Tribute to William R. Catton, Jr.
a leader in environmental sociology

(1926 - 2015)

assembled by Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow


WIKIPEDIA entry: William Robert Catton, Jr. (January 15, 1926 - January 5, 2015) was an American sociologist best known for his scholarly work in environmental sociology and human ecology. His intellectual approach was broad and interdisciplinary. Catton's repute extends beyond academic social science due primarily to his 1980 book, Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change.

Catton has written two other books: From Animistic to Naturalistic Sociology (1966) and Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse (2009). In addition, he has authored numerous scholarly articles, book chapters, and book reviews. . . continue reading Wikipedia entry


Note: This is an ongoing annotated links page. To help all of us learn more about Catton's work and how he has impacted the ideas and actions of others, please email us about useful links not yet listed. Also, if you have photos or text you'd like to have online, please email us with your suggestions and we can arrange to post new materials.

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  • Short Tributes collected after Catton's Death

  • Links to Longer Tributes

  • Links to Book Reviews

  • Links to Videos of William Catton Speaking

  • Links to Catton's Papers and Essays

  • Links to Miscellaneous Online Papers that Document Catton's Impact on Sociology

    Short Tributes Collected after Catton's Death

  • "William Catton was a pioneering world leader in dealing with environmental issues. He was one of the few sociologists who recognized the existential nature of the crisis now facing civilization. We're all going to miss him." — Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University

  • "William Catton's Overshoot was the most important book of its time, and one of the most important of all times, in pointing out the biological fact that humans have a carrying capacity similar to other animal species, and that exceeding this carrying capacity — as we did long ago — has grave consequences for humanity and for nature. Unfortunately, we have still not heeded Catton's advice." — Reed F. Noss, University of Central Florida

  • William Catton's Overshoot is one of the most important books I've ever read, and Bill was one of my greatest teachers." — Dave Foreman, co-founder of Wildlands Project, Rewilding Institute, Wild Earth magazine, and Earth First!

  • "William Catton laid out the truth of our predicament with unassailable clarity, which really means, given the seriousness of the biotic collapse we are facing, unassailable courage. And yet his constant committment to facing that very hard truth didn't stop him from being a curious, kind, and gentle human being. I am so grateful to have lived in the time when he was alive." — Lierre Keith, co-author of Deep Green Resistance

  • "William Catton's Overshoot was one of the most important books of the 20th century. I wish that everyone would read that book. As well as being a brilliant and articulate advocate for sanity in a culture gone completely insane, Catton was a good and gentle person." — Derrick Jensen, author of Endgame: The Problem of Civilization

  • "William Catton was prescient enough to see what was coming from a long way off, and responsible enough to spend his life warning us. Peace on his soul, and heaven help our own." — Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us

    Links to Longer Tributes

  • "William R. Catton: A Tribute by Family Members", March 2015.
    See also a 2008 op-ed by grandson Will Catton (a physicist/meteorologist who lives in New Zealand): "We Are Stealing from the Future".

  • "William Catton's Warning" by Kurt Cobb, 2015

  • "William R. Catton, Jr. (1926-2015)" by Michael Dowd, 2015

  • "As Night Closes In" by John Michael Greer, 2015

  • "A Gathering of the Tribe" (2011) and "A De-Industrial Reading List" (2009) - blogposts by John Michael Greer

  • "Thanks, Bill" by Richard Heinberg, 2015

  • Catton Obituary published in New Zealand Sociology by Colin Goodrich, Rosemary Du Plessis, and Riley E. Dunlap, September 2016

  • "William R. Catton, Jr.: An Appreciation" by Leon Kolankiewicz, 2015

  • "Sociology's Rediscovery of the Environment: Setting the Stage" by William R. Freudenburg, 2009

    Links to Book Reviews

  • "Recognizing Overshoot: Succession of an Ecological Framework", review and analysis by Jessica Schultz and Richard York, 2011, Human Ecology Review 18(2): 139-146

  • "Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change", book review by Harold B. Weiss, 2009

  • "Three Great Books", book review by Richard Heinberg, 2001 (scroll down to third section head for review of Overshoot)

  • "Overshoot", book review by Ugo Bardi, 2015

  • "Book Review of Overshoot", reviewed by Craig A. Straub 1998

  • "Humanity's Impending Impasse?", book review of Bottleneck, posted by George Mobus, 2009

  • "William Catton: Sequel to Overshoot", book review of Bottleneck, posted by Phil Ardery, Jr., 2010

    Links to Videos of William R. Catton Speaking

  • VIDEO: Interview with William R. Catton, Jr, 2008, 50 minutes

  • VIDEO: William Catton from "What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire", 2005, 78 minutes

  • VIDEO: William R. Catton and Richard Heinberg excerpt from documentary "Blindspot", 2008, 4 minutes

  • VIDEO: William R. Catton, Jr. — Peak Oil Update, 2012, 16 minutes

  • VIDEO: Bottleneck: The Human Impact, 2009, by The Population Institute, 16 minutes

  • VIDEO: William R. Catton, Jr. interviewed by Derrick Jensen, 2010, 32 minutes

  • VIDEO: William R. Catton, Jr. lecture on Bottleneck in Valencia, Spain (English), 2012, 69 minutes

    Links to Catton's Papers and Essays in chronological order

  • "List of William R. Catton's Publications", (no online links from this pdf list; includes book reviews by Catton)

  • "Extensional Orientation and the Energy Problem", 1973, Etc.: A Review of General Semantics, pp. 330-42

  • "Can Irrupting Man Remain Human?", first-page only, 1976, Bioscience 26:4

  • "Environmental Sociology: A New Paradigm", with Riley E. Dunlap, 1978, The American Sociologist 13 (41)

  • "Environmental Sociology", with Riley E. Dunlap, 1979, Annual Review of Sociology 5:243-73.

  • "A New Ecological Paradigm for Post-Exuberant Sociology", with Riley E. Dunlap, 1980, American Behavioral Scientist 24:15-47.

  • "Our Need for a New Perspective", 1980, excerpt from Overshoot

  • "Industrialism: Prelude to Collapse", 1982, excerpt from Overshoot

  • "The World's Most Polymorphic Species: Carrying capacity transgressed two ways", 1987, Bioscience 37:413-19. Note: Eugene P. Odum cites this paper by Catton as the foundation of "Concept 15" of the 20 concepts summarized as "Great Ideas in Ecology for the 1990s", 1992, BioScience 42:542-545

  • "Carrying Capacity and the Death of a Culture: A Tale of Two Autopsies", abstract only, 1993, Sociological Inquiry 63(2): 202-223

  • "Foundations of Human Ecology", 1994, Sociological Perspectives 37(1): 75-95.

  • "Struggling with human exemptionalism: The rise, decline and revitalization of environmental sociology", with Riley E. Dunlap, 1994, The American Sociologist 25:5-30.

  • "The Problem of Denial", paper presented at 1995 meeting of the Society for Human Ecology (also reprinted here)

  • "Malthus: More Relevant Than Ever", 1998

  • "If Malthus Was So Wrong, Why Is Our World in Trouble?", 1998, The Social Contract, pp. 231-38

  • "The Midas Century: Ready Or Not, Its Time Will Come", 2001, The Social Contract, pp. 183-87

  • "Reactions to Unwelcome Knowledge", 2001, The Social Contract, pp. 233-38

  • "Tribute to Garrett Hardin", 2003

  • Interview with William R. Catton, Jr., 2004, in Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture, and Eros, by Derrick Jensen.

  • "A Retrospective View of My Development as an Environmental Sociologist", 2008, Organization and Environment 21:471-77

  • "Understanding Humanity's Damaged Future", 2009, Sociological Inquiry 79:509-22

  • "Sociology's Neglect of Ecological Context", chapter in Sociological Landscape —Theories, Realities and Trends, Dennis Erasga, ed., 2012, 12 pp.

  • Catton's 2014 letter to Congressman Derek Kilmer

    Catton's Impacts on Sociology: Misc. Papers by Other Authors

  • "Introduction to the Symposium on Catton and Dunlap's Foundational Work Establishing an Ecological Paradigm", by Richard York, 2008, Organization and Environment 21:446-48. Excerpt:
    "This symposium was organized to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a foundational article and two subsequent articles by Catton and Dunlap, which together provided an explicit intellectual grounding for environmental sociology — defined as the study of societal-environmental interactions."

  • "Promoting a Paradigm Change: Reflections on Early Contributions to Environmental Sociology", by Riley E. Dunlap, 2008, Organization and Environment 21:478-87. Abstract:
    The author discusses his collaboration with William Catton that led to several early articles aimed at providing an intellectual foundation for a field of environmental sociology. The differing backgrounds and interests they each brought to their collaboration and the context in which it developed are outlined, along with the author's assessment of the major goals of their key publications. The growth of environmental sociology and increased disciplinary attention to ecological problems, spurred by the growing societal salience of such problems, suggests that sociology has begun to shed the human exemptionalist paradigm that dominated the discipline when the field of environmental sociology was launched.

  • "Exploring Deep Subjectivity in Sociology and Organizational Studies: The Contributions of William Catton and Riley Dunlap on Paradigm Change", by John M. Jermier, Organization and Environment 21:460-70. Abstract:
    When William Catton and Riley Dunlap began publishing their groundbreaking work on paradigms in the late 1970s, sociologists had been grappling with fundamental questions about the discipline for at least two decades. According to Catton and Dunlap, however, significant blind spots still remained, the most important falling in the shadow cast by strong anthropocentrism and a worldview that was decidedly nonecological. This anthropocentric bias also dominated the field of organizational studies until the mid 1990s. Both sociology and organizational studies benefited from scholarly analyses conducted by Catton and Dunlap (and others) that uncovered underlying paradigmatic assumptions and that proposed ecologically grounded alternatives. But both fields still tend to be limited by anthropocentrism and need more research aimed at developing theories and models centered on ecological processes and radical organizing. Revisiting Catton and Dunlap's paradigms framework is suggested as a valuable step for both sociologists and organizational studies scholars interested in addressing major gaps in their fields.

  • "Thirty Years of Scholarship and Science on Environment Society Relationships", by William R. Freudenburg, Organization and Environment 21:449-459. Abstract:
    By 2008, "environmental sociology" had become a well-established and well-recognized field of sociology, but exactly 30 years earlier, in 1978, it was essentially nonexistent. That was the year that saw the publication of the first two articles that, along with later work by Riley Dunlap and William Catton, began to make possible the subsequent development of the field. At the time, many of the leading figures in sociology — specifically including those who called themselves "human ecologists" — were actively hostile to the idea that sociological work would include attention to environmental variables. The hostility was particularly acute for work that focused on what an important book of the time called Limits to Growth. Fortunately, these pioneers moved forward, and in doing so, they helped to change the entire field of sociology. If the earlier degree of hostility toward work on environmental problems and variables is difficult to imagine today, a significant fraction of the credit needs to go to Drs. Catton and Dunlap.

  • "The Emergence of Environmental Sociology: Contributions of Riley E. Dunlap and William R. Catton, Jr.", by William R. Freudenburg and Robert Gramling, 1989, Sociological Inquiry 59:439-52. Excerpt:
    "During much of the 20th century, the predominant trend within sociology was for scholars to downplay or even ignore the importance of the environment, particularly in the United States. This trend was ultimately counterbalanced by sociological responses to the environmental movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s and by the efforts of selected sociologists — particularly Riley Dunlap and William Catton, who helped bring together the field of environmental sociology."

  • "The Growth of Chinese Environmental Sociology", by Dayong Hong and Chenyang Xiao, undated. Key excerpt:
    "According to the current Chinese environmental sociology literature we have on hand, in 1982 Juxin Di and Jian Shen translated and published an article that was originally published by Dunlap and Catton in the Annual Review of Sociology in 1979. That was the very first article of environmental sociology ever published in mainland China since the reconstruction of Chinese sociology."


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