Table of contents

List of Figures
List of Sidebars


1. Power in Nature: From Mitochondria to Emotion and Deception
The Basis of Life's Power
Power and Bodies
Power and Behaviors
Proto-Human Powers

2. Power in the Pleistocene: On Spears, Fires, Furs, Words, and Flutes — And Why Men Are Such Power-Hogs
Hands and Stone
The Fire Ape
From Grunts to Sentences
Gender Power
The Power of Art

3. Power in the Holocene: The Rise of Social Inequality
Gerdening, Big Men, and Chiefs: Power from Food Production
Plow and Plunder: Kings and the First States
Herding Cattle, Flogging Slaves: Power from Domestication
Stories of Our Ancestors: Religion and Power
Tools for Wording: Communication Technologies
Numbers on Money
Pathologies of Power

4. Power in the Anthropocene: The Wonderful World of Fossil Fuels
It's All Energy
The Coal Train
Oil, Cars, Airplanes, and the New Middle Class
Oil-Age Wars and Weapons
The Human Superorganism

5. Overpowered: The Fine Mess We've Gotten Ourselves Into
Climate Chaos and Its Remedies
Disappearance of Wild Nature
Resource Depletion
Soaring Economic Inequality
Overpopulation and Overconsumption
Global Debt Bubble
Weapons of Mass Destruction

6. Optimum Power: Sustaining Our Power Over Time
Involuntary Power Limits: Death, Extinction, Collapse
Self-Limitation in Natural and Human-Engineered Systems
Taboos, Souls, and Enlightenment
Taxes, Regulations, Activism, and Rationing: Power Restraint in the Modern World
Games, Disarmament, and Degrowth
Denial, Optimism Bias, and Irrational Exuberance

7. The Future of Power: Learning to Live Happily Within Limits
All Against All
Trade-Offs Along the Path of Self-Restraint
The Fate of the Superorganism
Questioning Technology
Learning to Live with Less Energy and Stuff
Lessening Inequality
Population: Lowering It and Keeping It Steady
Fighting Power with Power
Long-Term Power Through Beauty, Spirituality, and Happiness

About the Author
About New Society Publishers

Power — why giving it up might just save humanity and the planet


Power traces how humans have come to overpower the earth’s natural systems and to oppress one another, with catastrophic consequences. We must rapidly re-learn the lessons of power self-limitation rooted in evolution and human history if we are to stave off ecological and social collapse and enjoy a thriving future.


"Heinberg's Power is a searing, unflinching revelation of what has driven us to our current existential crisis: humanity's quest for power. Impeccably researched and masterfully written, this book explains how and why humanity is driving itself off the cliff. If there is any hope for us to continue, Heinberg shows why it must come from efforts to limit our own power."
Dahr Jamail, author, The End of Ice

"Richard Heinberg's panoramic review of known forms of power is both sobering and inspiring. Given our species' habitual methods for getting its way, be these methods physical, mental, or social, the outlook for our future is bleak indeed. Yet, Heinberg allows for the slim but real possibility of exercising restraint. If we are so persuaded, by wisdom or love for beauty, the future even now remains open. Indeed, such restraint returns us to ancient, almost forgotten appetites and capacities."
Joanna Macy, author, World As Lover, World As Self

"It may be a moral idea that hard work pays off but if we need proof that it counts, this latest from Richard Heinberg carries all the evidence we need. His encyclopedic treatment of power is brilliant. It is sure to pop up in courses and living rooms like toast."
Wes Jackson, founder, The Land Institute

"Heinberg goes to the very heart of the issue. Using his immense knowledge of biology, science, history, psychology, and the politics of energy, he shows that the environmental and social crises we face today have in their origin the insatiable human pursuit, and often abuse, of power, in all its forms. In showing us the path forward, Heinberg guides us to achieve power-limiting behavior so that we cannot just survive but thrive on a healthy planet and in healthy balance with one another."
Maude Barlow, author, activist, and co-founder, The Blue Planet Project

"Power reminds us that Richard Heinberg is one of the most important public intellectuals in the conversation about society's future. Eminently readable and engaging, Power is breathtaking in its scope and insight. Heinberg persuasively argues that we have reached evolutionary limits to concentrated social power and that empathy and beauty are key to averting ecological and social catastrophe."
Chuck Collins, Institute for Policy Studies, author, The Wealth Hoarders

"Power is a must read and a call to action for those seeking a sustainable, balanced, human future in harmony with the Earth. No guarantees, of course, but harnessing the power of sentient action certainly beats the alternative; of continuing our blind stumble only soon to be swept aside, as have many creatures before us."
Peter C. Whybrow, author, The Well-Tuned Brain