Western culture is infatuated with the dream of going beyond, even as it is increasingly haunted by the specter of apocalypse: drought, famine, nuclear winter. How did we come to think of the planet and its limits as we do? This book reclaims, redefines, and makes an impassioned plea for limits—a notion central to environmentalism—clearing them from their association with Malthusianism and the ideology and politics that go along with it. Giorgos Kallis rereads reverend-economist Thomas Robert Malthus and his legacy, separating limits and scarcity, two notions that have long been conflated in both environmental and economic thought. Limits are not something out there, a property of nature to be deciphered by scientists, but a choice that confronts us, one that, paradoxically, is part and parcel of the pursuit of freedom. Taking us from ancient Greece to Malthus, from hunter-gatherers to the Romantics, from anarchist feminists to 1970s radical environmentalists, Limits shows us how an institutionalized culture of sharing can make possible the collective self-limitation we so urgently need.
About the author
Giorgos Kallis is ICREA (Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies) Professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona.
"Malthus is a key figure for understanding how to survive the twenty-first century, yet Kallis shows we have spent the last two hundred years misunderstanding him. Quirky, provocative, and engaging, Limits is a must-read book for environmentalists and anti-environmentalists alike."
—Bill Adams, University of Cambridge
"In an era addicted to endless growth, Giorgos Kallis artfully explores the power of limits and the surprising freedom that they can unleash. A compelling—and fittingly concise—read for our times."
—Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics
"Every so often a book comes along that can cut through fruitless debates and reveal a new way of thinking about a complex problem. Limits is such a book. Giorgos Kallis shows that by rejecting scarcity thinking, we can find the right questions and answers for our ecological and social crises."
—Juliet Schor, Boston College
"In this timely and essential book, Giorgos Kallis makes a compelling argument for autonomy and freedom from the unfulfillable promise of limitless growth under consumer capitalism. He shows how democratic, egalitarian self-limitation can combat the dominant but unsustainable imperative to constantly produce and acquire more."
—Nicholas Xenos, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"[The] popular understanding of Malthus comes from a mis- or half-reading, Kallis finds....[A] reconsideration of Malthus, like recent ones of Adam Smith, is a welcome part of the assault, across many fronts, on the neoliberal order."
—Anthony Chaney, U.S. Intellectual History Blog
"[A] welcome expansion of the English-language degrowth literature away from its usual technocratic or homespun focus on economic and environmental concerns, and into the humanities....[This] book is a very fine example of the sort of depth the environmental humanities can bring to an issue."
—Andrew J. Sutter, Brave New Europe
"[How] did the idea of limits get such a bad rap? Well, the great virtue of Giorgos Kallis's fine book,Limits, is in pointing this out by showing how the idea of limits got conflated with the spectral notion of 'scarcity' and in revealing a host of problems which followed from that unholy union....Kallis undertakes something of a phenomenology and anthropology of limits, which is an enjoyable and eminently humane ride."
—Michael J. Sauter, Front Porch Republic