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 of Sociology at Washington State University, has taught at Reed College, University of North Carolina, University of Washington, Oberlin College, University of Alberta (in Canada), University of Canterbury (in New Zealand), and University of Wyoming, and given invited lectures at several other universities in Europe and Australia. After World War II service in the U.S. Navy, he majored in history at Oberlin College and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington. Then and later he pursued a research interest in wildland recreation patterns and resource management, which led to his later focus upon principles of ecology. He has been Vice President of the Sociological Association of Australia and New Zealand and president of the Pacific Sociological Association, which gave him its 1985 Distinguished Scholarship Award for articles in its journal expanding on themes from his 1980 book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. He is author or co-author of three other books and recipient or co-recipient of several other awards. He has written more than a hundred journal articles and contributed book chapters, plus several dozen book reviews.