Stephen Emmott is a chief techno-wizard at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England. His brilliant young scientists are doing research in complex natural systems. Their objective is to invent miracles. They want to program ordinary cells to perform photosynthesis, so we can produce food from sunlight, without plows and seeds. Agriculture can’t feed ten billion. The goal is to delay the onrushing planetary emergency, and push aside annoying obstacles to perpetual growth.
Much of the public seems to be paying little attention to the emergency, if they are aware of it at all. Biking around the university town where I live, I don’t sense a crisis of overpopulation. I don’t sense that global carbon emissions have increased 400 percent in my lifetime. The squirrels, opossums, ducks, and blue jays have not gone extinct. Life seems normal. Everything is OK. Right?
A wealth of information can be found online, but many internet factoids are generated by slippery gangsters who accumulate riches by accelerating the planetary emergency. You see their work hundreds of times every day. Among their favorite tools are magical rubber stamps that imprint [SUSTAINABLE] with subliminal green ink – [SUSTAINABLE] soil mining, [SUSTAINABLE] forest mining, [SUSTAINABLE] fish mining, [SUSTAINABLE] growth, [SUSTAINABLE] development, and on and on.
Emmott’s clan of brilliant scientists is an oddity. They do not have the rubber stamp. They are not wearing choke chains that will be jerked if they express ideas that offend the mighty. They will not lose their jobs if they conclude that we are in the midst of a planetary emergency. When thinkers are free to learn without blinders and hobbles, they come to perceive reality as an intense whirlwind of out-of-control juju. This can be a head-snapping experience.
Emmott realized that it would be good to share his disturbing discoveries with the world, to help others see. Being present in reality, with eyes wide open, breaks the spell. It provides vision, coherence, and empowerment unavailable to those who stumble in a fog of illusions.
So, in a burst of creative energy, he sat down and wrote Ten Billion, a most unusual book.
Old wine in a new bottle
The book is 216 pages long, but it can be read in less than an hour. There is more white space than text. Some pages are home to five words. In a normal book, the text might fill 25 pages. Ten Billion resembles a PowerPoint presentation – an orderly stream of brief statements, decorated with attention-grabbing photos and charts. He smelted down a mountain of raw data, reducing it to vital conclusions, the pure essence of his vision, and nothing else.
According to one review, readers have a love/hate relationship with the book. Techies and scientists tend to be annoyed by bold statements unsupported by exhaustive explanations and scholarly citations. Commoners are more likely to appreciate the simplicity. It’s encouraging that the book is keeping the cash registers busy at Amazon – it’s attracting hungry minds. For oddballs like myself, who have read several hundred books on the planetary emergency, Ten Billion is just basic information that every well-educated high school student should know by now.
For example, “We currently have no known means of being able to feed ten billion of us at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system.” Indeed, experts expect food productivity to decline in the coming decades, “possibly very sharply.” Why? Reserves of phosphate, a mineral nutrient essential for agriculture, are no longer plentiful. Desertification and urban sprawl are reducing cropland area. Soils are being depleted, or eroding away. Weeds, diseases, and insects continue to develop resistance to our latest chemicals. Farmers are draining rivers and emptying underground aquifers.
To feed ten billion people, many of whom want more meat, food production must double. Keeping a growing mob on life support will require far more water, energy, and cropland. Kiss the tropical forests goodbye. Kiss countless wild species goodbye. Adding more people will also increase carbon emissions and accelerate climate change.
Climate, not peak oil
Don’t worry about Peak Energy. Instead, worry that we’ll continue extracting and burning what we’ve already discovered. Worry that we’ll discover even more, and burn that, too. Worry about climate change. A 2