“Ten Billion” by Stephen Emmott – a 120-page paperback Ehrlich-style Doomfest – is due out in the next few days, published by Vintage in the USA and Penguin in the UK. German, Italian and Dutch translations are also due. Publication was brought forward hurriedly because of the appearance in Britain of a spoiler – “Population: Ten Billion” by Danny Dorling.
Very briefly: Emmott argues that a combination of population growth, rising consumption, climate change, species loss and environmental depredation will lead us to catastrophe by the year 2100, and there’s nothing we can do about it. In his inimitable catch phrase: “We’re f*cked”. Dorling agrees with Emmott’s basic thesis but adds: “Yes we can”.
Both agree that massive behaviour change on the part of the citizens of the rich West is a necessary condition for saving the planet , change which no democratically elected government could implement. You’re left to draw your own conclusions. The conclusion Emmott draws is contained in an anecdote which is mentioned in practically every discussion of the book. Confronted with the dire predictions emanating from the work done by Emmott and his team of forty scientists at the Microsoft Laboratory in Cambridge, England, the reaction of one of the team was that the only thing to do was “teach your child to use a gun”.
The simultaneous publication of both books means that the conditions have been realised for a phony debate in Britain between “optimists” and “pessimists” over what to do, or whether anything can be done – a debate from which sceptics are excluded, since both sides implicitly accept the worst expert predictions found in official sources- a population of 10 billion and a 6°C rise in global temperature.
Emmott’s book is based on a one-man-show performed by Emmott himself at the Royal Court theatre in London in July 2012 – a show which got rave reviews from the green-leaning British press. Emmott is no actor and a very poor public speaker, but his position as Professor of Computational Science at Microsoft’s Cambridge Lab, plus visiting professorships at Oxford and London Universities, lent authority to his views, which were swallowed unquestioningly by the British press. Interviews in the Observer and the Financial Times established Emmott as an expert to be reckoned with, and there was talk of a TV series or a TED talk. The final format chosen for getting his thesis out to a wider public was a popular paperback.
The original playscript was never published, but Alex Cull and I gathered as much material from the play as we could find from interviews and critics and analysed Emmott’s thesis in a blog post at
As more information became available, we followed up with a series of posts at
Wherever we could check Emmott’s claims, they turned out to be false or exaggerated. His claim that a Google search uses as much electricity as boiling a kettle was the subject of a retraction at New Scientist, following a complaint from Google that the claim was out by a factor of a hundred. His claim in a talk that species lost is running at more than a thousand times the natural rate was based on a 20-year-old source which estimated loss at “a hundred to a thousand times the natural rate”. Emmott simply took the upper estimate and added “more than”. It’s true that there is an official UN estimate of a population of ten billion by the year 2100 (in a 2010 online update to the last official report in 2004) but Emmott fails to mention that the report has population flatlining by this time, and declining thereafter.
We haven’t read the book yet, but an extensive extract published by the Observer at
makes it clear that his basic thesis hasn’t changed. Nor have his two key catch-phrases, since “We’re f*cked” and “Teach my son how to use a gun” appeared at the top and bottom of publicity material issued by Penguin Books a couple of days ago at a number of news sites, for example at
The publicity handout is a collection of thirteen graphs, which I’ve analysed very briefly at
They are, quite simply, terrible. They’d be a disgrace in an essay by a first year university student. In at least two cases, the timescale on the x axis changes half way along with no indication. They appear to have been drawn by hand by someone who can’t use a ruler. Decadal changes appear to happen roughly every 12-15 years. Scales are deliberately chosen to create hockeysticks. Future population growth is represented as a vertical line, instead of the S-shaped curve which every serious demographic study supports.
Since first putting up these graphs, Buzzfeed have added footnotes giving sources. In every case the graphs are “adapted from..” or “compiled from…”. In other words, they are the responsibility of the author.
In response to a comment on my article that I was “nit-picking”, I acknowledged that the graphs were probably the work of some hard-pressed intern at Penguin Books with an impossible deadline to meet. Since then, I’ve seen a paywalled interview with Emmott in the Times
in which the interviewer says:
“…all the graphs in his book, which you suspect he carries around in his head as well – graphs for world population, CO2 parts per million, global ocean heat content and loss of tropical rainforest and woodland, for instance – are lurching upward in ways they never have before.
‘It’s precisely because of those graphs that I think we are in trouble,’ he says.”
… which makes it pretty clear that the graphs belong to Emmott, the Microsoft Professor of Computational Science who, in a recent speech to a government-funded innovation thinktank, spoke of the need for:
“…an entirely new generation of entirely new kinds of scientists, of scientists … who are computationally first rate, and I don’t mean people who know where the on button is on their Macintosh, I mean conceptually and mathematically computationally first rate.”
I invite WUWT readers to amuse themselves by going through the graphs with a ruler and a fine tooth comb. It may be nit-picking, but there are an awful lot of nits, and it’s best to comb them out now before they hatch and we’re all scratching ourselves to death.