Planetary Overload, Limits to Growth and Health
- 1k Downloads
Since the use of atomic weapons in 1945 visionaries have warned that without major changes the survival of global civilization is in question. These concerns deepened in following decades, during the Cold War, with The Limits to Growth, the best-selling environmental book of the 1970s. Yet, since then, most concern has faded, fuelled by technological developments and a shift in dominant global ideology. Public health, with a few exceptions (one of which is the book Planetary Overload), has been slow to recognize this debate, even as evidence emerges that civilization may indeed be at risk, driven by an increasingly ominous complex of events. This article outlines the key relevant literature and concepts, attempting to bring emerging and future health consequences to the attention of health workers, including the idea of a “social vaccine,” conveying sufficient anxiety to provoke action for environmental protection, but insufficient to induce paralysis.
KeywordsAnthropocene Civilization collapse Climate change Conflict Environmental determinism Human carrying capacity
I thank Dr. Kerryn Higgs, Professor John Potter, Emeritus Professor Colin Soskolne, Joanne Walker, and two anonymous referees for their valuable comments.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
Colin D. Butler reports, in the last 5 years, grants from the Australian Research Council, other from Elsevier, other from United Nations University, other from University of California, San Diego, personal fees from University of Oulu, Finland, and other from University of Oulu, Finland. He has received occasional honoraria, frequent travel expenses and royalties for material related to this article. He has traded in stocks whose market value can be expected to increase if the material in this article is taken more seriously.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.
Papers of Particular Interest, Published recently, Have Been Highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance
- 3.Meadows D, Meadows D, Randers J, et al. The limits to growth. New York: Universe books; 1972. p. 205.Google Scholar
- 4.Hamilton JD. Causes and consequences of the oil shock of 2007–08. Working Paper 15002 National Bureau of Economic Research 2009. Available from http://www.nberorg/papers/w15002. July 14 2016.
- 5.Tribe D. Feeding and greening the world. Wallingford, United Kingdom: CAB International in association with the Crawford Fund for International Agricultural Research; 1994. p. 274.Google Scholar
- 6.United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The 2015 Revision of World Population Prospects. Available from: http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/. Accessed 10 Mar 2016.
- 8.Butler CD, Weinstein P. The future of global health: reasons for alarm and a call for action. World Med J. 2013;59(3):82–90.Google Scholar
- 10.United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Global Trends Report. Forced Displacement in 2015. http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/6/5763b65a4/global-forced-displacement-hits-record-high.html. Accessed 14 July 2016.
- 11.Butler CD, Hales S, Beggs PJ, et al. From Paris towards 1.5 degrees C. In: Butler CD, editor. Climate change and Global Health. Wallingford, UK: CABI; 2016. p. 293–305.Google Scholar
- 12.McMichael AJ. Planetary overload. Global environmental change and the health of the human species. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1993. p. 370.Google Scholar
- 13.Smandych R, Kueneman R. The Canadian-Alberta Tar Sands: a case study of state-corporate environmental crime. In: White R, editor. Global environmental harm: criminological perspectives. Cullompton, United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis Ltd; 2010. p. 87–109.Google Scholar
- 17.Burt M, Crawford T, Arcand A. Fuel for thought: the economic benefits of oil sands investment for Canada’s regions. 2012. https://www.albertacanada.com/files/albertacanada/AIS_FuelforThought.pdf. Accessed 12 May 2016.
- 18.Dorow S, O'Shaughnessy S. Fort McMurray, wood buffalo, and the oil/tar sands: revisiting the sociology of “community”. Can J Sociol. 2013;38(2):121–40.Google Scholar
- 21.Kahn B. Destructive wildfire near Canada's oil sands may have been fueled by global warming. Scientific American. 2016; http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/destructive-wildfire-near-canada-s-oil-sands-may-have-been-fueled-by-global-warming/. Accessed 22 July 2016.
- 22.Pruden JG. Fort McMurray wildfire recalls searing memories of Slave Lake disaster. The Globe and Mail. 2016. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/fort-mcmurray-wildfire-recalls-searing-memories-of-slave-lake-disaster/article29848435/. Accessed 22 July 2016.
- 25•.Hansen J, Sato M, Hearty P, et al. Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming could be dangerous. Atmos Chem Phys. 2016;16:3761–812 A warning that business as usual will see far more sea level rise by 2100 than is currently foreseen.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 27.Hamilton C. Earthmasters: playing god with the climate. Crows Nest, Sydney: Allen and Unwin; 2013. p. 247.Google Scholar
- 28.Rejeski D, Olson RL. Has futurism failed? The Wilson Quarterly. 1976;30(1):14–21.Google Scholar
- 30.Butler CD, Woodward A. From silent spring to the threat of a four-degree world. In: Butler CD, Dixon J, Capon AG, editors. Health of people, places and planet: reflection on Tony McMichael’s four decades of contribution to epidemiological understanding. Canberra: ACT: ANU Press; 2015. p. 11–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 31.Piel G, Segerberg Jr O, editors. The world of René Dubos: a collection from his writings. New York: Henry Holt and Company; 1990. p. 418.Google Scholar
- 32.Ward B, Dubos R. Only one earth: the care and maintenance of a small planet. Harmondsworth: Penguin; 1973. p. 288.Google Scholar
- 33.Butler CD, Dixon J, Capon AG, editors. Health of people, places and planet: reflections based on Tony McMichael’s four decades contribution to epidemiological understanding. Canberra: ANU Press; 2015.Google Scholar
- 34.Last JM. Public health and human ecology. Stamford, Connecticut: Appleton and Lange; 1998. p. 464.Google Scholar
- 35.Petersen W. Malthus. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; 1979. vi + 302 p.Google Scholar
- 37.Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH. Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided? Proc R Soc B Biol Sci. 2013;280(1754).Google Scholar
- 38••.Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH. Population, resources, and the faith-based economy: the situation in 2016. BioPhysical Economics and Resource Quality. 2016;1(1):1–9 An overview of the last 40 years in this field, by two of its parents, including a scathing commentary of “faith-based” economics.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 41.Ehrlich PR. The population bomb. London: Ballantyne; 1968. xiv + 223 p.Google Scholar
- 47.Diamond J. Guns, germs and steel. The fate of human societies. London: Jonathan Cape; 1997. 480 p.Google Scholar
- 50.Ross NJ. Student essay: carbon emissions and electric cars – introducing the potential of electric vehicles in New Zealand's climate change response. New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law. 2015;13(1):235–47.Google Scholar
- 58•.Pope Francis. Encyclical letter Laudato Si′ of the Holy Father Francis on care for our common home. 2015. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html, Accessed 22 July 2016. Apart from its dismissal of the importance of human numbers, this is a wonderful and relevant read.
- 59.Speth G. The Global 2000 Report to the President. Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review. 1980;8(4) Article 1.Google Scholar
- 63.Higgs K. Collision course: endless growth on a finite planet. Cambridge MA: MIT Press; 2014. p. 416.Google Scholar
- 64.Catton WR. Overshoot: the ecological basis of revolutionary change. Urbana: University of Illinois Press; 1980. p. 298.Google Scholar
- 65.Steffen W, Richardson K, Rockström J, et al. Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science. 2015;347(6223). doi: 10.1126/science.1259855.
- 66•.Berenbaum MR. Bees in crisis: colony collapse, honey laundering, and other problems bee-setting American apiculture 1. Proc Am Philos Soc. 2014;158(3):229–47 Recommended for anyone interested in the collective human abuse of our tiny helpers, the bees, at risk as a small victim of Planetary Overload.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- 68.Heinberg R. Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines. Gabriola, BC: New Society Publishers; 2010. ix + 213 p.Google Scholar
- 72.Michaux S. The coming radical change in mining practice. In: Goldie J, Betts K, editors. Sustainable futures: linking population, resources and the environment. Collingwood, Vic: CSIRO Press; 2014. p. 73–84.Google Scholar
- 73.Romanelli C, Capon A, Maiero M, et al. Climate change, biodiversity and human health. In: World Health Organization, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, editors. Connecting global priorities: Biodiversity and human health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity; 2015. p. 222–37.Google Scholar
- 74.Grassini P, Eskridge KM, Cassman KG. Distinguishing between yield advances and yield plateaus in historical crop production trends. Nature Communication. 2013;4 . doi: 10.1038/ncomms3918.Article ID 2918
- 75.World Bank Group. High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy. Washington, DC., USA World Bank; 2016. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/23665. Accessed 22 July 2016.
- 79.Tainter JA. The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1988. p. 250.Google Scholar
- 82.http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/gr.html. Accessed 15 July 2016.
- 85•.Kelley CP, Mohtadi S, Cane MA, et al. Climate change in the fertile crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA). 2015;112(11):3241–6 Some political scientists deny that climate change and resource scarcity has been a factor in the Syrian war, and hence the European refugee crisis. Without falling prey to “environmental determinism,” this article documents an alternative way of interpreting data.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 86.Ehrlich PR, Ehrlich AH. One with Nineveh politics, consumption, and the human future. Washington, DC: Island Press; 2004. p. 459.Google Scholar
- 87.Butler CD. Inequality and conflict. In: Goldie J, Douglas R, Furnass B, editors. In search of sustainability. Melbourne: CSIRO; 2005. p. 33–48.Google Scholar
- 93.Friedman T. Out of Africa. New York Times. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/13/opinion/out-of-africa.html?_r=0. Accessed 15 May 2016.
- 105.Milman O, Leavenworth S. China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50 % cheered by climate campaigners The Guardian 2016. https://www.theguardiancom/world/2016/jun/20/chinas-meat-consumption-climate-change. Accessed 22 July 2016.
- 108.Gribble JN, Bremner J. Achieving a demographic dividend. Population Bulletin. 2012;67(2).Google Scholar
- 111.Butler CD. Human carrying capacity and human health. Public Library of Science Medicine. 2004;1(3):192–4.Google Scholar
- 112.Butler CD, Bowles DC, McIver L, et al. Mental health, cognition and the challenge of climate change. In: Butler CD, editor. Climate change and Global Health. Wallingford: CABI; 2014. p. 251–9.Google Scholar
- 113••.Carney M. Breaking the tragedy of the horizon – climate change and financial stability. 2015. http://www.bankofenglandcouk/publications/Pages/speeches/2015/844aspx. Accessed 21 March 2016. The governor of the Bank of England advises (concerning climate change):“The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security. … Past is not prologue … the catastrophic norms of the future can be seen in the tail risks of today.”
- 114.Hancock T, Spady DW, Soskolne CL, et al. Global Change and Public Health: Addressing the Ecological Determinants of Health. Canadian Public Health Assocation Discussion Paper. 2015. www.cphaca/uploads/policy/edh-discussion_epdf. Accessed 13 May 2016.