Book Review: Alan Weisman’s ‘Countdown’

September 23, 2013 • Climate Change & Mitigation, Family Planning, Protection of Species, Reproductive Health, Daily Email Recap

Alan Weisman’s ‘Countdown’ points to Earth’s population explosion
Alan Weisman, the author of bestseller ‘The World Without Us,’ says population is going in the wrong direction to let us achieve ecological sustainability. How many people can the planet support?

In “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman took readers for a romp through the misty primeval forest in Poland and splashed into gin-clear waters to gaze upon one the most remote and intact coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. Besides highlighting a few of the world’s last remaining pristine places, the bestseller engaged in a thought experiment: If human beings were suddenly wiped off the face of Earth, how fast would nature overgrow cities with vegetation, reclaim the land, and demonstrate its remarkable resilience? For nature lovers, this fanciful future offered hope and irresistible images of Earth returning to a wild and happy place.

Now, six years later, Weisman has produced a sequel of sorts that adds humans back into the equation. And the place doesn’t look so happy.

In “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?,” Weisman explains that population is going in the wrong direction – by adding 1 million more people to the planet every 41/2 days – if we want to achieve some semblance of ecological sustainability. It’s not just this century’s projected growth to 11 billion that troubles him. Weisman is concerned about how the 7 billion of us already here are straining natural limits, from the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere to the decline of available fresh water.

“Our numbers have reached a point where we’ve essentially redefined the concept of original sin,” Weisman writes. “From the instant we’re born, even the humblest among us compounds the world’s mounting problems by needing food, firewood, and a roof, for starters. Literally and figuratively, we’re all exhaling CO2 and pushing other species over the edge.”

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