10 billion“This is a book about us.”

Last year, Earth’s population hit seven billion humans. In 1800, it was just one billion. Think about that a moment. It means that our population has grown seven times bigger in just two hundred short years, one billion of those turning up in just the last dozen years. The increase in cities and city size has given over room to most people, but the population is not showing signs of slowing down and now we’re facing a crisis. The population will soon be at ten billion people, and we simply don’t have the capacity to house them, support them or feed them. And given the speed at which we’re destroying the climate, we’re actually giving ourselves even less time.

The book is laid out with bitesize information, sometimes just a sentence or two on a page, and peppered throughout with graphs, charts and stunning (if terrifying) photographs. This makes it easier for the layman to be able to pick up and understand. It explains how much energy goes into producing the things we use now, and how much more we need to keep the future running smoothly.

There’s debates on how coal and gas actually aren’t running out, but they’re not a viable option anymore as we heat up the planet (the ten warmest years on record all happened after 1998) so we need to find an alternative. There’s mentions of how much rainforest we’re destroying, how many species we’re killing and what our cars are doing to the environment.

If this doesn’t sound very positive, it’s because it isn’t. Personally, I can’t say that humans are having no effect on the climate, because we must be doing something at this point,  but I also know that Earth goes through warm periods and cold periods and the whole thing is unstable, so I won’t lay the blame entirely at the feet of humans. Perhaps we’re just entering a warm period at the same time as causing havoc. Emmott, however, seems quite content to point the finger at humanity and tell us that everything we’re doing is killing our children and grandchildren.

I thought the book might be providing suggestions as to what humanity needs to do to make sure the dystopian image of an over-populated underfed planet doesn’t happen, but Emmott doesn’t even begin to consider options until three-quarters of the way in, and then manages to talk himself (and us) out of every possible option. He admits that governments and scientists need to be doing something about it now, and putting projects into effect already, but they aren’t, and no one is really ready. Everyone seems to be pretending it’s not happening, waiting for more results, or just hoping that someone else sorts it out.

I’m not a scientist by any means, so I’m taking the statistics and information in this book at face value, but a lot of it comes across like scaremongering, and I know enough to know that you can make anyone believe anything by using leading questions and statistics.

Do I believe everything in this book? No.

Do I believe that humanity is in pretty serious trouble? Yes.

Do I believe that you should read this book? Yes.

The science might be sloppy (who am I to say?) but there might be something in here that strikes a chord.