news is hopeful, and a few nations have taken action, so this is not a jeremiad but a realistic, vividly detailed exploration of the greatest problem facing our species.