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Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation Hardcover – December 1, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


<p>The desire for families is built into our genes; and since people have a right to reproduce, more people living a more abundant life is a perennial hope. But seven billion and escalating to ten or twelve? Too many people is arguably the most serious problem on the world agenda&mdash;for the adverse effects on human flourishing, on land health, and on biodiversity. . . . Cafaro and Crist have gathered much of the best recent work analyzing these daunting issues. In the new millennium no one can claim to be well educated, or moral, without facing &lsquo;life on the brink.&rsquo;</p> (Holmes Rolston III Colorado State University)

<p>For decades, overpopulation deniers have claimed that those who advocate population stabilization or reduction do so to retain privileges; are motivated by racist, sexist, or colonialist views; or do not understand economics. Life on the Brink courageously argues that intelligent and compassionate action in our world demands that we reduce our numbers as quickly and humanely as possible. Its urgent message should be widely read and acted upon.</p> (Bron Taylor author of <i>Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future</i>)

<p>In this challenging anthology, coeditors Philip Cafaro and Eileen Crist, together with some two dozen contributors, resolutely confront what until quite recently has been the 'toxic third rail' in far too many discussions of humanity's environmental past, present, and future. The book's principal concern and recurrent theme is how 'wild nature,' the totality of life's biological diversity, ecological complexity, and evolutionary dynamism, will survive and flourish in the face of a rapidly expanding global human enterprise (i.e., modern agricultural/industrial/technological civilization). As the title suggests, confronting ongoing population growth is of critical importance. Simply stated, the authors persuasively argue that global human numbers&mdash;along with excessive per capita consumption&mdash;must initially be slowed, then stabilized, and subsequently reduced as rapidly and as humanely possible to levels consistent with the earth's longer-term sustainable carrying capacity, a number that may well turn out to be in the one to three billion range.</p> (J. Kenneth Smail professor emeritus of anthropology, Kenyon College)

<p><i>Life on the Brink</i> is a timely and valuable volume, bringing together an impressive set of cutting-edge essays by leading scholars from a wide range of disciplines. The essays address human population growth and issues associated with it from a variety of important (and all-too-often overlooked) perspectives. The work here is empirically well grounded and goes well beyond tired claims that overconsumption is the problem of the wealthy nations, while overpopulation is the problem of those that are developing, or that 'business-as-usual' development alone will inevitably lead to a desirable outcome for the human population. Cafaro and Crist have brought together a volume that will be of great interest for any scholars working on development, population, and environmental issues; indeed, most all of the essays would also be very useful in advanced undergraduate or graduate courses in these areas.</p> (Jason Kawall associate professor of philosophy and environmental studies, Colgate University)

<p>[<i>Life on the Brink</i>] provides evidence that the world&rsquo;s populations must listen to its scientists/researchers and take action to save Earth. Its poignant message makes it an important resource for all students.</p> (Choice)

<p>Any environmental science or social issues collection will find <i>Life on the Brink</i> packs in much food for classroom discussion, debate, and thought.</p> (Midwest Book Review)

<p>All of the diverse threats to biological diversity are ultimately caused by an increasing human population and a rising standard of living. In <i>Life on the Brink</i>, the authors ask us to consider that the major environmental, social, and economic problems of the world could be dealt with more easily if the human population stabilized or even began to shrink. This is a bold statement by leaders who are not afraid of speaking the truth about how to protect nature.</p> (Richard B. Primack author of <i>Essentials of Conservation Biology</i>)

About the Author

Philip Cafaro is a professor of philosophy at Colorado State University. His books include <i>Virtue Ethics and the Environment</i> and <i>Thoreau&rsquo;s Living Ethics: Walden and the Pursuit of Virtue</i> (Georgia).

Philip Cafaro is a professor of philosophy at Colorado State University. His books include <i>Virtue Ethics and the Environment</i> and <i>Thoreau&rsquo;s Living Ethics: Walden and the Pursuit of Virtue</i> (Georgia).

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (December 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820340480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820340487
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,234,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Every now and again a book or article about population comes along that changes your life or at least your way of thinking. For me, three stand out: 'The Population Bomb' by Paul Ehrlich (1968); 'The Coming Anarchy' by Rober D Kaplan (Atlantic Monthly, February 1994) and 'Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change' by William Catton Jnr (1980). Now a fourth book, 'Life on the Brink', joins those three as a game-changer. The title of the book is apt: overpopulation is indeed pushing life on Earth to the brink.

Editors Philip Cafaro and Eileen Crist have gathered together essays from virtually everyone who is anyone in the population movement today, not least the above-mentioned Paul (with Anne) Ehrlich as well as William Catton Jnr. But we hear also from the great Al Bartlett, Lester Brown, William Ryerson, Leon Kolankiewicz, Martha Campbell, Dave Forman, Bob Engelman and a host of others. Every contribution is worth reading.

Cafaro is a philosopher and it is reflected in his own beautifully written contributions including the epilogue where he considers whether humanity is a cancer on the earth. Perhaps it prompted the recent comment by British naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough that humans are a plague upon the Earth. Whether it did or not, reading this book will leave you concluding that indeed we, with our excessive numbers, are a cancer or a plague. As the editors themselves and many contributors point out, population growth is a major driver of ecological destruction. This not only affects other species, it affects us for we are wholly dependent on the planet's natural processes for providing us with life's necessities: clean air and water, food, pollination and a liveable climate.

But that is not to say it is all depressing.
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Format: Paperback
The authors make a great case that we already have too many people on our planet. I agree with them that the United States is overpopulated and consumes too many finite natural resources. We may indeed be a cancer on the Earth; we are arrogantly destroying habitat for wildlife, including marine life, all at great peril to ourselves. We eat too much meat, which is a fossil-fuel hungry way to produce food.

I agree with the authors that there is still hope for our planet, but only if the United States and other countries recognize that the best fix for overpopulation is recognizing that people, especially women, should be educated, and that everyone must have easy access to free or affordable birth control. The U.S. must make international family planning funding a top priority. All individuals must make the conscious decision to limit the size of their families to one or two children, or (preferably) to not reproduce at all.

Additionally, those of us in developed or developing countries must reduce our consumption levels, along with our population levels. Even if we consume less and the population continues to grow, there is no chance the world we love will prosper.

I firmly agree with the authors that if we do not heed these warnings, our planet is at great peril: the climate will grow warmer leading to more weather-related calamities, wildlife will continue to disappear, sprawl will increase, and fossil fuel energy use will rise (renewable energy sources will not be sufficient to keep up).

I strongly recommend you take the time to read this incredible, eye-opening book. I also recommend that we start talking publicly and frequently about these issues, even if they are controversial and, perhaps, not politically correct.
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Format: Paperback
Applause for the thinking behind this collection of academics, activists, and other expert voices. As an anthology, unevenness in the contributions and varying degrees of effectiveness are inevitable, but taken holistically, there is much to admire. There are bothersome blind spots, there are essays that are less convincing than others, and there are essays that make only a passing mention of environmental protection thus feel like they were included solely to diversify the book. To be fair, confronting overpopulation needs an interdisciplinary approach that addresses social, ethical, cultural, political, religious, scientific, and economic factors.

What is grimly clear is that those of us who see human overpopulation as the single biggest threat to the planet have lost too much ground since the 80s and 90s. The public enjoys a false sense of security thanks to pseudoscience about declining fertility rates and rising contraceptive prevalence, red-herring arguments that overconsumption or population distribution is the real problem, and outright denial by people addicted to breeding. With some climate scientists now predicting this big blue marble will likely be unlivable by 2050, I don’t see any happy endings in store for the new people we keep making, and there are never happy endings for nonhuman animals, as 60 billion land animals alone killed each year just for food. The solutions, even those from these accomplished essay writers, feel feeble.

At least a passing interest in overpopulation and/or environmentalism would be necessary for appreciating this book. I adhere to a philosophy of voluntary human extinction, so I’m already in the choir. For more see vhemt.org.
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