Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Our Shrinking Planet

Massimo Livi Bacci

Polity Press



Written by Massimo Livi Bacci, Our Shrinking Planet advocates bringing the demographic question back to the centre of the international community’s debates on development. Livi Bacci introduces his book by highlighting that our planet has dramatically gotten smaller – up to 1,000 times – in relation to the area of land at each human’s disposal. He identifies the role that factors like the Industrial Revolution, transportation, and population growth have played in this. Throughout this book, Livi Bacci addresses vital questions for today’s society that link Earth’s population and powerful growth differentials around the world, and through these he underlines “the complex relations between population, development and politics” (page 3). Our Shrinking Planet is valuable reading for anyone interested in the future of our planet and the critical influence that its demography has upon its sustainability.

This book is structured into eight chapters, bookended by an introduction and epilogue. Chapter 1 gives a historical overview of humanity’s demographic growth and a more detailed look at the world’s shrinking. This highlights the significance of a demographic revolution, although incomplete and geographically varied, where the balance between survival and reproductivity in the last 200 years has wavered, and mortality followed by fertility has gradually declined.

Chapter 2 looks at humanity’s growing impact on our finite planet with respect to land, water and air. Framed by a population that is projected to reach around 10 billion by 2050, Livi Bacci concludes that the international community is faced with not only slowing down demographic growth but also managing the world’s finite resources, conserving environmental balances, and restoring ecosystems have been damaged or lost.

Ways that demographic systems have adapted and self-regulated over time are discussed in Chapter 3. Specifically, Livi Bacci distinguishes between preindustrial times, when natural factors significantly governed population growth, and post-industrial times, which have largely been freed from natural factors and are significantly dependent on individual choices.

Chapter 4 critiques the sustainability agenda with specific reference to “the population, its dynamics, and its component parts” (page 52). Livi Bacci connects population to the planet’s sustainability as he questions whether today’s demographic tendencies are sustainable, and if not, what actions are needed. This chapter emphasizes the role of social policies. It identifies investing in technology, building human capital, and reducing demographic growth as important priorities for the international community.

Following on, Chapter 5 discusses the impact that changes in demography have within nations, in other words geopolitics. Livi Bacci then links these demographic dynamics to the global scale to suggest how they may affect the global geopolitical order.

In Chapter 6, Livi Bacci reiterates that the “end of demography” – as population numbers become static and demographic behaviours homogenized – is a very unlikely phenomenon. He asserts that migration will continue to be a strong force because of income differentials around the world, interethnic marriages, and intensified international bonds.

Chapter 7 considers the complex implications of extended lifespans, namely biological, social, economic and political factors. It also questions whether there is a limit to longevity and the sustainability of long life. Livi Bacci returns in

Chapter 8 to his main concern: that the international community is failing to acknowledge the significant and central role that demography plays in sustainable development despite evidence to the contrary. He reiterates that the demographic revolution that would allow humanity to choose its own reproductive and survival behaviours is incomplete, and accomplishing this quickly should be a development priority.


Book note prepared by Hannah Keren Lee

Search the Book notes database

Our Book notes database contains details and summaries of all the publications included in Book notes since 1993 - with details on how to obtain/download.

Use the search form above, or visit the Book notes landing page for more options and latest content.

For a searchable database for papers in Environment and Urbanization, go to http://eau.sagepub.com/