These books contain many facts and philosophical arguments against growth:

The Population Explosion

Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, 1990, Simon and Schuster

This book provides an excellent overview of the population problem, along with details on the current situations in specific countries. It's an update of Ehrlich's famous earlier work, The Population Bomb (1968), for which he is still receiving criticism due to his radical predictions. Although some of his earlier population scenarios were overstated, his central theme has always been logical and his later works are right on the mark. Stanford biology professor Ehrlich is probably the most famous advocate of zero population growth and his message gets more important every day. People who gloat about the famous bet Ehrlich "lost" to Julian Simon should click here for the true context.


One of the toughest things for a population biologist to reconcile is the contrast between his or her recognition that civilization is in imminent serious jeopardy and the modest level of concern that population issues generate among the public and even among elected officials. Much of the reason for this discrepancy lies in the slow development of the problem. People aren't scared because they evolved biologically and culturally to respond to short-term "fires" and to tune out long-term "trends" over which they had no control. Only if we do what doesn't come naturally - if we determinedly focus on what seem to be gradual or nearly imperceptible changes - can the outlines of our predicament be perceived clearly enough to be frightening.

The failure of conventional economics to contribute to a resolution of the human predicament is understandable from a cursory examination of what economists are taught. All one need do is look at the circular-flow diagram that "explains" the generation of gross national product in any standard economics text. There are no inputs into the circular flow; it is simply a diagram of a perpetual-motion machine, an impossibility except in the minds of economists. Economics texts, of course, give no coverage at all to what is now the central question of economics: How big can the economic system be before it irretrievably damages the ecological systems that support it? The majority of economists have never been taught that ecosystems provide humanity with an absolutely indispensable array of services that are "free," but would, of course, be infinitely costly to replace.

Betrayal of Science and Reason

Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, 1996, Island Press

This long-overdue book addresses almost every "wise use" fallacy that has been put forth in recent years, and does so in great detail. It is a much needed antidote to the views of Rush Limbaugh, Dixy Lee Ray, Ronald Bailey, Julian Simon and others who have tried to sway public opinion with misinformation and lies.


The time has come to write a book about efforts being made to minimize the seriousness of environmental problems. We call these attempts the "brownlash" because they help to fuel a backlash against "green" policies. The brownlash has been generated by a diverse group of individuals and organizations, doubtless often with differing motives and backgrounds. We classify them as brownlashers by what they say, not by who they are. With strong and appealing messages, they have successfully sowed seeds of doubt among journalists, policy makers, and the public at large about the reality and importance of such phenomena as overpopulation, global climate change, ozone depletion, and losses of biodiversity. In writing this book, we try to set the record straight with respect to environmental science and its proper interpretation. By exposing and refuting the misinformation disseminated by the brownlash, we hope to return to higher ground the crucial dialogue on how to sustain society's essential environmental services.

Sadly, much of the progress that has been made in defining, understanding, and seeking solutions to the human predicament over the past thirty years is now being undermined by an environmental backlash, fueled by anti-science ideas and arguments provided by the brownlash. While it assumes a variety of forms, the brownlash appears most clearly as an outpouring of seemingly authoritative opinions in books, articles, and media appearances that greatly distort what is or isn't known by environmental scientists. Taken together, despite the variety of its forms, sources, and issues addressed, the brownlash has produced what amounts to a body of anti-science--a twisting of the findings of empirical science--to bolster a predetermined worldview and to support a political agenda. By virtue of relentless repetition, this flood of anti-environmental sentiment has acquired an unfortunate aura of credibility.

It should be noted that the brownlash is not by any means a coordinated effort. Rather, it seems to be generated by a diversity of individuals and organizations. Some of its promoters have links to right-wing ideology and political groups. And some are well-intentioned individuals, including writers and public figures, who for one reason or another have bought into the notion that environmental regulation has become oppressive and needs to be severely weakened. But the most extreme--and most dangerous--elements are those who, while claiming to represent a scientific viewpoint, misstate scientific findings to support their view that the U.S. government has gone overboard with regulation, especially (but not exclusively) for environmental protection, and that subtle, long-term problems like global warming are nothing to worry about. The words and sentiments of the brownlash are profoundly troubling to us and many of our colleagues. Not only are the underlying agendas seldom revealed, but more important, the confusion and distraction created among the public and policy makers by brownlash pronouncements interfere with and prolong the already difficult search for realistic and equitable solutions to the human predicament.

See also: "Paul Ehrlich and The Population Bomb"

Steady State Economics

Herman E. Daly, 1991 (2nd edition), Island Press

This book is a great antidote to "growthmania." It unmasks the panacea of perpetual growth and explains how we can actually go about building a steady-state economy without destroying what we've already created. It also contains Herman Daly's excellent criticism of Julian Simon's book, The Ultimate Resource, which is often quoted by denialists and Dittoheads. Daly points out how Simon's grow-forever theories are entirely dependent on the absurd concept of "infinite substitution," and he debunks the notion that we can "never run out of resources." Daly's writing style is a bit complex at times, but the message is delivered with great wisdom.


The theme of this book is that a steady-state economy is a necessary and desirable future state of affairs and that its attainment requires quite major changes in values, as well as radical, but non-revolutionary, institutional reforms. Once we have replaced the basic premise of "more is better" with the much sounder axiom that "enough is best," the social and technical problems of moving to a steady state become solvable, perhaps even trivial. But unless the underlying growth paradigm and its supporting values are altered, all the technical prowess and manipulative cleverness in the world will not solve our problems and, in fact, will make them worse.

The rapid growth of the last 200 years has occurred because man broke the budget constraint of living on solar income and began to live on geological capital. The geological capital will run out. But an even greater problem exists. The entire evolution of the biosphere has occurred around a fixed point--the constant solar-energy budget. Modern man is the only species to have broken the solar-income budget constraint, and this has thrown him out of ecological equilibrium with the rest of the biosphere. Natural cycles have become overloaded, and new materials have been produced for which no natural cycles exist. Not only is geological capital being depleted but the basic life-support services of nature are impaired in their functioning by too large a throughput from the human sector.

Daly is on the board of the International Society for Ecological Economics

Desert Solitaire

Edward Abbey, 1968, The University of Arizona Press (recent edition)

This is a classic work that appeals to aesthetic values and offers powerful criticisms of those who only see nature as something to be tamed. It's based on the author's personal experiences in Utah in the late 1950s but it applies more than ever today. This book is a sure-fire way to determine a person's outlook. If the reader concludes that Abbey despises people, his point is lost. But for many, the book will inspire awe, especially the chapter about Glen Canyon before it was dammed. One need not agree with Abbey's more extreme views (like eliminating all cars from national parks) but he's just describing the insanity of perpetual growth.


Water, water, water....There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, of water to sand, insuring that wide, free, open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here, unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.

The Developers, of course--the politicians, businessmen, bankers, administrators, engineers--they see it somewhat otherwise and complain most bitterly and interminably of a desperate water shortage, especially in the Southwest. They propose schemes of inspiring proportions for diverting water by the damful from the Columbia River, or even from the Yukon River, and channeling it overland down into Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Why?

What for? "In anticipation of future needs, in order to provide for the continued industrial and population growth of the Southwest." And in such an answer we see that it's only the old numbers game again, the monomania of small and very simple minds in the grip of an obsession. They cannot see that growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness, that Phoenix and Albuquerque will not be better cities to live in when their populations are doubled again and again. They would never understand that an economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human.

Site dedicated to Edward Abbey

The Republican War On Science (Chris Mooney, 2005) gets straight to the point of why conservative Republicans aim to confuse the public & lawmakers about the scientific consensus on global warming and other contentious issues. They only argue with science when heeding the evidence cramps their lifestyle, offends their religious views or (most importantly) "denies" them cash earnings from resource-takings.

Idiot America (Charles Pierce, 2009) gets even more to the point about Creationists, AGW deniers and the willful ignorance that has infected American conservatism. It also has one of the most satisfying book titles in this field, with the subtitle: "How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free." With so much at stake these days, the anti-knowledge crowd no longer deserves a veneer of polite acceptance.

[back to main page]