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Wasted World

How Our Consumption Challenges the Planet

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.

360 pages | 9 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Biological Sciences: Ecology


“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

“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

Table of Contents


1. The Nature of Life: Making Waste
2. Nature Goes in Cycles

I. Population Growth and Its Limitations
A. The Growing Problem of Mankind
3. Population Growth and Agricultural Production
4. Population Growth and Industrial Production
5. Agribusiness and Corporate States
B. Exhausting and Wasting Our Resources
6. Peak Oil and Beyond
7. Limited Resources
8. Man-Made Waste
9. When It’s Gone, It’s Gone
C. Exhausting and Wasting Our Environment
10. Our Freshwater Is Running Out!
11. Polluting the Air and Warming Our Climate
12. Deforestation and Its Consequences
13. The Loss of Biodiversity
14. Wasted Land
II. Toward A Collapse of Our Society
D. Processes within the Human Population
15. What Is Overpopulation?
16. Bursting Out of Eden
17. Urbanization
18. Migration
19. The Spread of Diseases
20. The Dynamic Structure of Society
E. Processes within the Global Society
21. From a Concrete to an Abstract World
22. The Energy and Information Content of Society
23. Can Our World Population Collapse?

F. Another Future for Our Human World?
24. The Road We Took, and the Way Forward

Epilogue. The Emperor’s New Clothes

About the Author
Selected Bibliography

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