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Surprising Science

By Century’s End, With 10 Billion People, Earth Could Be a “Hellhole”

A British computational scientist has built a presentation reminiscent of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, this time showing the consequences of the Earth's population boom. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Stephen Emmott, head of computational science at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, and professor of computational science at Oxford, UK, has built a 75-minute presentation called Ten Billion, in which he forecasts what the world might be like if current environmental degradation and population expansion continues until the end of the century. Perhaps reminiscent of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the figures Emmott presents are startling: “A global population that was 1 billion in 1800 and 4 billion in 1980 will probably have grown to 10 billion by the end of this century; the demand for food will have doubled by 2050; food production already accounts for 30% of greenhouse gases – more than manufacturing or transport…”

What’s the Big Idea?

“…a world population of 10 billion will need 960 new dams, each of them the size of the world’s largest in China’s Three Gorges, plus 15,000 nuclear power stations and/or…11 million wind farms.” Describing himself as a rational pessimist, Emmott says of possible solutions to the impending crisis: “We’re fucked.” The problem, it seems, is our inability to locate blame within ourselves. If an asteroid were hurtling toward the Earth, the world’s resources would quickly be marshaled to alter the asteroid’s path or mitigate its damage. “But there is no asteroid. The problem is us.”

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