activism books design

Book review: Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

overpopulationA few weeks ago I received a copy of Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot in the post. Overweight, one could add to that list – this is a hefty tome. The Population Media Center must be spending a fortune posting these things out.

The book is a coffee-table style volume about population and its impact on the globe. It’s been sent to all sorts of bloggers and media outlets, and it’s available for activists to distribute too. You can request some yourself if you’re so inclined. As awareness raising initiatives go, it’s a simple enough idea. There aren’t many words to read. This is all about showing people the human impact on the planet.

It works, I have to say. I’ve been writing about these sorts of issues for a decade, and I feel like I’ve seen and heard most environmental arguments. But there’s a real power to the photographs here. More importantly, there’s a power to the cumulative effect of them all in one place, and given the large format presentation that they deserve.

One photo shows Mexico City sprawling across a series of hillsides. (I don’t want to nick it, but go and look at it here and come back). From the height of the photo I found myself imagining the density of human population that entails. Then I wondered what it would take to provide for such a community, in food and water and infrastructure. And every one of those people would prefer to be living in more comfortable, more suburban environments no doubt. Where is the space going to come from to provide that, if lower density housing remains our aspiration?

Or take the photo of a valley full of greenhouses in Spain, a sight that begs the question about water footprints. Or the rows upon rows of coal trains, lined up 50 deep at Norfolk, Virginia.

These are environmental photos that show scale, but there are personal ones too. Two Yemeni men with their child brides; women sewing Cabbage Patch dolls in a factory in China. Sometimes the impact is in contrast – Haitian earthquake survivors jostling for food aid on one page, Black Friday shoppers barging through a store doorway on the next, with the same expressions on their faces.

It’s in the images of deprivation that I found the issue spoke loudest to me. “The population debate is not about the maximum number of people that can be packed onto the planet” writes William Ryerson in the introduction. “The crucial question is: How many people can the earth sustain, at a reasonable standard of living, while leaving room for the diversity of life to flourish?” A world with 12 billion people is a world with a whole lot more suffering than a world with 6.7 billion, the two possible outcomes the book presents for 2100.

Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot is “a wake-up call”. It is meant to be provocative, and it is. But it isn’t hopeless. Acting on population is one of the few “win-win” interventions that benefit people and the environment, reducing our ecological damage while improving women’s right and education. For more on what can be done about it, visit Population SpeakOut.

You can also browse the book in its entirety online.


  1. Demographics

    “One person less has theoretically trice the impact of reducing the footprint of an
    individual thirty percent” , thirty percent being impossible to
    achieve, considering human energy needs, not human energy wants. Simple caloric estimates.

    Math being what it is, the problematic priority should be to consider
    human numbers, or humanity by the pound.

    Our system has been doing that in a systemic way stealthily anyhow: dividing calories
    unequally between populations and within populations, based on power, and
    not potential(humanity would have come out as a smarter processor of
    it’s own environment possibly) capacity.

    Capitalism combined with democracy, it’s impact globally has achieved that in less then two-hundred years. Impressive.
    A mindset-practical appliance that majors any other philosophy,
    religion, any collective attitude in consequence.
    The mindset: individual greed is good for the collective.
    The appliance: monopolize means of production, and assets.

    The problem: capitalism-democracy, in one breath the global economics, with all it’s secondary leverage, global trade, war for profit, creates a divide between successful and
    socially acceptable greed for the few and want of basics,
    exhaustion of resources, and deprivation under the excuse of “development” for most.
    World economics and it’s underlying mindset cannot be tuned to anything else,
    the consequences are in the core,
    it is sufficient to run theoretical models and one ends up always with a
    monopoly game outcome: the few possess within humanity the misery of the
    most, and outside of the anthropogenic environment: the derivatives as
    exhaustion of resources and pollution is in-avoidable.

    To give the old cows(capitalism-democracy – include communism(a form of economics now tuned to the latter) a lease on life, a wild card
    is needed,
    something as mining within the further universe(s), colonize space. This is merely a scaled repeat of human history over the last ten thousand years.
    Grab what is in the public domain, and increasingly and now exclusively
    grab what belongs de facto to others, is needed. The life-texture not to
    be touched, the envelope of the perpetrator is ravaged equally.

    Timeliness is one more dimension, there is not a scientist that is not
    bought and arraigned by the power elites, duly peered he may be, that dares to prone the
    conquest of space is
    realizable in a timely manner.

    Then how improbable is reducing the stress of a world human population
    and secondarily it’s output in the light of that?
    Evidently a step closer to the possible.
    Just on a theoretical basis, that is where where the human effort should
    be directed at in the first place since the impact is the most relevant.

    Changing mindsets, applying technology and science for the benefit of
    above goal should be the priority.

    Thnks Jeremy to mention population and finally question the taboo of
    considering it as the major factor in the equation of survival, humanity
    will have to turn about or the larger environment will do this for us.
    Between both, our voluntary attitude might be the lesser burden.

    The sun has still four? billion years to provide us with energy, that’s
    what we should aim for, that is what opportunism means at the extreme
    end, that is where opportunism, individual greed and collective
    responsibility blend into ethics and a responsible morality.

    For an atheist mentioning the Pope, and pointing to “Laudato Si” is the
    attitude, as long as our paradigms fit the major context, the rest is


  2. An issues that needs massive attention and consideration. I often though how can the problem of overpopulation be address and cannot find a solution myself. Obviously stopping having children is the solution but that instil creates problems. The dilemma needs massive consideration and thought, my solution is to all become as sustainable as we can Until we develop a solution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: