Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?

countdown book coverA powerful investigation into the chances for humanity’s future from the author of the bestseller The World Without Us.

In his bestselling book The World Without Us, Alan Weisman considered how the Earth could heal and even refill empty niches if relieved of humanity’s constant pressures. Behind that groundbreaking thought experiment was his hope that we would be inspired to find a way to add humans back to this vision of a restored, healthy planet-only in harmony, not mortal combat, with the rest of nature.

But with a million more of us every 4 days on a planet that’s not getting any bigger, and with our exhaust overheating the atmosphere and altering the chemistry of the oceans, prospects for a sustainable human future seem ever more in doubt. For this long awaited follow-up book, Weisman traveled to more than 20 countries to ask what experts agreed were probably the most important questions on Earth–and also the hardest: How many humans can the planet hold without capsizing? How robust must the Earth’s ecosystem be to assure our continued existence? Can we know which other species are essential to our survival? And, how might we actually arrive at a stable, optimum population, and design an economy to allow genuine prosperity without endless growth?

Weisman visits an extraordinary range of the world’s cultures, religions, nationalities, tribes, and political systems to learn what in their beliefs, histories, liturgies, or current circumstances might suggest that sometimes it’s in their own best interest to limit their growth. The result is a landmark work of reporting: devastating, urgent, and, ultimately, deeply hopeful.

By vividly detailing the burgeoning effects of our cumulative presence, Countdown reveals what may be the fastest, most acceptable, practical, and affordable way of returning our planet and our presence on it to balance. Weisman again shows that he is one of the most provocative journalists at work today, with a book whose message is so compelling that it will change how we see our lives and our destiny.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?

  1. Review

    Book Review
    By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

    Countdown
    Our Last, Best Hope For a Future on Earth?
    Alan Weisman

    Little, Brown and Company 09/13
    ISBN: 9780316097758

    According to Alan Weisman, an award-winning journalist whose reports have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, Discover, and on NPR, there are now seven billion people on earth and another million more join us every four-and-a-half days on a planet not getting any bigger. In addition, there are nearly 500 cities with a million people, maybe more, “all eliminating wastes, emitting carbon dioxide, all requiring food, fuel, living space, multiple services — and for those who’ve recently moved to town from the hinterlands: considerably more electricity, to charge their mobile phones and plug in their inevitable TVs.”

    In this startling wake-up call, Weisman reports his findings in 21 countries where he asked religious leaders, scientists, public health workers, demographers, and others questions designed to have them think about the number of people the planet can hold with enough fresh air, water, and food for everybody. What ethical or moral precepts would they use to convince their neighbors that it is in their own best interest to consider these issues? And how can we explain to the thousands of newly rich individuals in China and India that they must cut back and rework an economy based on swift growth?

    Weisman is worried about the formidable size of these problems of overpopulation, excessive consumerism, and economies built on growth. What’s involved in getting families to limit the number of children they have and for nations to take on the challenges of global warming? The most interesting chapter is the one on China but there are also thought-provoking reports from Israel, Pakistan, Uganda, and Niger. One of the keys to the future lies in a saying by Paul Ehrlich who has written widely on population ecology: “Two will do.” If families around the world followed this recipe of two children, we could halt population increase before it becomes catastrophic. But who is going to set the example for our people-packed planet?

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