I just finished the weighty Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by the geologist/genius Jared Diamond.
This book should be required reading for every college student and book club out there. It's a brilliantly written and scholarly but digestible look at human society at critical turning points: Diamond examines and puts forth various theories on why flourishing ancient societies like the Maya and Anasazi vanished; and why others hung in there in the face of similar obstacles.
I hate to be a downer on a holiday weekend, but the takeaway is that basically, we're screwed. People keep having kids, way too many of them; agricultural production and other essential supplies inevitably fail to keep up. Very rarely do societies take stock of the natural resources they've got left and act either collectively or top-down to preserve them; the Easter Islanders chopped down their trees, to the very last stick, depriving themselves of fuel and native animals (potential food sources) of their living quarters. Whoops! Ended up dead!
Meanwhile, the elite of any society (and in the world) will fight hard to keep the lion's share of its wealth to themselves, come what may for the little people. (This puts so much into perspective, including our current wacko health care and environmental debacles.) Tribes on the Polynesian island Mangareva fought incessantly over one five-mile stretch of land -- the only cultivatable area left.
Anyway. The plebes, ignorantly, go right along with things until their very survival is threatened. Then we revolt, usually destructively. We'll tear down what we built with our own sweat and blood. But by then, it's usually too late.
Diamond offers a bit of hope as to how we might tackle our current environmental issues: Courageous leadership, long-term planning, the importance of maintaining a global economy, at the least. But the prospects, given our innate stupidity as a race, seem gloomy. We're just gonna consume ourselves to death. While writing this, I noted this Houston Chronicle story about how large fish farming will commence in the Gulf of Mexico, despite huge environmental concerns. Why? There's just no law on the books to stop it.
Take some antacids. Then read this book.