Ecological roots of our toubled time are deeper than its economic manifestations. Anguished posterity will look back on this 21st century as “the bottleneck century.” Bottleneck: Humanity’s Impending Impasse was written to show how and why three converging trends have put humankind in much deeper peril than is generally acknowledged. First, there are many more of us inhabiting this planet than it can sustain. Second, technological advances of recent centuries have made gigantic and prodigal our per capita resource appetites and our per capita environmental impacts. Third, even though, as the symbol-using species, we humans conceivably could do better at anticipating future circumstances and planning ahead, our evolutionary heritage together with unanticipated dysfunctions of modern division of labor have kept us too preoccupied with short-term concerns. People today are dependent upon a fantastically intricate web of exchange relations (“the market”). Even when functioning normally—and not in a collapsed condition, as currently—this system of relations has a serious and pervasive dehumanizing effect not adequately discerned by economists nor sociologists. Recognition of and adequate adaptation to the deteriorating ecological context of human life has been impeded. Human societies (even our own) are almost certainly going to act in ways that will make an inevitably difficult future unnecessarily worse. Factors analyzed in this book have made people seriously averse to the kind and extent of cooperation our difficult future will require. Together with the basic trio of disturbing trends—humans having become so numerous, so ravenous, and so short-sighted—this has made the nature of today’s human prospect far more dire than most policymakers dare admit. It tempts even the wisest and most civic-minded to seek or promote “remedial” policies that will worsen the real predicament.
William R. Catton, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Sociology, Washington State University, has also taught and done research in Canada, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the U.S. After World War II U.S. Navy service, he majored in history at Oberlin College and earned his Ph.D.at the University of Washington. Research on wild land resource use and management led to his later focus upon principles of ecology. Bottleneck is a sequel to his 1980 book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. He has written more than a hundred journal articles and contributed book chapters, plus several dozen book reviews.