Current Environmental Health Reports

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 360–369 | Cite as

Planetary Overload, Limits to Growth and Health

  • Colin D. ButlerEmail author
Global Environmental Health and Sustainability (W Al-Delaimy, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Global Environmental Health and Sustainability


Since the use of atomic weapons in 1945 visionaries have warned that without major changes the survival of global civilization is in question. These concerns deepened in following decades, during the Cold War, with The Limits to Growth, the best-selling environmental book of the 1970s. Yet, since then, most concern has faded, fuelled by technological developments and a shift in dominant global ideology. Public health, with a few exceptions (one of which is the book Planetary Overload), has been slow to recognize this debate, even as evidence emerges that civilization may indeed be at risk, driven by an increasingly ominous complex of events. This article outlines the key relevant literature and concepts, attempting to bring emerging and future health consequences to the attention of health workers, including the idea of a “social vaccine,” conveying sufficient anxiety to provoke action for environmental protection, but insufficient to induce paralysis.


Anthropocene Civilization collapse Climate change Conflict Environmental determinism Human carrying capacity 



I thank Dr. Kerryn Higgs, Professor John Potter, Emeritus Professor Colin Soskolne, Joanne Walker, and two anonymous referees for their valuable comments.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Colin D. Butler reports, in the last 5 years, grants from the Australian Research Council, other from Elsevier, other from United Nations University, other from University of California, San Diego, personal fees from University of Oulu, Finland, and other from University of Oulu, Finland. He has received occasional honoraria, frequent travel expenses and royalties for material related to this article. He has traded in stocks whose market value can be expected to increase if the material in this article is taken more seriously.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Health Research InstituteUniversity of CanberraCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.National Centre for Epidemiology and Population HealthAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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