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One With Nineveh

June 23, 2006

One With Nineveh : Politics, Consumption, and the Human Future (Paperback)
Paul R. Ehrlich, Anne H. Ehrlich

Paul and Anne Ehrlich are professors in the department of Biological Sciences at Stanford. I was enrolled in Paul Elrich's course "Human Biology and the Environment", unofficially known as "The world in 18 lectures". It was a fascinating class based on this book and another book he wrote called Human Natures. Unfortunately, I had to drop the class because I didn't have time in my schedule. But I promised myself I would read the book over the summer.

Synopsis: Earth's resources are being consumed much faster than they are being replaced – this is causing world wide issues of poverty, energy shortages and climate change (among other things).

Summary: Basically what the authors are saying is that we as a country (America) and as a planet have overpopulated and overconsumed the planet. Greenhouse gases from agriculture and transportation is causing global warming. The burning of fossil fuels is leading to energy shortages. Increasing population rates in developing countries is causing the poor to get poorer. The destruction of rainforests is causing the loss of biodiversity.

A note on the last aspect. I used to think that loss of biodiversity is not a big deal, that it was just "natural selection". Well, the truth is that biodiversity provides a large number of resources that would be very bad for us to lose. "Biodiversity must not be conserved just for its own sake, however, but also for the sake of civilization because of its crucial role in providing that indispensable array of ecosystem services and goods." p51

The Ehrlichs argue that this is caused by a culture of overconsumption. We always want the bigger car, the bigger mansion, and that there are no incentives in place to discourage this. And since a great deal of the world still tries to emulate the US, we are causing others to follow this model. They talk about how technology has improved life for millions, often they introduce more problems of their own. (Nuclear power, Green Revolution).

They propose that we create a government program that is self-governed, but appointed by Congress. That way, senators won't have to take the heat for enforcing stricter environmental measures. This does seem like a good idea.

The Erhlichs have long been proponents of population control. Paul wrote the book The Population Bomb, in 1968, a real alarmist book that laid out some dire circumstances, many of which did not (thankfully) come to pass. Still, since then, the population has doubled, or increased by 3 billion since he wrote the book.

Paul says that he's worked out an optimal population for the Earth, based on natural resources, having large cities and open areas. He pegs it at around 2 billion. Sounds unreasonable? It was the world population not that long ago, around 1930.

It truly is incredible to think about how the human population has grown over the years.Human Population

The Takeaway: The message in all of this is that there are no simple solutions to the problems the world faces. We can't just rely on technology to save us, we need to totally rethink the way we approach "progress". It can't always be about having MORE, it needs to be about having ENOUGH. Although this might sound a little socialist, we have to realize that we are truly on a "spaceship earth" and that if we don't cut back on how much of the Earth's resources we're using, we are going to cause a whole new world of pain and suffering onto ourselves.

"From what is known at the moment, civilization's ability to maintain even its current overall level of consumption (however measured) over the long term is certainly in doubt" p215

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara Gibson permalink
    February 28, 2007 9:21 pm

    I live in a small town in Oregon. I went to Colorado State University, read The Population Bomb, Went to ZPG meetings and saw Paul Ehrlich speak. I used to buy into “the world is overpopulated”. Then I met small town families with lots of kids! These people are not the problem. They can’t afford to be super consumers, they are mostly good people who grow their own foods, wear hand me downs or make their own clothes. They are not destroying the planet and I think it is very dangerous generalize the way many environmentalists do. Maybe Paul should lay off talking about population control and preach on self-sufficiency.


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