Written by Rob Hengeveld
Publication Date: April 15, 2012
All systems produce waste as part of a cycle—bacteria, humans, combustion engines, even one as large and complex as a city. To some extent, this waste can be absorbed, processed, or recycled—though never completely. In Wasted World, Rob Hengeveld reveals how a long history of human consumption has left our world drowning in this waste.
This is a compelling and urgent work that traces the related histories of population growth and resource consumption. As Hengeveld explains, human life (and population growth) depends not only on mineral resources but also on energy. People first obtained energy from food and later supplemented this with energy from water, wind, and animals as one source after another fell short of our ever-growing needs. Finally, we turned to fossil energy, which generates atmospheric waste that is the key driver of global climate change. The effects of this climate change are already leading to food shortages and social collapse in some parts of the world. Because all of these problems are interconnected, Hengeveld argues strenuously that measures to counter individual problems cannot work. Instead, we need to tackle their common cause—our staggering population growth. While many scientists agree that population growth is one of the most critical issues pressuring the environment, Hengeveld is unique in his insistence on turning our attention to the waste such growth leaves in its wake and to the increasing demands of our global society.
A practical look at the sustainability of our planet from the perspective of a biologist whose expertise is in the abundances and distributions of species, Wasted World presents a fascinating picture of the whole process of using, wasting, and exhausting energy and material resources. And by elucidating the complexity of the causes of our current global state, Hengeveld offers us a way forward.
“This is a fresh new way of looking at our core problems on the planet—a different lens to try to understand why we’re having such problems and how we might find better paths.”
(Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet )
“Rob Hengeveld provides a broad history of humanity's impacts on Earth's life support systems, leading to today’s pivotal and dangerous moment. Wasted World is a sobering read that provides us with an understanding of how this urgent situation came to be. It is possible to pull Earth back from the brink—if we act on Hengeveld’s message.”
(Gretchen Daily, Stanford University )
“In this detailed study, biogeographer Hengeveld (affiliated with the Centre for Ecosystem Studies of Alterra, Wageningen, the Netherlands) tackles the dilemma of reconciling the way we live with the future effect our habits will have on the planet. Tracing our origins from the first reproducing cells to today’s massive global economy, Hengeveld describes how all life depends on energy to thrive.”
(Publishers Weekly )
“In profiling the massive buildup of global waste and its consequent threat to the environment, Hengeveld doesn’t mince words here in arguing that the primary culprit behind this crisis is overpopulation. Beginning with an overview of the energy-consumption cycles observed in most natural organisms, where waste products are usually recycled back into the earth, Hengeveld catalogs the obvious evidence that humankind has long passed the point of environmental equilibrium. His core chapters on exhausting and wasting resources highlight the damage done by deforesting, overexploiting fossil fuels, and tainting our freshwater supplies while demonstrating how all of these problems have been triggered by runaway societal expansion.”
“Ecologist Rob Hengeveld’s Wasted World is a monumental cri de Coeur. . . . In Wasted World, Hengeveld’s intellectual compass is firmly aligned with the powerful decades-old environmental rhetoric of thinkers such as environmentalist Donella Meadows (co-author of The Limits to Growth; Universe Books, 1972) and population biologist Paul Ehrlich. Hengeveld argues that we are depleting resources and polluting the environment faster than human survival can bear — literally ‘wasting’ the planet.To his credit, Hengeveld squanders no space on using resources more efficiently in support of economic growth. He homes in on how the human population already exceeds Earth's capacity.”
“The historical coverage is . . . impressive in helping to expose how centuries of human development have landed us here, with society on the brink of collapse. Given the book’s title, one would be forgiven for thinking that this work is just about waste: it is, but it is more besides. Rob Hengeveld successfully reveals how population size, resource exploitation and the threat of system collapse are all interrelated issues that humanity must face up to if it is to avert collapse and have a future on planet Earth.”
(Times Higher Education )
About the Author
Rob Hengeveld is affiliated with the Centre for Ecosystem Studies of Alterra, Wageningen, the Netherlands, and was an honorary professor in the Department of Animal Ecology at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.
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