Ten Billion

Stephen Emmott, Author
Stephen Emmott. Vintage, $12.95 (244p) ISBN 978-0-345-80647-5
Reviewed on: 09/02/2013
Release date: 09/10/2013
This muscular but anxious broadside by Emmott, a Cambridge scientist, predicts a bleak future of critical shortages, droughts, starvation, and natural disasters once the Earth's population reaches the book's eponymous number. Whether it's water or food, population trends mean that present levels of consumption can't continue. The author is forceful, if frantic, in supplying the numbers. Forty percent of the planet is already devoted to agriculture, with governments and conglomerates in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia quickly gobbling up the remaining land. As the global population grows in number and wealth, the demand for food and resource-depleting consumer goods will rise. With a few hair-raising facts, Emmott deftly demonstrates that production is itself consumption: One liter of bottled water requires four liters to produce; a hamburger takes 800 gallons. Whereas technology helped forestall crises in the past, it now uses up the very resources it's designed to preserve. Water desalination, for instance, requires energy intensive and releases many pollutants. Nuclear power would offer short-term hope but remains unpopular. The author sees only "radical behavior change" as a viable solution but does not say how this would work. Emmott's facts are enough to shake steely optimists, though the book's Malthusian pathos could be a bit cloying even for like-minded pessimists. (Sept.)
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