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Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change Paperback – June 1, 1982


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Editorial Reviews

Review

@CATTON\Overshoot@"Perhaps at no time in human history has there been a more compelling need to re-examine public assumptions and to change national expectations. Overshoot is a book that contributes to this vital task." -- Stewart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition (June 1, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252009886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252009884
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #169,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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106 of 113 people found the following review helpful By J. Mann on April 8, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am astonished at the quality of this book, which is about the eighth book in a personal reading program that included Paul Roberts' The End of Oil, Kenneth Deffeyes' Beyond Oil, Jared Diamon's Collapse, Cottrell's Energy and Society, Michael Klare's Blood and Oil, and others, all extremely good and relevant books. The task this author undertakes is to help readers find a new perspective from which to constructively and usefully interpret inevitable and major changes the world around us. By taking this approach, the author is providing the very essential tool we need to cope with these changes.

The issue is our ecological footprint.

Catton uses the term "Age of Exuberance" to represent the time since 1492 when first a newly discovered hemisphere and then the invention of fossil-fuel-driven machines allowed Old-World humans to escape the constraints imposed by a population roughly at earth's carrying capacity, and instead to grow (and philosophize and emote) expansively. He then reminds us that we are soon to be squeezed by the twin jaws of excessive population and exhausted resources, as our current population is utterly dependent on the mining and burning of fossil energy and its use to exploit earth's resources in general. In spring 2005, the buzz about "the end of cheap energy" is reaching quite a pitch, and when and if the "peak oil" scenario (or other environmental limit-event) is reached, the impact on our social / political world will be enormous. Already the US is brandishing and using its superior weaponry to sieze control of oil assets; this same kind of desperate struggle may well erupt at all levels of society if we don't find a way to identify the problem, anticipate its consequences, and find solutions.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Prokopton on June 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
'Essential Reading' is a phrase applied to just about every third book published these days, but this 1980 work remains probably the most essential of our time. It gives you the straight truth with simplicity and wisdom, and its cumulative effect on the reader is very strong, despite a very unadorned writing style.

Catton's basic approach starts off sounding a little Malthusian: we humans are just one more animal on this planet, and our overpopulation of it relative to what can realistically be supported is going to start placing us under great pressure, as would happen with any other animal in the same boat. Our methods of maintaining our numbers are gradually wiping out the biodiversity we need for our civilization to sustain itself.

This process cannot continue indefinitely, it must crash -- and such a crash would be natural and normal, even commonplace. It can be graphed happening time and again to numerous species which overshoot their necessary resource base. They begin with the exuberance of having more than enough support to grow, but then this growth takes them past the point at which sufficient resources are available, and they die off. This is nature's way, and we should not think we are immune.

Yeast making wine in a vat will be subject to the same process, a surge and then a sudden die-off. It happened to humanity on Easter Island (for example), and now it is happening to us. We can take a lesson from yeast if we will, and recognize the process. "We need a clear-headed ecological interpretation of history," says the author at the start (and of course goes on to provide an excellent one.)

Growth, says Catton, has become a kind of disease in our recent history.
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58 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Love on July 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
If you have found your way to this book, then I assume that you are aware that the "resources" of our world cannot possibly sustain anything close to our current way of life. William Catton's book, written in 1980, remains as visionary and relevant today as the day it was written. "Overshoot" provides a solid background of research and a realistic view of what the likely consequences of humanity's failure to notice that we have entered into "overshoot" of the earth's carrying capacity. As a companion to Charles Tainter's "The Collapse of Complex Societies" and Rees & Wackernagel's "Ecological Footprint," this book rounds out a complete education in the fix we humans have created for ourselves - a real challenge, well documented by Catton.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Michael John Connolly on March 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
I own some eight thousand books and if my house caught fire this is the only book I would risk my life to save. Read it and it will change the way you view the human race. Probably one of the most important books ever written.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Geomon on May 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a highly significant book. It is probably safe to say that most intelligent readers today (2006) are nevertheless unaware of the important, basic ecological themes addresed by Catton, but none can afford to remain uninformed of them. There are many more detailed works on the subject of resources depletion and societal collapse, but none strike to the core of the problem--us, "Homo colossus", or Homo sapiens on fossil fuel steriods--speeding down a highway with a definite "road ends" sign and barricade, our collective "carrying capacity" limit. Catton's arguments are hard to believe at first, then become harder to dismiss, as he makes the case for our innocent or perhaps not so innocent past deeds and current ways. At the end of this extremely well-written and researched work, you will likely find yourself looking for the exit--alas, there is only one Earth, one life. Published in 1980, the material is just as relevant if not more so today, 26 years later and even farther out on the limb. Will our technology save us again, or even prolong our growing masses and consuming way of life much longer? Perhaps, but Catton is no optimist here, with what appears to be a socially sound and ecologically wise judgement of our species.
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