Frightening Facts in Stephen Emmott’s Ten Billion

Patricia BuddGuest Post by Patricia Budd

I am learning some really frightening facts from Stephen Emmott’s short non-fiction, Ten Billion. This book is not a sci-fi dystopia about the future. It is a fact based look at what is fast becoming our dystopian future. We will reach the unsustainable population of ten billion in just under thirty years. Emmott has even projected the deadly number of twenty-eight billion by this century’s end. I will, by that point, fortunately, be dead, but your children and grandchildren will not. Right now the planet’s resources are insufficient for supporting ten billion people, let alone twenty-eight billion.


When I was writing my dystopian sci-fi novel, Hadrian’s Lover, one of the criticisms I received was the overly large population I created for sometime in the 22nd century. Well, Stephen Emmott just justified that seemingly absurd number in his book, Ten Billion, by pointing out that “by the end of this century there will not be ten billion of us.” Rather, he goes on to say, “There will be twenty-eight billion of us.” I was eight billion short of this projected mark! The planet simply cannot sustain such a radically high number of humans.  Emmott rightly warns us that we are “in an unprecedented emergency.”


A radical shift, he writes, needs to occur in the mindset of the business world in order for us to effectively combat the damage we are continuing to inflict upon our planet. “The rules of business,” Sucked, explains, “urgently need to be changed, so corporations compete on the basis of innovation, resource conservation, and satisfaction of multiple stakeholder demands, rather than on the basis of who is most effective in influencing government regulation, avoiding taxes, and obtaining subsidies for harmful activities in order to maximize the return for just one stakeholder-the shareholders.” Like Emmott, I do not believe this will ever happen.


And yet, we must act. That is the key message Emmott addresses explicitly and implicitly on every page of his book. We are the problem and we must be the solution. If nothing is done then a crisis of pandemic proportions will be upon us. For, as Emmott evidences in his book,  “there is no known way of feeding a population of ten billion.” Prior to this statement he pointed out that since 1980 world population has grown by a billion every decade (pp 25, 29, 32). This suggests that by 2020 we will be at eight billion, hitting the nine billion mark by 2030 and the impossible to sustain ten billion by 2040 (or sooner). I could still be alive, just turning 80. If not luckily lost in a stupor of dementia, I may well have the misfortune of being cognizant of our species final descent into madness.


This book is rife with examples of the irony of human action and inaction. One example given is what he refers to as the “irony of ironies”. Apparently “it takes something like four liters of water to produce a one-liter plastic bottle of eater.” This, Emmott aptly describes as “completely unnecessarily” and goes on to call it “Water wasted to produce bottles-for water.” And, this is only one of the many examples of how we are overusing our planet’s limited fresh water resources. “In short,” as Emmott succinctly puts it, “we’re consuming water, like food, at a rate that is completely unsustainable.” Wow!


According to Stephen Emmott, there are three key reasons why the demand for food is growing (beside the obvious population growth): 1. People are eating more in developed countries, 2. People are consuming more meat than ever before, 3. Eating, particularly in wealthier countries, has become a pastime (Pages 70 $0& 71).


So, what are we to do? If we continue down this miserable trek as Emmott feels certain is exactly what we will do then all the dystopian fiction written predicting an apocalyptic future may become all too haunting true. Maybe we’ll wise up as a species sooner rather than too late and take Emmott’s advice in this book.

Posted on March 12, 2014, in Blogging Authors. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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