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Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  246 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Title: Overshoot Binding: Paperback Author: Catton, William R., JR. Publisher: Combined Academic Publishers
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 1st 1982 by University of Illinois Press (first published October 1st 1980)
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Mar 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Adam by: Alex Hiatt
I've been reading books on “the Problem of Civilization” for several years now. I'm constantly seeking to refine my conceptualization of the way humans interact with each other and their environment. Contrary to what one reviewer says (that most of Catton's book is “common knowledge for any under-40 environmentalists”), I felt that Overshoot expanded my understanding of environmental issues as a whole more than any book I've ever read – excluding perhaps the big leap that occurred when I was fir ...more
Richard Reese
Mar 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
William Catton’s book, Overshoot, describes the process by which most modern societies have achieved overshoot — a population in excess of the permanent carrying capacity of the habitat. It examines the long human saga, and reveals embarrassing failures of foresight that make our big brains wince and blush. Catton drives an iron stake through the heart of our goofy worldview — the myths, fantasies, and illusions of progress. Readers are served a generous full strength dose of ecological reality ...more
Oct 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I love this. The argumentation is excellent, and the implications are profound and dire. The anecdote about the reindeer on the island is worth the price of the book.
Chris Chester
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
tl;dr Fossil fuels have enabled man to greatly exceed the carrying capacity of the Earth, but since they are finite, population crash is inevitable. It's biology, and there's no technological deus ex machina coming that can help us escape it.

Modern man no longer belongs to the species Homo sapiens, argues William Catton in this remarkably prescient work published back in 1982, but to a species more aptly named energy-gobbling monster Homo colossus. Leaning on the same mindsets that freed (some)
Dec 11, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: ecology
Impressive. For the clarity and consistency of his ecological thought, and even more so given that the book was first published in 1980 when even among green activists and academics there was only a fuzzy understanding of the nature and depth of the ecological predicament created by our industrial civilization. For that matter, even now there probably aren't more than 5% of the population of the US who would really understand his worldview.

Catton gets so many things right that it feels a bit lik
Masterful. The author wrote this book in 1982, but a lot of it reads as if it was taken from last year's news. The basic theme is that this planet can only support a certain number of people (or any other creatures) indefinitely; there is a limit based on the renewable natural resources we consume and the rate at which they are regenerated by nature. By tapping into the reserves of fossil fuels that are leftovers from millions of years ago, the human species temporarily increased the limits, the ...more
Zack Lehtinen
Mar 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is easily among the top five most important and compelling books I've ever read. I almost qualified that as "nonfiction books," but the sentence stands as true without the modifier, and I cannot record this book highly enough to everyone.

Catton recent passed. He had a long life, relatively speaking, and I hope it was happy. He was certainly one of the most important, eloquent (and unfortunately little-known or appreciated) voices of the past century. RIP, and may your legacy have greater, n
Apr 28, 2014 marked it as to-read
Shelves: futurology, economics
This is a test review
Another reviewer has taken the words out of my mouth.

Catton's thesis, succinctly put:
"Human beings, in two million years of cultural evolution, have several times succeeded in taking over additional portions of the earth's total life-supporting capacity, at the expense of other creatures. Each time, human population has increased. But man has now learned to rely on a technology that augments human carrying capacity in a necessarily temporary way--as temporary as the extension of life by eating t
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Catton's work is exceptionally well-written, compelling, and well-researched. He explains the greatest problems facing humanity as resulting from the collective absence of an ecological perspective and reluctance to face limits to growth.

This was still very difficult to read at times, simply in terms of it's overall density and my lack of a scientific or research background. Despite this, it offered many fascinating examples and perspectives relating to general ecology and their applications to
Dylan Johnston-Jordan
Jan 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
It's incredible to me that this body of knowledge existed 40 years ago. While there is a considerable amount of content in this book that has become outdated, the bones remain remarkably relevant. Understanding humanity's growth in ecological terms is the philosophical and practical leap required to comprehend what the future has in store for us. Climate change, pollution, and overpopulation are all just products of the process of exponential growth that occurs when our species discovered how to ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
If you are completely uninformed about the fact that humanity is living beyond its means, then you may find some insight here. There is an old saying that a man with a hammer sees every problem as a nail. That is how Catton strikes me. His hammer is his obsessive idea that populations in nature that overshoot the ability of the environment to support them plunge into a rapid die off. Nor does he offer any solutions other than the warning that we're doomed--curtailed consumption or not. There are ...more
Rui Santos
Read this book as part of my recommended reading list for an online course I'm undertaking with the Post Carbon Institute.

The book was bold and challenging in its ideas but I can't say very enjoyable to read. But it met its the primary goal to inform and educate the reader about the urgent need for revolutionary change in our thinking and approach to our relationship with nature if we are to continue to enjoy a habitable planet in the near future.
Strong Extraordinary Dreams
His heart is in the right place, just his thinking, his arguments, were always weak: Results only had one cause, action at individual and group levels were taken to be related, and other stuff that meant that I just couldn't stick with it.

The same areas covered with surety, detail, insight and discipline would be way worth the time to read.

(oh, and I listened to a kind painful amateur audiobook rendering. . . )

Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I can feel this book’s silent influence everywhere I look — alas that it weren’t twice as loud!
Siddiq Khan
May 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
essential reading
Yifan (Evan) Xu (Hsu)
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
The title of the book "overshoot" gives me a straightforward impression that it is about the carrying capacity such as natural resources that would soon reach exhaustion. But the content of the book suggests otherwise.
  The author believes that innovation of technology can provide substitutes to currently exhausting resources and expand the carrying capacity infinitely. His seemingly convincing argument that affirms the divinity of technology is a historical account. He says, in human histor
Natasha Hurley-Walker
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant but devastating. Anyone who thinks we're going to technologically solve the problems that face humanity really needs to give this a read.

I read Too Smart for Our Own Good a few years ago and that was almost reassuring, because I felt relieved that someone was at last looking seriously at the issues. Now I've read Overshoot and I have a horrible sinking feeling... it was published in 1982. People have been trying to raise awareness about these issues since before I was born. And almos
Jul 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: environment
An important book far ahead of its time in many ways, though I suppose it belonged to the era of environmental awakening in the 1970s that came after the oil crisis and with the Carter administration. Belongs with such classics as Limits to Growth in heralding the concept of a finite carrying capacity for mankind. Terms commonly used today like ecological footprint have yet to be coined, instead Catton uses words like 'ghost acreage' and 'phantom carrying capacity' to drive home similar ideas of ...more
John Kaufmann
This book is a classic in "environmental" or natural resource literature, and was a major influence on my thinking. The book is about one big idea - how the ecological exploitation of our planet's resources affects human societies. It describes how humans were/are able to expand their dominance of the planet by continually finding new ways to exploit ecological and natural resources to expand human carrying capacity. These include not just new technologies, but also trade, discovery of new lands ...more
Mark Spyker
Sep 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Even though this was written in the '70s and only published in 1980, this book remains a critically important work: sobering and important, regarded by Michael Dowd ("Thank God for Evolution") and his wife Connie Barlow as the single most important work on ecology in the world today, despite its venerable age. From another review: "The cultural paradigm Catton refers to as 'Exuberance' is so deeply entrenched in our culture that even now, 30 years after the release of the book, in an age glutted ...more
Matthew Dahlhausen
I abandoned the book halfway through. It presents a few simple ecological principles - community, nice, succession, and views human society in that perspective. It spend most of the time making the simple premise that humanity has overshot the carrying capacity of the world and will therefore soon see the end of the age of exuberance. The book claims that this overshoot is the cause of many social ills, like genocide and world wars, which is an extreme oversimplification. The footnotes to suppor ...more
Katja Vartiainen
Jul 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Again four stars. This book is well researched, serious account of what mess we are in, and the future generations even more so. The reason, what is also behind the Syrian crisis, is the ecological crisis, the long drought that affected the already difficult, suppressed Syrians. We are going to face ecological refugees in the future on a constant basis, and this book explains very well how we got here, and what have we done wrong. Its also addresses - a bit- the problem how to deal with it. It i ...more
Jun 10, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ecology

for some reason catton came upon a very important understanding of the unsustainable relationship between the planet's ecology and the industrial economy built by humans, felt overcome by hopelessness and fear, and decided to write a book trying to rub his feelings of sorrow and misanthropy into the faces of the readers.

basically decides humanity is doomed and everyone is either a fool or worse, for not recognizing that. rejects politics as habit, even more vociferously than he rejects technolog
Apr 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the radical social implications of ecology
This is a very sober, straightforward assessment of human society in it's ecological context throughout history. There are not many books out there like this one, which is depressing given how extremely unlikely it is that the human population is anywhere near the carrying capacity of a world without fossil fuels. If you want to reproduce after reading this, you probably have a learning disability.
Sep 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Although it took me a while to get through this book, I found it incredibly worthwhile to read and fully understand. Because this book does not have a plot or characters, I found it easy to put down and pick up again which is why I read this over so lengthy a time. This is an incredibly important issue that I think everyone needs to be made aware of. If you get a chance for a nonfiction book- read this one!
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This 35 year old book is still timely, curiously enough, both because it was far-sighted then and because it addresses a topic, that while not timeless, is still relevent. It is both very important and wonderfully written. The chapters are concise and proceed in a smooth flow to a paradigm-breaking conclusion.
Tie Webb
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature, five-star
Excellent book that was written ahead of its time or perhaps when society had a more open mind. The truths that are revealed will change how you view the world and how far from sustainable we really are.
Jul 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
definately a good read for anyone interested in climate change, or any of the environmental issues facing our generation
Edd Franz
Jul 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Excellent introduction to the relationship between the carrying capacity of our planet and the fossil fuels we use to produce food.
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