Tag Archives: Environment

Book Review: Ten Billion

Ten Billion by Stephen Emmott is based on the author’s lecture run at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Emmott leads the Microsoft Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge and is a professor of Computational Science at Oxford University.

There is a children’s book entitled “There Was An Old Woman” about a woman who swallowed fly and from there swallowed a spider to catch the fly and goes on to a bird to catch the spider to cat, dog, goat, cow, and a horse (she’s dead- of course!). We, humanity, are forcing the earth to swallow thing after thing to try and fix the problem’s we are causing.

Human’s emerged as a species 200,000 years ago. 10,000 years ago there were a million people on earth. In 1800, population reached 1 billion. By 1960, human population reached 3 billion. 5 billion in 1980 and today there are 7 billion people. By 2050, the the population will reach 9 billion. And 10 Billion by the end of the century, that is with restraint. If we grow at the current rate, by the end of this century there will be 22 billion people on the planet. Population, people, not flies or spiders will be the death of the planet as we know it.

We have recognizable damaged on the planet now and with the rise of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and there demands for a Western lifestyle of meat, cars, technology will put a huge burden on the planet. Emmott is not worried that we will run out of oil to fuel this growth; he is worried that we will continue to use it at an accelerated pace and the damage that will do.

In 1960, there were 100 million cars in the world. By 1980, there were 300 million cars on the road. This year we will produce the 1 billionth car and over the next 40 years we will produce another 2.5 billion cars. The price of cars extends beyond the price tag; there are roads, pollution and pollution related diseases, environmental damage from oil production, transportation costs of parts, raising of animals for leather, and the list goes on.

Food and water will see increased demand. The Green Revolution, the author says, is a myth. There was nothing green about it. Petroleum based fertilizers and irrigation allowed increased production. As petroleum becomes scarce and water becomes scarce, food will become scarce. To increase food production new crop lands will be needed. This will come at the expense remaining forests and protected lands. Climate change will move crop lands. Climate change is not weather: because it snows one day in March in Dallas, Texas does mean global warming is wrong.

Emmott paints a picture of earth reminiscent of Isaac Asminov’s story 2430 AD. It is is a scary picture and it will be here in our children’s life time, if not ours. We are not trying to change the path we are on, most are happy to speed down the road to oblivion. Even those who try aren’t really doing much. I don’t drive a car. I bicycle everywhere I can; I take the train if I need to go farther. I am a vegetarian who shops local. My technology consists of a laptop, a phone and a Nook (no TV, stereo, X-box…). But even all that won’t be enough in the future. Emmott is much more blunt about it, let’s just say, the old woman is starting to swallow the horse.

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Book Review: State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible

State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?

State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible published by Island Press is a collection of articles from experts in their fields on sustainability. It examines what is sustainability, where we are, and what needs to be done. Sustainability has almost become a meaningless term like “green” or “eco” when referring to SUVs or “all natural” when referring to heavily processed food sweetened with HFC. 

This book is scary. Not scary in a fear mongering way, but in a way that when you read it you know its true: that certain feeling of dread. We are beyond the point of wondering if climate change is real and far beyond preventing it. We are beyond the point of slowing down production green house gases and hoping the planet will recover. The threshold has been crossed and the damage has been done and little is being done to control the damage. It took 200,000 years for human population to reach one billion; and 200 years for it to reach seven billion. Modernization of China and India and their desire to have the same standard of living as the West will create even more stress on the environment; if not cripple it. We live in a world where the wealthiest 10% of the population holds 57% of the worlds income and the top 11% of the population contribute 57% of the green house gasses. 

The West, particularly the United States, has created an economy that cannot be sustained in the United States or the world. We may feel good about recycling or buying “green” but billions of dollars in advertising are telling Americans to buy more, buy newer, buy better products continuously. Your IPhone 4 isn’t the best anymore; you need the IPhone 5. Buy, buy, buy, consume, consume, consume and Americans listen and obey. It’s the American way, but in no way sustainable. Disaster awaits us when the rest of the world tries to do the same. 

Energy and materials are a major problem for the future. A variety of renewable resources need to be developed. It will cost money, but then too our present system costs money too. U.S. tax payers spend $345 billion a year paying for pollution related illnesses from coal. Many countries are making progress with solar and wind energy. Drilling costs for oil is rising as well as costs for mining raw materials. Costs will continue to rise as raw materials become more scarce. As costs rise, even people in the developed world will feel the pinch. 

Change is needed. We need to pressure our governments for change. That is a problem in rich democracies for several reasons. In the America so much of the political system is based on interests and lobbies. Our leaders listen to who gives them the money and the worst offenders seem to have more than their share of the money. Secondly, we have become selfish; something even more than selfish. I want to drive rather than bike or take public transportation or car pool; furthermore, I want to drive in a huge vehicle that gets 18mpg. People fight against bicycle lanes and even crosswalks. Cities will even prevent public transportation because it will attract undesirables (poor people). This, I fear, will cause governments and people to ignore the problem until it becomes a disaster and then everyone will wonder how could this have happened.

The book covers many areas and covers them well. The book goes beyond the greenhouse gas problem and fossil fuel. It covers fresh water, fishing, crops, population, and politics. It is very well written and very well documented. The book makes an interesting study of Vancouver and Cuba after the Soviet Union fell. State of the World 2013 is well thought out and well worth the read. It’s an overdue wake-up call.

For the record, I am a strict vegetarian and do not drive a car.

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