Too Many People: The Case for Reversing Growth

This book explores a fundamental but seldom asked question: has the recent growth of human numbers and economic activity imperiled our well-being, social justice and even the natural support systems on which we and other creatures depend? Challenging a nearly universal enthusiasm for endless growth, Grant makes the unassailable point that perpetual material growth on Earth is a mathematical absurdity. Growth, moreover, is already an unrecognized root of environmental and social problems, not simply a potential danger.

Grant summarizes the evidence concerning food, water, land, climate change, the energy transition, chemicals and pollution and their threat to living systems. He observes that most people object to crowding — but without identifying the source. He recognizes – indeed emphasizes — the limits of our knowledge, but he suggests, in broad terms, what world population might be sustainable at a decent standard of living. The numbers are something like those the world passed two or three generations ago.

We are already at war with the biosphere that supports us. More than any other proposed solution, a solution on the demand side — population — offers an effective way to end or ameliorate the problems I have described… and, remarkably enough, it will save money rather than demanding more investments. (p.71)

Politicians, planners and environmentalists usually treat population growth as an independent variable to which they must adjust, rather than as a factor that must be changed if a real solution to their problem is to be found. Grant turns the problem around and asks: what population size is compatible with achievement of our goals? And he suggests how we can get there. He applauds Europe’s population turnaround though he warns of the limits.

The book is readable and will appeal to inquiring minds of all ages, but it is aimed particularly at college undergraduates. Grant is a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment and Population Affairs and author of Elephants in the Volkswagen and Juggernaut: Growth on a Finite Planet.

All great truths begin as heresy. Lindsey Grant is a heretical prophet. He proves it again by his new book. When the histories of these times are written, they will show him to be one of the few people understanding the future.

Richard D. Lamm,
Governor of Colorado, 1975-87

… unbiased but somber… I look forward to using Too Many People… as a supplementary text in my course on Environmental Policy.

David Pimentel,
Professor of Ecology and Agricultural Sciences,
Cornell University

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