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VINE VOICEon 18 August 2013
As an environmentalist I've been of the opinion for a long time that there are simply too many of us, consuming too much. I'd love for it not to be true, to not be afraid of what future awaits the planet and our descendants, but while it has its moments Dorling's book hasn't reassured me in the least.

Population 10 Billion has one strength - the argument that income inequality is a major driver of population growth, and so by reducing income inequality we can decelerate population growth and ultimately stabilise it (although the evidence that income inequality is on the rise globally does put a dampener on this hope for me). But I found it odd how so much of the book is then devoted to deriding rich people and their ideals. I'm not sticking up for them, but I felt that far too much time was spent fixating on rich people when there are other issues related to population which needed, and in some cases did not get, attention.

Much of Dorling's belief that we don't need to be so worried about the effects of overpopulation is justified by his claims that consumption of various commodities and resources has already peaked or is about to, for example petrol or shop goods. Yet I think much of this supposed peaking can be owed to the economic problems which began in 2007 and continue to dog many countries' economies. If the 'good times' ever roll again, I expect we'll see a rise in consumption of these resources again. Elsewhere, when hard statistics aren't available, Dorling simply brushes aside concerns; on the subject of meat he rightly notes that many of us need to eat much less meat, but ends with "Luckily...increasing numbers of people are choosing to eat no meat at all" - if this is true, then even greater numbers of people are choosing to eat MORE meat, particularly in places like China.

Other environmental issues barely get a look in. Overfishing, one of the most pressing crises currently facing us, is mentioned by Dorling, with a quote added in from the brilliant work of Callum Roberts (author of Ocean of Life), but Dorling seems to have some kind of cognitive dissonance going on because he doesn't connect the issue at all to population, only remarking that aquaculture is increasing to fill the gap - a gross error given that aquaculture still relies on wild fish stocks. I'm pretty sure we can't blame rich people (themselves a tiny minority) for eating all the fish, and wasteful fishing practices are only one side of the story. Neither did Dorling satisfactorily address the use of inorganic fertilisers, which have managed to increase food yields phenomenally but at the cost of severe environmental degradation. No mention either of what'll happen if/when the availability of inorganic fertiliser decreases, and we still have so many mouths to feed!

Even more worryingly, there is a total absence of an examination of climate change and what it could mean for the human race in relation to population. Dorling pays the occasional lip-service to "human-induced climate change" and does at the end of the book say we should be worried about it, but yet again he fails to connect the dots. There is no mention of what climate change might mean for water scarcity and the resulting effect on a large (and still growing) human population, or land availability or any of other resources which are necessary to provide our needs, or climate refugees.

I'm also a bit dubious of some of Dorling's 'science'; he describes a time during our distant past when we lived as hunter-gatherers, where due to the inconvenience of caring for an infant while following migrating herds of reindeer we would routinely leave newborn babies behind to die. This simply doesn't make sense in evolutionary terms, considering the amount of energy and risk involved in gestation and childbirth. Elsewhere, while Dorling gives us the impression that he really is concerned about the environment, he seems to think that diverting oil into making plastic rather than fuelling our cars is a good thing! (Definitely not when you consider how long it takes for plastic to degrade, and the catastrophic effects it has on our ocean systems).

Dorling's overall message is "Relax - things will probably sort themselves out". But this is a monumental gamble to take, considering that the well-being and indeed the future of our species is at stake. Furthermore Dorling distracts from his own central argument that income inequality drives population with a largely irrelevant veer towards rich-bashing, to the point that he seems to isolate wealthy people into a new species, while every person on the planet who doesn't have lots of money is somehow 'noble', and only desires what they need rather than what they want. It's a lovely view, but simply untrue. Most people if given the chance will consume as much as they can, even to the detriment of the environment. And while Dorling tries to provide evidence of people in the developed changing their behaviour to reduce their consumption (for example people in the UK decreasing their water use by 1% between 2007-2010 - wow!), these are minuscule changes barely worth celebrating, considering how much people - particularly those in the developing world and not only the rich - consume. Major behavioural change is required of us all and I don't think Dorling has fully recognised this. I would also have liked to see Dorling discuss the relationship between population and employment. He tells us we need to cut down on things like buying clothes - no disagreement from me there - but he doesn't consider the knock-on effect this would have on unemployment, particularly in the developing world where so many industries get their labour force from. For example, several times I have read commentators and authors (most recently Shereen El Feki, who wrote Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World) attribute much of the tragic political instability in Egypt to there being a huge youth bulge but no corresponding availability of jobs.

Dorling uses the analogy of a car in motion, with the natural deceleration of population growth being the equivalent of depressing the brake. But I'd argue that this isn't braking; more like just taking a foot off the accelerator. The car could still crash. We still urgently need to scrutinise the relationship between overconsumption and overpopulation, and do everything we can to ensure that population growth stops - through long-term changes like educating women, establishing stable state institutions to provide welfare in old age, and preventing treatable diseases, and through more immediate changes such as family planning and widespread availability of contraception. Time will tell if places where population is still growing at an alarming rate will see a slowdown, but it may not be enough to simply hope for it.
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on 10 August 2013
I heard the author Danny Dorling talking about this on Radio 4 and saw the review of the book in the paper. It seemed to provide just the optimism about the future of humanity that I needed to be able to hope for the future (I am reaching grumpy-old-man status). I looked forward to reading the book. I have now struggled through it and have indeed come away positive, but after some irritation and annoyance with Dorling. It's a very interesting thesis, but written by a grasshopper, falling some way short of a proper scientific text on one hand nor is it popularly accessible on the other. I found it quite difficult to follow the thread of the argument in places. I don't know where Dorling thinks he is pitching this. The polemic is marred by frequent irritating and unnecessary juvenile political asides, which, while I might agree with his lefty views, are not helpful to endorsing his argument. What a pity. I am giving this important work four stars but i feel it should have been better edited, shorter and perhaps should be rewritten by a populist writer such as, say, Bill Bryson.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 December 2013
Dorling argues that we may well be able to live in a world with 10 billion people - and also that population may never rise that high. Population growth is slowing but it is not clear why - Dorling variously suggests female education, increasing life expectancy, increasing wealth and improved social security for the old have something to do with this. He also thinks there may be enough energy from wind power to keep the lights on, though not to smelt aluminium. The most problematic resource he thinks will be water. But food should be OK if we solve distribution problems. And transport too should work in well designed cities like Tokyo. Climate change may also be an issue.

So far so interesting. The issue for the reader though is likely to be style in which it is written - ranting repetitious and rambling is what you need to be prepared for. On the positive side many of the rambles are interesting. For example football teams do better with less inequality in pay. I did not know this. I'm not convinced though that this is about players being looked down on. Maybe it's just better not to invest in too mixed ability a team? I did not know that the explorer Stanley encouraged his expedition to shoot natives he encountered like birds. Nor that the first city had no streets (people walked around on the roofs).

The analysis of wealth is also interesting. If your household earns up to 66k dollars a year with equity of less than 510k dollars you are in the top 10 per cent of world income. But you are probably living in a rich country and not that happy. But then the top one per cent is also varied. Of that 70 million only 11 million are dollar millionaires. And maybe 10 million of those are only just millionaires and are not the jet set...and perhaps 10 per cent of them are high net worth individuals.

Recommended then - but with reservations.
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on 12 October 2014
I see from the cover blurb that the author is a Geography prof soon to take up a post at Oxford.
I don't agree with his thesis but will confine myself to the book as a piece of writing.
This is an irritating book. It is significant that the birth rates in several populous countries and cities have recently tailed off. Also that whether a population is high or low, dense or sparse, the local economy usually copes. The book is full of significant facts that are not widely known, and which support the author's contentions that a)World population growth is likely to ease off in the next 20-30 years b)future generations will not face the mega-famine and Malthusian crisis many have warned about.
However, in my opinion the writing is poor. Some examples:

a)Little asides about history and politics which are crass, and often factually wrong. (There were Catholic Irish MPs at Westminster by the Potato Famine--has Dorling not heard of Daniel O'Connell? World population outside India and China 2000 years ago was not 90,000,000, as about 60,000,000 lived in the Roman Empire alone. The Renaissance only started after the Black Death "because God appeared not to care"--were the 15th and 16th centuries really post-religious ages?....etc....)

b)He cannot make up his mind whether modern capitalism and consumerism are bad for the planet or good. Sometimes he berates them like a hippy, sometimes he says that profit-oriented modern economics will solve the demographic crisis. Surely a pessimism about modern big business impiles a pessimism about population--or, if it doesn't, why keep mentioning it?

c)The structure of the book (chapters, sections within chapters) is confused, and does not follow a recognisable logical order of "the other side's case--my case", or "misunderstanding--true understanding". He is unable to keep his eye on what he is trying to convey. He seems to be setting it out scenario by scenario (so many billion, over-prediction, under-prediction), and coming out with an optimistic conclusion each time, but his text simply doesn't flow and doesn't work! After a genuine effort with 3 chapters, I had to turn to the publisher's precis to get the gist.

d)While arguing a point, he throws in personal asides which not only distract from his theme, but cheapen his text. What is the point of saying "Clearly the English have a lot to learn from Condorcet, especially those made to wear fancy dress during their adolescence, every day, at Eton"? Does this mean that someone who wore jeans and trainers to school has understood a writer of the French Enlightenment better than an Etonian?

e)I know he is trying to make academic research understandable to the general reader, but do sentences, in one case a whole chapter, have to start with "Well" or "O.K"?

I've written this without looking at the other reviews, including the negative ones, but will now do so!
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on 1 September 2013
Over 370 pages, Danny Dorling throws a tonne of figures at us as well as numerous repetitions and even contradictions, which personally left me with a lot of open questions:

- Is global fertility declining or rising now?
- Is population increasing or decreasing?
- If the rise in population has been decreasing since the early seventies, then why are we expected to hit 9 billion by the middle of the century?
- Are we REALLY becoming more intelligent as a species? Every week all through the year I perform an underwater cleanup dive, and I certainly don't get the same impression as Mr. Dorling: [...]
- And if we are supposed to consume less as our numbers rise, then why does a book by the title of "Population 10 Billion" need a useless plastic cover that starts peeling off and looking ugly after a few chapters?!...

The only take-home lessons I got from this book were:

- Ten billion people may very well live happily together if by chance we manage to change our rate of consumption. It's not about numbers, it's about consumption.
- There still is some hope.
- Don't put too much trust on forecasts and predictions, as shown by the enormous confidence intervals...

It would be nice to read an authoritative book on this issue situated somewhere in between Stephen Emmott's little rubbish pamphlet and Danny Dorling's long and confusing book. I think I'll stick to authors like Bill McKibben in future, and am looking forward to reading his book Eaarth.
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on 13 July 2013
This book is miles apart from the book with a similar title by Stephen Emmott. Emmott's book used shock tactics to panic us whilst offering little in the way of hope. This book is far more measured and makes an attempt to look at the facts. The reality is with birth rates falling population is likely to peak. Further more there really should be enough to go around if only the world was a bit more equitable. The book is not without faults and does tend to flit from subject at times with no clear direction. But there is hope for us all. Perhaps the end of the world is not just around the next corner!
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on 28 April 2016
This is a wonderful book spreading a message of optimism in the wake of current demographic change. In light of recent events such as the mass movement of people within Europe this book is ever more important and the messages behind the chapters, more vital. Dorling masterfully teaches demographics, economics, immigration and equality in a thorough examination of population trends and how mankind may best respond to the changes afoot. If the headlines are turning you to despair then I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
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on 13 July 2013
A strange book this one. I strongly welcome dialogue on demographics and he often makes good points. However why does he have to rant! Okay you are clearly a lefty, but the message is there to see, state the facts, why have a go at Tories and Americans etc. Furthermore some of his claims are very sweeping; to blame all of Pakistan's problems on drone strikes is ridiculous (granted they are a problem, but not the problem - radical Islam has destabilised Pakistan for years). Also he blatantly ignores human nature. Humans will consume - putting hope in the fact they won't is wishful thinking. He also fails to see the catastrophic impact large numbers of humans have on nature (he dismisses David Attenborough). Finally naiveté in human nature again - does he really think people are going to accept re-distributing humanity around the planet to even out population numbers. The book is a polemic and jumbled at times. Shame as the message needs to be told and he does do it, if you can dig it out.
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on 24 July 2013
A well researched, fully referenced and very thoughtful book about how human numbers have changed in the past, how and why they are changing in different places now, and possible future scenarios. It steers a sensible path between denying problems ahead and predicting inevitable doom. This is not a quick read, nor should it be. It is a complex subject in which past predictions have often proved wrong. He presents a wealth of information, much of it should be common knowledge, but is not yet. There is not just one message in this book, but many. Well worth reading.
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on 28 March 2015
Perfect to have a better understanding about where our species is heading, and how fast. Not to mention a tenfold factor due to the incredible increase in consumption per person, compared to a few decades ago.
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