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How many people can the Earth support? Tucker makes the case that the Earth’s 'carrying capacity' is limited to 3 billion humans, and that humanity’s century long binge has incurred an unsustainable ecological debt that must be paid down promptly, or else cataclysm awaits. Given that our species has already surpassed 7.5 billion, and is fast approaching 9 billion or more, How many people can the Earth support? Tucker makes the case that the Earth’s 'carrying capacity' is limited to 3 billion humans, and that humanity’s century long binge has incurred an unsustainable ecological debt that must be paid down promptly, or else cataclysm awaits. Given that our species has already surpassed 7.5 billion, and is fast approaching 9 billion or more, this is an audacious claim that everyone who cares about the fate of our planet and our species has a responsibility to evaluate for themselves. Tucker, in his exploration of the frontiers of scientific knowledge, urges all of us to question his estimate. He encourages us to marshal our own data and calculations, if we are so inclined, so that we can all engage in this existential debate as educated global citizens equipped to navigate what promises to be an uncertain future. Equal parts history, science, economics, demography, conservation thinking, ethics, and foreign affairs - all through a geographic lens - this provocative book fundamentally redefines how you will think about the fate of humanity, and the planet from which our species evolved. In part a continuation of E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth thesis, Tucker decrypts the complex story of how humanity has come to burden the finite geography of our planet in unsustainable ways. Tucker argues that we in fact have "A People Problem” which goes far beyond the very real perils of climate change and biodiversity loss. Tucker takes us on a journey through the history and geography of the ecological devastation wrought by humanity, and the persistent wastes that we have accumulated, as our population has grown relentlessly. Only by thinking geographically, Tucker argues, can we truly understand the threats to humanity and the Planet Earth that sustains us. In A Planet of 3 Billion, biogeography, human geography, and geostrategic thinking collide to illuminate the most pressing issues facing our world today. Beyond a detailed tour of this seemingly insurmountable challenge, Tucker offers solutions. Tucker makes a convincing case that renewal is possible, and that we can indeed find our way to a new sustainable population plateau of 3 billion without some ominous genocide, epidemic, or ecological collapse. Women - educated, empowered, integrated in to the workforce, and with access to family planning technologies - hold the key to our ecological salvation.  All of us bear the responsibility for empowering women if we are to collectively chart a safe path to this new lower population plateau. And, together we must conjure up new ways to give Earth’s panoply of unique ecoregions a voice, if we are to achieve an ecologically sustainable planet for our species over the long run. This book is for anyone who is interested in the world around them, concerned about the fate of the planet, and seeking insights that can help them become part of the solutions that would put us on a path to a resilient future.


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How many people can the Earth support? Tucker makes the case that the Earth’s 'carrying capacity' is limited to 3 billion humans, and that humanity’s century long binge has incurred an unsustainable ecological debt that must be paid down promptly, or else cataclysm awaits. Given that our species has already surpassed 7.5 billion, and is fast approaching 9 billion or more, How many people can the Earth support? Tucker makes the case that the Earth’s 'carrying capacity' is limited to 3 billion humans, and that humanity’s century long binge has incurred an unsustainable ecological debt that must be paid down promptly, or else cataclysm awaits. Given that our species has already surpassed 7.5 billion, and is fast approaching 9 billion or more, this is an audacious claim that everyone who cares about the fate of our planet and our species has a responsibility to evaluate for themselves. Tucker, in his exploration of the frontiers of scientific knowledge, urges all of us to question his estimate. He encourages us to marshal our own data and calculations, if we are so inclined, so that we can all engage in this existential debate as educated global citizens equipped to navigate what promises to be an uncertain future. Equal parts history, science, economics, demography, conservation thinking, ethics, and foreign affairs - all through a geographic lens - this provocative book fundamentally redefines how you will think about the fate of humanity, and the planet from which our species evolved. In part a continuation of E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth thesis, Tucker decrypts the complex story of how humanity has come to burden the finite geography of our planet in unsustainable ways. Tucker argues that we in fact have "A People Problem” which goes far beyond the very real perils of climate change and biodiversity loss. Tucker takes us on a journey through the history and geography of the ecological devastation wrought by humanity, and the persistent wastes that we have accumulated, as our population has grown relentlessly. Only by thinking geographically, Tucker argues, can we truly understand the threats to humanity and the Planet Earth that sustains us. In A Planet of 3 Billion, biogeography, human geography, and geostrategic thinking collide to illuminate the most pressing issues facing our world today. Beyond a detailed tour of this seemingly insurmountable challenge, Tucker offers solutions. Tucker makes a convincing case that renewal is possible, and that we can indeed find our way to a new sustainable population plateau of 3 billion without some ominous genocide, epidemic, or ecological collapse. Women - educated, empowered, integrated in to the workforce, and with access to family planning technologies - hold the key to our ecological salvation.  All of us bear the responsibility for empowering women if we are to collectively chart a safe path to this new lower population plateau. And, together we must conjure up new ways to give Earth’s panoply of unique ecoregions a voice, if we are to achieve an ecologically sustainable planet for our species over the long run. This book is for anyone who is interested in the world around them, concerned about the fate of the planet, and seeking insights that can help them become part of the solutions that would put us on a path to a resilient future.

36 review for A Planet of 3 Billion: Mapping Humanity's Long History of Ecological Destruction and Finding Our Way to a Resilient Future | A Global Citizen's Guide to Saving the Planet

  1. 5 out of 5

    Juha

    This is a very important and sobering book that I wish everyone would read. Chrisopher Tucker, a self-described unrepentant capitalist, tackles the fundamental issue affecting the sustainability of the planet: human population. He clearly states his thesis: the Earth has a people problem. There was a time half a century ago when ecologically-minded scientists, researchers and activists actively discussed the impossibility of unlimited population growth on a limited planet. It was inevitable that This is a very important and sobering book that I wish everyone would read. Chrisopher Tucker, a self-described unrepentant capitalist, tackles the fundamental issue affecting the sustainability of the planet: human population. He clearly states his thesis: the Earth has a people problem. There was a time half a century ago when ecologically-minded scientists, researchers and activists actively discussed the impossibility of unlimited population growth on a limited planet. It was inevitable that the population bomb would explode. This rational view was silenced from all sides. The conservative and often religious right was attacking it for promoting “unnatural” things, such as population control. It didn’t help that China (and earlier India) established draconian measures to curb population growth. The left saw it as blaming the victim: one should not try to interfere with poor people’s right to have children. The developing countries saw it as a white man’s ploy to keep them down, while at the same time many saw a burgeoning population as might that could help them to dominate their neighbors. And economists – those eternal optimists to whom growth of any kind is a value in itself and who see any negative aspect of growth as mere externalities that can be left out of the equation – put their money on human ingenuity and technology that would overcome any obstacle (this has so far worked to the extent that material lack has decreased, but at a huge cost to the natural environment). No-one paid any attention to the rights of non-humans on this planet, or even the quality of life or joy that nature would bring people. If you can’t measure it in money, it does not exist. Finally, Christopher Tucker has brought human overpopulation back into focus. Tucker makes it clear that his is not a neo-Malthusian oeuvre and he recognizes the essential roles the level of per capita consumption and technology play. But his thorough and thoughtful analysis leads him to the conclusion that the Earth can sustainably support only a population of 3 billion – and that only if we cut out ecological footprint and waste significantly. He takes issue with the romantic view that pre-industrial people lived in harmony with nature. It was only because their numbers were so small that the damage they did was limited, but damage they did do by clearing land for agriculture, by cutting down forests for construction, energy and fiber, by hunting wild animals and grazing domesticated ones. Sahara once was a viable ecosystem until overuse of its fragile ecosystem turned it into a desert. Since Roman times, people fundamentally transformed Europe’s ecosystems. In ecological terms, humans are an invasive species. The first half of the book provides a detailed overview of the Earth’s environmental history in light of human impact on it through population growth, industrialization, agriculture, development of new energy sources (notably fossil fuels whose introduction initially saved forest that were being cut down for energy, but which has later led to air pollution and climate change), infrastructure, transportation, urbanization, introduction of toxic chemicals, waste etc. He takes popular environmental theories and critiques them. A geographer by training, one of Tucker’s main contributions pertains to the insights into the geographical diversity of the world. Hardly anyone else has addressed this issue systematically. E.O. Wilson has proposed that half of the world should be set aside for nature, but Tucker reveals how challenging and complex this notion is. What do we mean by half when every geography is so different in terms of productivity, terrain, topography, climate and so forth, and when connections between regions are essential? Measuring half just by size is meaningless. And what do we mean by “protection” anyway? He suggests viewing the world through the perspective of ecoregions. He embraces the ecological footprint thesis, but critiques it for also lacking a geographical perspective, which he convincingly inserts into it, while recognizing the enormous technical task of incorporating the geographical variables into the equation. The book is a delightful exception to the current debate where climate change crowds out all other environmental issues (are we really only able to focus on one thing at a time?). Tucker doesn’t belittle the impacts of climate change, but hammers home the point how humanity is causing irreversible harm to the Earth’s ecosystems through so many other ways. One example is waste. We generate astronomical amounts of waste that fill the land, atmosphere and, not least, oceans – and have very few solutions to the issue. He also brings to attention forms of pollution that we seldom think of, such as noise pollution that is very hazardous to many animals from birds to whales. The book contains some hopeful examples of how things may be changing. Circular economy where the waste of one process becomes an input to the next is one. He highlights Finland’s commitment to zero waste, including greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the acknowledgement of the need and good intentions, this is still difficult work in progress. I fully agree with Tucker that well managed cities are the only way of containing human impact on the planet, as sprawl is one of worst kinds of destruction as areas are transformed into artificial ones, roads dissect ecosystems. Lawns and parks may be green, but they are far from natural and only contain a fraction of natural biodiversity. Living densely reduces the geographic footprint and minimizes the need for movement. There are increasing examples of sustainable cities, such as Singapore (and the organization I work for, the Global Environment Facility, is one of the many that actively promotes sustainable urbanization), but too many cities, especially in the developing countries, are growing haphazardly wreaking havoc both on their human inhabitants and nature. Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to environmental change. Techniques such as vertical farming could significantly reduce the impact. Admittedly, it would be much harder to develop for animal husbandry. Growing meat for human consumption is extremely wasteful in terms of land, water and waste. The figures are stunning: there are 1.4 billion cattle, 2 billion domesticated pigs, 1 billion sheep, 450 million goats and 19 billion chicken on Earth (p. 229). Their only purpose is to feed people. Through a sophisticated and convincing analysis – with transparent assumptions – Tucker concludes that the Earth’s carrying capacity of human population is around 3 billion people. This is a stark prospect, given that there currently are about 7.5 billion of us on the planet and the UN projects that the population will grow to at least 9 billion before it reaches its peak. However, it’s illustrative to remember that it was after World War II when the world population still was at that lower level. Since then, our lives and lifestyles have also changed dramatically. Today there are some 3 billion air passengers annually; more than there were people in 1950. Tucker recognizes that bringing world’s population down to 3 billion will not be easy. He discusses the obstacles to this, including cultural and religious norms and, not least, classical economics that still believes that the alternative to eternal growth it stagnation. Even the field of environmental economics doesn’t go far enough, believing that a steady-state can be reached. We also often witness hand-wringing because of aging populations and population decline, especially in Japan and Western Europe. However, irrespective of what we wish, the world population will start shrinking at around year 2100, unless an ecological disaster catches us before that (it could also be a global pandemic – such as the current outbreak of coronavirus – that does us in). Sooner or later we will have to learn to live with a declining population. Tucker calls for a new generation of economists to focus efforts on de-growth economics. There is no law of nature that compels that our standard of living and quality of life should decline should growth stop (on the contrary, I would argue). In the end, Tucker is cautiously optimistic, trusting that new ways of thinking and technologies will save humankind before it is too late. He rightly points out that either we start making these radical changes in society now or we will be forced to make much more unpleasant choices a bit later. He outlines an agenda – a cookbook, he calls it – for global leaders and global citizens that encompasses ten necessary areas of action to avoid catastrophe: 1) women’s empowerment that will lead to smaller families; 2) building sustainable, smart and resilient cities; 3) developing restoration and rewilding strategies for each ecoregion; 4) de-industrializing and reducing human footprint in critical ecoregions; 5) driving wastes out of capitalist supply chains; 6) demanding the design of low-impact infrastructure; 7) stopping impeding and diverting the natural flow of water; 8) stopping use of “growth” language in economic strategies and economic development planning; 9) reframing eco-engineering to focus on unwinding the most egregious ecological offenses; and 10) thinking critically about how the land rights model of capitalism has led to the denuding the planet and identifying alternatives that help strike a balance between human development and the ecological processes on which humankind depends. Tucker discusses further each of these and how they might be advanced. Responsibility is given to governments and especially business leaders, as well as us individuals. We can influence matters globally through our actions by changing our individual behaviors (given the enormous role of cattle ranching in converting natural landscapes to pastures, depleting water resources, wasting resources as feed and producing greenhouse gases, reducing meat consumption is an obvious way to reduce one’s ecological footprint). Still, it seems to me unreasonable to expect all humans on the planet – especially as the majority are still lagging far behind the West – to bear the brunt of the responsibility, when it really is the system that is built on growth and waste and exploitation that needs to be changed. When reading Tucker’s solutions, nevertheless, they appear doable from a technical point of view and there would be millions of people in the world who would agree to pursue these rigorously. But are they enough? It is hard to believe so, when one follows the political debate in the United States, the wealthiest and most powerful nation that also has the world’s largest ecological footprint per capita (then again, Chris Tucker is American, too, and his ideas certainly are bold). Similarly, in most developing countries getting rich is the greatest goal for everyone. Furthermore, developing countries are the place where future population growth will take place (mostly in Africa). The renowned environmentalist Gus Speth has summarized the situation succinctly: “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy … and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation – and we scientists don’t know how to do that.” Christopher Tucker ends his book with an Epilogue for Planetary Ethics, He provides a pointed critique of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as ambitious but a result of complex political compromises. He points out that there is gaping inconsistency between the socioeconomic development goals and the environmental sustainability goals (a fact that I, too, have pointed out in several of my writings and presentations) and population is entirely outside of the discussion (p. 251). In the end, he frames the need for a transformation in ethical terms. This is one of the best written and strongest chapters – and certain to offend some people. Tucker confronts head-on the issue that, if everyone recognizes the problem of overpopulation and the threats it poses to the global sustainability, the debate turns quickly to equity, because the world population and population growth are not equally distributed on the planet. “If humans, collectively, are doing harm to the planet who should have to sacrifice or undertake disproportionate effort to rectify the situation”, he asks (p. 253). One thing that Tucker does not consider adequately in the book is international migration that is already reshaping the world, driven by inequality, conflict and climate change. It is also very refreshing that he calls a spade a spade when it comes to people’s cognitive abilities and psychologies. He recognizes that there is a minority of people who are not able to grasp the big picture. Then there are those who are ignorant, but more importantly the large portion of people – including many with a will to power – who are willfully ignorant, as they understand that acting on what they know would be against their own short-term interests. In the end, it is often difficult to differentiate the actions of the willfully ignorant (or outright evil) from those of the simply stupid. The book also contains four open letters to arguably the most powerful individuals on the planet: the Pope, Jeff Bezos, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Xi Jinping. The book is well illustrated with maps, data and graphs, which are also accessible through the website. All in all, A Planet for 3 Billion is bound to annoy many people who do not (or more likely do not want to) believe the situation being that dire, who are reluctant to change their ways or who just think it all alarmist and unrealistic to achieve such a transformation. We’ll be alright as long as we don’t think about it. However, a fundamental change will be necessary one way or another (to paraphrase how kids used to threaten each other on schoolyard in my youth: you change now – or you cry and change!). Thinkers and activists such as the author are needed. But perhaps our best hope lies with visionary entrepreneurs who see not only the necessity but also opportunities for themselves in moving us towards a more sustainable future. There is also hope in young people who are increasingly aware of the destruction we place on our only home planet and who also have the most to lose.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David

    Took for ever to get to Christopher Kevin Tucker's ideas to save the planet and when I did get there it was information that provided no new insight. I felt like I just read a rant with a misguided attempt to be a book. Took for ever to get to Christopher Kevin Tucker's ideas to save the planet and when I did get there it was information that provided no new insight. I felt like I just read a rant with a misguided attempt to be a book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Articulate, intelligent, horrifying, hopeful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sytze

    "If you agree that we have exceeded the actual carrying capacity of our planet, each additional human on Earth is, by definition, doing ecological harm to the planet that cannot be avoided, due to the ecological debt that previous generations have already accumulated." Starting off with this review, I'd like to say that I completely agree with the main premise of this book: We have a people problem. There is little doubt - in academia - that anthropocentric causes lie at the heart of the demise o "If you agree that we have exceeded the actual carrying capacity of our planet, each additional human on Earth is, by definition, doing ecological harm to the planet that cannot be avoided, due to the ecological debt that previous generations have already accumulated." Starting off with this review, I'd like to say that I completely agree with the main premise of this book: We have a people problem. There is little doubt - in academia - that anthropocentric causes lie at the heart of the demise of the natural world. I suspect that most people who pick up this book will already be familiar with the challenges humanity faces in the 21th century regarding climate change, loss of biodiversity and the general pollution of our environment. Having said that, I do not think this book adds much to the public discussion. It is basically a summary of the latest ecological scientific findings (which are quite gloomy), which the author uses to support his thesis. Contradictory to my expectations, this book does not cover the moral implications of the 3-billion target. The author does little to explain why he settled for 3 billion (which he admits is somewhat trivial). He also doesn't tell us what the optimal, so not simply the barely sustainable, global population would be. You could probably make a better case for 1 billion, 100 million or even less. As for how to achieve a population of 3 billion people, the author repeatedly mentions emancipation of women - especially in developing nations with high fertility rates - as the main strategy of lowering the global population. I wholeheartedly agree this is part of the solution, but the way the author puts it, it feels incompletely. Surely other tactics are also needed to achieve such a lofty goal. The author could also have elaborated more on how to achieve this envisioned emancipation, especially in conservative, religious states where it might be harder to change culturally embedded beliefs about child-bearing. All in all, I would only recommend this book if you have a basic understanding about what's currently happening to our natural environment and want to become more familiar with the exact scientific details. If your especially interested in the moral case for a smaller population and how it is to be achieved, you are probably better off somewhere else (and please feel free to post such suggestions in the comments!).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dusti

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patrick M.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Allison Hope

  9. 4 out of 5

    James Fee

  10. 4 out of 5

    Widita

  11. 4 out of 5

    Iván

  12. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nick Bell

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mindy

  15. 5 out of 5

    Your Excellency

  16. 4 out of 5

    Donald W May

  17. 5 out of 5

    Molly Huie

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anita

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gino Delaere

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Granger

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dustin

  22. 5 out of 5

    David

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dony Coline

  24. 4 out of 5

    Zhuangfang Yi

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matt Z

  26. 4 out of 5

    Thiago Frazao

  27. 5 out of 5

    George Percivall

  28. 4 out of 5

    Isrut

  29. 4 out of 5

    Coleman

  30. 4 out of 5

    Reem

  31. 5 out of 5

    Nadine

  32. 5 out of 5

    Nawoyka

  33. 4 out of 5

    Erik Friesen

  34. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie Pollard

  35. 4 out of 5

    Merlin Everts

  36. 5 out of 5

    Koby Bryan

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