Thanks to AJ for contributing this book review.
Ecologists Eric R. Pianka (University of Texas) and Laurie J. Vitt (University of Oklahoma) provide a scientific summary of the overpopulation crisis facing humanity and itemize its many consequences, including climate change (global warming), conservation biology, economic systems, energy and resource shortages, human instincts, immigration conflicts, politics, pollution, poverty, technological problems, and solutions needed. Their underlying thesis is that denial and delusion work synergistically to undermine our ability to confront these serious issues, and unless we undertake proactive measures now, overpopulation and its impact on resource competition and climate change will ultimately lead to the collapse of civilization.
In Road to Survival 70 years ago, William Vogt tried to call attention to the human overpopulation crisis, but failed. Paul Ehrlich raised this issue again 20 years later but was also widely ignored. We wish to re-open this long overdue and much needed discussion about population, a toxic topic that politicians globally avoid. We have written a book “Our One and Only Spaceship:Denial, Delusion and the Population Crisis.” We are two well-known ecologists Eric R. Pianka (University of Texas) and Laurie J. Vitt (University of Oklahoma).
Our book is based on a great deal of research that we have conducted into the topic and on a course that Pianka taught. http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/THOC/
We have edited and written books together, both scientific and semi-popular. Using fact-based analyses, we make the case that human population size and growth is the greatest threat to human survival, and that most if not every major global problem (including spread of AIDS and other communicable diseases, wars and other conflicts, climate change and in particular global warming, food water and energy shortages, poverty, political unrest, pollution, extinctions, etc.) are all direct results of overpopulation. Our birth rate far exceeds our death rate and the current global population of 7.7 billion in itself is unsustainable even without additional growth. This has put us on a collision course with disaster. It is perilous to remain in denial about all of the threats emanating from overpopulation.
As we become ever more and more desperate in trying to provide resources necessary to meet critical demands, our environmental problems will only worsen as we continue to deregulate thus allowing increased exploitation of dwindling natural resources. The thin skin of life on our planet is seriously threatened by the actions of a single species, Homo sapiens. Remarkably, even with our putative high intelligence, we don’t seem to be able to even admit that the problem is population such that discussions can begin on how to stop population growth. One thing is certain, it must and will stop—either we can do it through a series of logical steps (educating the public, coming up with a global plan, implementing the plan), or it will occur as the result of a combination of wars over resources, spread of infectious disease, or even famine. Such a discussion will have a greater impact on human survival than any of the many news stories currently dominating our media.
Overpopulation has only one outcome, and we have all seen it when mold takes over an orange—unlike mold growing on an orange, we do not have another “orange” to which we can send our offspring (There is no planet B). We are fully aware that discussions on population are “politically incorrect” and will be extremely sensitive to many people (especially religious groups) who take up arms in response to any discussion to limit reproduction. The ultimate biological reason for this response is simply that our genes control much of what we do, and reproduction is the currency of future generations. A more proximate reason is simply that our hormonal systems kick in when we reach puberty and all reason is washed away in the maelstrom of hormonal activity pushing us to reproduce. We must do something — ignoring our pressing problem and expecting it to go away is like hoping in vain to win the mega-lottery.
This is my brief review of the book, “Our One and Only Spaceship” subtitled “Denial, Delusion and the Population Crisis” written by Drs. Eric Pianka and Laurie Vitt. Copyright 2019.
I came across this book through one of the comments on your website. Since it was one of the few books that concerned population (in the title) I decided to buy it and read it.
The authors are ecologists. Dr. Eric Pianka is a Professor at UT Austin and Dr. Laurie Vitt is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. The forward was by Paul & Anne Ehrlich.
I overall liked the book. My feeling is that it is somewhat like Tom Murphy’s book and was intended for an intro college course in ecology/sustainability (without the math). That said I never had the impression that the authors were talking down to the reader.
There is some hope in this book. “This generation will be the last with decision-making powers to save our spaceship for all future earth-lings, including human beings.” But as the authors state in the Prologue, “The problem can be easily framed in three words, population, population, and population.” Human civilization is in overshoot and that we in the west are living far beyond the carrying capacity of the planet is covered in detail. So, the problem is both overshoot and population.
There is an acknowledgement that denial and optimism bias are part of our problem. But, I think that the authors are also in a little denial, “If humans are to survive into the next century, we need to reduce population growth, convert to renewable energy sources, use much less energy overall, and develop a plan for the future this is based on fact and not on fiction.” Their opinion is that we can maintain much of our technology (through “green” tech transition) and slowly reduce population with education and enlightenment. I don’t know if they really believe this or like Tom Murphy need to give students something positive to live for in the face of a depressing predicament.
Don’t get me wrong. This book touched all the right notes and I only disagreed with a tiny bit of it. I thought that the preface/into to the last chapter was perhaps the best quote I have seen on our place in the universe (other than Rob’s quote):
“Man did not have forever to harness the forces of the sun and stars. The Sun was an elderly light, long past the turbulent heat of youth, and would some day join the senile class of once-luminiferous bodies. In some incredibly remote time a chance collision might blow it up again into incandescent gas and start a new local cosmic cycle, but of man there would be no trace. In Balfours’s terms, he “will go down into the pit, and all his thoughts will perish. The uneasy consciousness, which in this obscure corner has for a brief space broken the contented silence of the universe, will be at rest. Matter will know itself no longer. ‘Imperishable monuments’ and ‘immortal deeds,’ death itself, and love stronger than death, will be as though they had never been. Nor will anything that IS be better or worse for all that labour, genius, devotion and suffering of man have striven through countless generation to effect.” –Homer Smith (1952) “Man and His Gods” and Earl Balfour (1895) “Foundations of Belief”
Eric Pianka on Kurt Vonnegut‘s Requiem:
From a presentation by Eric Pianka: