Book review: ‘Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?’
Book review: ‘Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?’ by Alan Weisman
By Fred Pearce, Published: October 10
Alan Weisman once famously imagined “The World Without Us,” in which Earth heals itself after humanity’s mysterious disappearance. Now, in “Countdown,” he engages with the real future of our overpopulated and over-exploited world – a world with us. He asks in particular how many people our planet can sustain. What is its carrying capacity?
The result is a hugely impressive piece of reportage, a cacophony of voices from across the world, including me at one point. But does he answer the question he sets for himself? Despite enjoying his journey, I don’t think so.
Everywhere he visits has population problems. In the Philippines, the Catholic Church has long vetoed family-planning provision, and the country’s main export is people. In male-dominated Pakistan, girls are kept out of school and indoors to breed. In Israel and the Palestinian territories, some groups seem to be breeding for war.
But Weisman finds hope. Not, perhaps, in China’s one-child straitjacket – though it will deliver that country to population peak in a decade or so – but in women taking charge of their lives and reproduction. He meets them in the back streets of Bangkok; in upcountry Uganda; in Niger, which has the world’s highest fertility rate; and in Italy, where the comical sophistry of one cardinal on what family-planning methods are permissible cannot disguise how women have ignored the Vatican’s teachings to make their country among the least fecund places on the planet. Silvio Berlusconi notwithstanding.
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