Civilization Critical

Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future

By Darrin Qualman  

Paperback $25.00

This book will ship by April 1st, 2019.

With human civilization hurtling closer and closer to the brink of collapse, big-picture solutions are needed. Fast.

In Civilization Critical, Darrin Qualman argues that in order to understand our present situation and our possible futures, we must focus on material and energy flows. The dominant patterns of nature are loops — circular flows of nutrients, seeds, water, carbon and other materials — while human systems are linear: moving from extraction to the factory, the store, the consumer and the landfill. Our petro-industrial systems are misshapen and cannot be sustained by the biosphere. Sustainability requires reconfiguring the linear flows of human systems to match the circular, recycling flows of natural (and pre-industrial) systems. Once we undertake this transformation, many of our problems will begin to abate; until we do so, most will intensify.

In this sweeping work, Qualman pushes the boundaries of existing environmental analysis by looking across the millennia to identify the core processes that give rise to environmental and economic problems and reveals how our sometimes-wondrous, sometimes-monstrous civilization really works and how it is threatened.

A thoughtful and thoroughly documented analysis of the runaway train we are all aboard. Anyone worried about the track ahead should read it. Those not worried should read it more than once.

— Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress

Why is the Amazon rainforest shrinking, while is growing rapidly? You will find that and other answers in this masterful book by Darrin Qualman, who takes us for a intriguing ride along the history of energy, materials and the living world, ending with a call for the transformation of our civilization.

— Wolfgang Sachs, author of The Development Dictionary, and Planet Dialectics

Request Exam Copy


  • Introduction
  • Loops, Lines and Webs: The Shapes and Flows of Civilizations and Ecosystems
  • Food Production
  • Energies, Engines and Power
  • Complexity, Structure, and Civilizational Pyramids
  • Time
  • Efficiency
  • Progress as Foundational Myth
  • Feedbacks, Positive and Negative
  • Governance and Direction
  • Economics as a Sub-Branch of Earth Sciences
  • Conclusion: Sustainability Solutions
  • References
  • Index


  • Darrin Qualman

    Darrin Qualman is a civilizational critic. He also farmed with his family in Saskatchewan, Canada, and for many years he served as director of research for Canada’s National Farmers Union.

Subscribe to our newsletter and take 10% off your first purchase.