Over the years Doug and I have been asked to recommend key books many times. Often this request is tied to the desire to understand whose writing has influenced our thinking on conservation, beauty as a value, climate change and the extinction crisis, and a host of other topics which, when taken all together, informed our goals and strategies for the past 25 years of our team’s conservation work.
So, in the spirit of passing along books, essays, and articles that have influenced me, this week I’ll begin with a nod to the book Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change by the sociologist William Catton, Jr. I know many conservationists who were, like me, deeply influenced by Catton’s exploration of what happens when a species grows so abundant that it outstrips the carrying capacity of its habitat. With billions more people on Earth than when the book was first published in 1980, Overshoot is more relevant than ever. And yes, it’s serious for sure, but highly readable and engaging for a nonacademic audience.
Here’s a taste of Catton’s writing:
We industrial hunters and gatherers . . . were led by the culture of exuberance to suppose that mankind was largely exempt from nature’s constraints. This delusion of human exemptionalism was induced and encouraged by the myth of limitlessness made so plausible by the New World’s carrying capacity surplus.
Overshoot made such a big impression on Doug and me that our foundation later sponsored the book’s publication in Spanish and Russian. And in a nod to Catton’s classic, when the Foundation for Deep Ecology worked with Population Media Center to support the Global Population Speak Out, the 2015 campaign’s centerpiece book was titled Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot and was dedicated to William R. Catton Jr., “peerless educator on the perils of overshoot.” Alas, Bill Catton died just before the book came out, but his words, and work, go on to reach new readers.