This is probably the most important book you can read today if you want to learn about the greatest threats to humanity. It is full of facts, documents and testimony about the consequences of our food production shortfalls, energy shortages, financial instabilities, military/terrorist battles, the political moves to remove human rights from the general populous, and even about climate change. Its key strength is the peer reviews by a dozen world experts, inside and outside of power. The author deserves applause for bringing to our attention so many interconnected, on-going, accelerating processes. He reviews the issues already out there and adds some little-disclosed military and political agenda of consequence. He tries to connect the dots, and to some extent prioritizes the problems with analysis and suggested solutions.
The first chapter is so scary that it is likely many readers will not make it through the book. It brings together the facts and analysis on global warming that have frightened the Pentagon and all European governments since at least 2004. The prognosis is so bleak that all the other chapters seem trivial by comparison, though they cover some very dark problems (genocide, martial law for the masses, large scale detention camps, global dictators, another great depression, mass starvation, acute resource shortages). He could have reversed the order of the chapters to allow the reader to better prepare for the "big one", but he had his reasons.
The author develops a social and philosophical analysis which distills to a list of "key structural problems". These include monetary systems that impose ever greater debt, militaries that serve the aggressive desires of corporations to seize foreign resources, capitalism that collapses all dimensions to a single dimension (dollars) thereby squeezing out ethics, control structures that intentionally minimize wages in colonies to prevent those nations from becoming anything more than a source for raw materials, and defining nature as a resource rather than as a life support system. For the most part they are correct and unassailable. But he thoroughly skirts one key factor in the root cause of all of the great problems he covers: Over population. He strains to hold blameless the masses of humanity that have, of course, needed food, which needed farming, which needed land, which cleared the land of nature, which caused deforestation and species extinction and soil erosion. Over population has been a serious problem since 600AD when China started to experience collapses on its millet economy. By 900AD the rice paddy had doubled food production, so population started growing again, but at the expense of thousands of species cleared off the land forever. Europe was collapsing by 1350AD with food and wood shortages, so epidemics began. Europe was "saved" by the "discovery" of the americas, which were pillaged for 5 centuries, allowing Europe to grow populations even deeper into unsustainability. Because the author refused to do the homework on ecology (contrast with Jared Diamond, for example), he ends up romanticizing nature as some amazing fabric that can blissfully support 12 billion people (his number) with abundance of food, water, shelter, beauty and high consumption rates, even though at 7 billion humanity has already slaughtered off 80% of the nature we started with (UN Millennium Ecological Survey, 2005).
Of course one can choose a topic and decide what's out of scope for a given book. That's completely forgivable. But the very "analysis" he puts forth always stops right short of the effects of high populations, even while admitting strong dependence upon them. When the human population remained under the natural carrying capacity, none of the global crises he lists were even possible. They all emerge from the consequences of too many people for the earth to sustain. Only when there is "surplus population" above those that do the farming is it possible to build an army, build a metropolis, build a financial empire. In fact, overpopulation is a conscious strategy of those who covet power: Only when people are desperate are they willing to subordinate to a ruler - so make them desperate for food, water, and land via overpopulation. Farmers grow surplus food, the army comes to collect it and safe-keep it in the graineries, and then food is dispensed out only to those who do the king's bidding. That's where it all begins. Politicians gain power as people become dependent upon them. Most of the crazy politics we experience today are awkward attempts at dealing with the conflicts of resource shortages brought about directly by high population numbers. This in no way forgives all the war mongers from their murders, nor any of the other crimes the author so aptly discusses. It is not a question of "taking sides", blaming the poor or the rich. The greatest crime of the rich is exploitation. The greatest crime of the poor is over population. The greatest crime of the middle class is to enable the other two. Plenty of blame for everyone. Its just that we cannot fix a problem until we get to the root cause of it. That is why his fixes are so anemic - the root cause is missing, so there's no point of departure from which to build a strong, sound fix. This deficiency can turn an otherwise great effort into something grossly misleading to his followers and/or into something providing the fodder to his adversaries to discredit his work.
While most people of the world appreciate that harmony with nature is essential to sustainability, rulers don't want that message out there at all. So they have redefined cultures with nature regarded as something to be conquered, exploited, consumed; while "harmony with nature" was declared pagan and primitive. The author's avoidance of an ecological basis (which he admits is needed) leaves him arguing against a flawed ideology with yet another flawed ideology. With only one more good chapter, bringing in ecology/life_sciences as a basis for sustainability, and thus for ethics, the author could have shot down the current ideological flaws soundly, with science and a firm footing in a universal embrace of life on earth. But to do so he would have needed to bring in the concept of natural carrying capacity, and then step through the consequences of overstepping that bound, tracing the causal links down to the set of obscene problems that we are now wallowing in. Yes, this is three quarters of a great book!
Read this book. Yes, definitely! Then read a good ecology book to complete the story and plan a realistic course toward solutions.