It’s a F*ct – We’re F*cked

by | Aug 28, 2012

This is a guest post by Geoff Chambers and Alex Cull.

“Ten Billion”, described as  “a new kind of scientific lecture” by scientist Stephen Emmott and director Katie Mitchell played at the Royal Court theatre in London for three weeks in July and August, and at the Festival d’Avignon in France. It was a huge critical success, and in a post-show discussion Emmott said that he had been bombarded with offers from film makers to turn it into a tv documentary, and claimed to have received thousands of requests from the public to have it shown  to schools and to politicians.

So what’s in it? Only a few thousand people lucky enough to have seen the show know, since it was shown at the Theatre Upstairs, which only seats ninety, and, contrary to normal Royal Court practice, a playscript has not been published.

Since the critics seem to be unanimous about its importance, and the stage show is likely to be transformed into a tv film which will be watched by millions, we decided to try and piece together  the contents from quotations in press reviews, rather like that lost Satyr Play by Sophocles, known only from fragments found on scraps of papyrus wrapped round  a mummified crocodile.

Besides the reviews by theatre critics, our main sources were two filmed interviews, one by  the director Katie Mitchell given at the Avignon theatre festival, the other a question-and-answer session by Professor Emmott after a performance at the Royal Court. Both these, plus an item on Radio’s Today programme, have been transcribed and are available at Alex’s site:

The title “Ten Billion” refers to Emmott’s estimate of the likely world population at the end of the century. Most of the reviews speak of “overpopulation”; Whatsonstage talks of the “exponential” population expansion and Time Out talks of Emmott’s prediction “that the global population is spiralling out of control”.

The reviews were full of superlatives. The Times’ critic calls it “utterly gripping, terrifyingly lucid”; Time Out: “monumentally sobering”; Billington in the Guardian: “one of the most disturbing evenings I have ever spent in a theatre”; the Financial Times: “one of the most disturbing shows I have seen on a stage”; the Mail on Sunday “certainly the most scary show in London”. Almost all of them cite Emmott’s conclusion: “We’re f*cked”.

Here are some of the key “facts” (or “f*cts”) cited by Emmott and picked up by critics. (It is of course impossible to check whether the critics have quoted Emmott correctly, since no record of what he says exists):

1) A google search uses as much electricity as boiling a kettle.

2) It takes 3,000 litres of water to make a hamburger, (that’s 10 trillion litres of water annually to sustain the UK’s burger industry).

3) It takes 27,000 litres of water to make a bar of chocolate

3) Animal species are currently going extinct at a rate 1,000 times their natural level.

4) Bangladesh will be under water by the end of the century.

Taking them one by one:

1) A cup of tea is worth a Google search

The New Scientist has an interview with Emmott in which the Google/kettle anecdote is repeated and in which Emmott says:

the goal was simply to inform and give people an opportunity and a framework for thinking differently about the nature of the problems that we face. You might say it’s quite stark, but 99 per cent of the talk is just the science and the facts.

The article has an update pointing out that Google disputes this figure, saying it’s a hundred times too large. So who to believe? Google, or the Microsoft professor of Computational Science at Oxford? Or should we split the difference?

2) How moist is your hamburger?

The figure of  3000 litres of water to make a hamburger dwarfs average daily consumption of 150 litres per day. Even if you accept the concept of “virtual” water, (incorporating water used in the manufacture of products consumed) as explained in a Guardian article — according to which the true figure for UK water usage is 30 times greater than the official amount — you would need 10% of total water usage in the UK, including  “virtual” water, just to keep us in hamburgers – an unlikely result.

Googling “3000 litres of water to make a hamburger” leads us to sites like, which cite the peer reviewed articles (e.g. Mekonnen & Hoekstra: A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products) which are the ultimate source of these figures. The high water content of hamburgers is explained by counting the rain falling on the grass or other crops consumed by the cow. It could be pointed out in defense of the Big Mac that even if you abolished livestock rearing and went back to hunter gathering, the same amount of rain would still fall on the same amount of grassland, and your voleburger would still have the same water footprint, though presumably without mustard and mayonnaise. It really doesn’t matter whether Mekonnen and Hoekstra have done their sums right; it’s not science – just a Reader’s Digest-style factoid to bring out to impress your dinner party guests over the home-grown roquette quiche.

3) Homeopathic chocolate

27,000 litres to make a bar of chocolate, cited by reviewers here and here also seems a bit steep. The Urban Times website quotes 27,000 litres per kilo as the water footprint of chocolate, (perhaps Emmott likes big chocolate bars?) and adds:

there is a simple reason behind the large water footprint. The natural habitat of the cocoa bean is the lower storey of the evergreen rainforest and the plant requires vast amounts of water to thrive. It needs rainfall of between 1,500mm and 2,000mm per year with consistent levels throughout the year. Compare this to the 650mm per year as an average in London.

By converting some of their rainforest into cocoa plantations, countries like Ghana can transform natural resources such as their ample rainfall into valuable cash crops and become wealthier. One day the may even become wealthy enough to hold dinner parties where they can worry whether the stuff they import from Europe has been ethically and sustainably produced.

3) Animal extinctions a thousand times the background rate.

Wikipaedia  says “the rate of species extinctions [not just animal species] at present is estimated at 100 to 1000 times “background” or average extinction rates in the evolutionary time scale of planet Earth” and cites J.H.Lawton and R.M.May, Extinction rates, OUP.  Given that new species are being discovered faster than current ones are going extinct, any figure is bound to be highly suspect, even one as vague as that cited by Wiki. Has Emmott simply taken the higher of two vastly different estimates for overall species loss and applied it to the tiny proportion of species which people care about – the four-legged ones?

Willis Eschenbach points out that, according to the Committee on Recently Extinct Organisms, of the 61 mammal species known to have become extinct in the past 500 years, 58 were island dwellers, hunted to death by European colonisers. He says:

Of the 4,428 known mammal species (Red List 2004) living in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, South America, and Antarctica, only three mammals have gone extinct in the last 500 years.

Clearly, any idea of animal species loss being multiplied a thousandfold by climate change, or anything else, is nonsense.

4) Is Bangladesh disappearing?

A quarter of the land surface in this huge river delta is flooded every year. Thousands die, but, as the 2008 Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan explains in some detail, great progress is being made to limit the damage and loss of life. This progress is due to the impressive economic and social development the country has experienced:

Since Bangladesh achieved Independence in 1971, GDP has more than tripled in real terms , food production has increased three-fold, the population growth rate has declined from around 2.9% per annum in 1974 to 1.4% in 2006 and the country is now largely food secure. Over the last 20 years, growth has accelerated and the country is on track to become a middle income country by 2020. In four out of the last five years the economy has grown at over 6%. Between 1991 and 2005, the percentage of people living in poverty declined from 59% to 40% … Child mortality has fallen substantially and gender parity in primary education has been achieved.

If you google “Bangladesh surface area”, the first few results all cite a World Bank report which gives the surface area of Bangladesh as 144,000 sq km, unchanged since 1961. The round figure and the lack of change over 50 years look suspicious. Could it be that the Bangladesh government is too poor or too incompetent to measure its own surface area?

Not so. A few minutes’ research show that it’s the World Bank which can’t be arsed to get its facts right. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ 2010 Pocketbook gives a figure from the 2001 census of 147,570 sq km. -considerably more precise, and 5% up on the World Bank’s vague out-of-date estimate.

The impression that the area of Bangladesh is actually growing is confirmed by the experts working on land reclamation. From:

“The Bangladeshi rivers carry silt unlike any others and an intervention is all that is needed to create new land,” said S.R. Khan, a government water engineer. “Bangladesh is the only country in the world that can physically grow.” […] “Our understanding is that the process of siltation, particularly when you are supporting it through creating dams, that the process is much faster than the increase in sea levels,” said Alphons Hennekens, the Netherlands’ ambassador to Bangladesh.

*    *    *

The key prediction, contained in the title of Emmott’s piece, is that  the world’s population is due to grow from its current seven billion to ten billion by the end of the century.

According to the 2010 revision of the UN’s World Population Prospects this figure will be reached on 18 June 2083. It represents a radical increase from that given in the last full report, “World Population to 2300” published in 2004 which predicted:

world population peaks at 9.22 billion in 2075… [A]fter reaching its maximum, world population declines slightly and then resumes increasing, slowly, to reach a level of 8.97 billion by 2300, not much different from the projected 2050 figure.

The 2010 update is not a proper report like the 2004 document, but a bunch of graphs for internet browsing, and is therefore much more difficult to evaluate. There is, however, a set of FAQs in the 2010 document which explain the upward revision as being due largely to a revision of estimates of fertility rates. My BS detector shot off the dial when I read in FAQ3 that the figure of ten billion is due to be reached on 18 June 2083, (what? during Wimbledon?) and that FAQ9 cites a reversal of declining fertility rates in Estonia and the Channel Isles among the reasons for the upward revison – but that’s another story. Even if one accepts the revised figures, there is no basis for describing population growth as “exponential” or “spiralling out of control” or even “overpopulation” as many critics did. Were they citing Emmott, or did they make it up? There’s no way of knowing.

Of the checkable facts cited by critics quoting Emmott, only the Ten Billion has credible official support. But even this apparently solidly based projection came under fire in the discussion after the show, when a member of the audience mentioned:

a lecture at my own institution by Professor Sarah Harper, who’s professor of demography at Oxford, and she took a much more reassuring view than you … of population growth. She said that changing lifestyles in every part of the world, with a few pockets of exceptions in Africa, would lead us to conclude that the portrait you portray of relentless expansion of population is not the case. I’m confused now, having heard your wonderful talk tonight.

Stephen Emmott: 

No, I’m not quite as optimistic as Sarah, but – and I do share most of her views. Er, but I didn’t actually say we would be 28 billion, I said if the … rate continues at the current rate – and even I don’t think it will – we would be 28 billion, and she would say the same. She might argue that it could be 22 billion, but neither of us would disagree that it’s twenty-something. I just happen to not be quite as optimistic as Sarah about lifestyle changes and how soon they will occur and their consequences in the short term.

Man in audience:

She ended up by saying “It’s a wonderful world for young people”, the complete opposite to producing guns…

So Emmott agrees with fellow Oxford professor Harper – even though she thinks “it’s a wonderful world” and he thinks “we’re f*cked”.

The reference to guns concerns an anecdote which greatly impressed the critics concerning a scientist colleague of Emmott who, when asked what he intended to do to prepare for the future, said “make sure my children know how to use a gun”.

Emmott was at pains to dispel any idea that his colleagues were given to violence. He explained:

I was quite surprised when this guy in my lab said this, because he’s very, very level-headed. And he said so because, you know, we have a lab of forty people working in this area, and you know, everyone shares the same view as he does, and it’s simply on the basis of a) the science, and b) if we’re heading for trouble, of some sort…

Now there’s nothing surprising about someone saying something daft and dramatic in the course of a casual conversation. What is surprising is Emmott’s assertion that the forty people working with him (all top brains doing avant-garde science, according to Katie Mitchell) “all share the same view”. Of course, there’s no more reason to believe this assertion than any of the others offered by Emmott as scientific truth, given his tendency to be out by a factor of ten or a hundred in his estimates. But supposing he’s right. A lab of top flight scientists employed to do Blue-Sky thinking on behalf of the British and American governments, all thinking the same.

Isn’t that rather worrying?

Postscript: In the post-show discussion, Emmott claimed: “an interview that I did about this talk generated just thousands of blogs and comments within you know, a handful of days…”

We’ve done a lot of googling, and come up with 94 comments to an article by Robin McKie in the Observer and 23 to the interview in the New Scientist. Can anyone come up with any more, or is this another  example of an Emmottic – a statistic that requires a downward revision of several magnitudes?


  1. Hilary Ostrov

    Alex and Geoff … thank you both for this! Although I’m not sure which is the scarier of the two thoughts crossing my mind: Emmott’s seemingly irreconcilable divorce from reality (how in Gaia’s name did he succeed in getting as far as he apparently has?!) or the gullibility of the fawning (advocacy/activist-driven?!) “critics”.

    Needless to say, though, while I was shaking my head in astonishment, your excellent sleuthing (and writing) had me laughing at the same time!

  2. agwnonsense

    sounds like the usual ipcc/warmist bullsh*t propaganda A play seen by a select sympathetic audience, like al bore and 10/10 it will disolve into sewage and go down the historical(hysterical) sewer

  3. geoffchambers

    “how in Gaia’s name did he succeed in getting as far as he apparently has?”

    Until I saw Emmott, I thought Bob Watson was the world’s worst speaker, based on his performance at the Guardian post-Climatgate debate. Neither of them can form a sentence with a subject, verb and object. Both of them are eminent scientists who have acted as advisors to both the British and US governments. My theory is that politicians like scientific advisors who gabble incoherently, because it makes them feel intelligent in comparison. The dumbest elected politician knows haw to form a coherent sentence, after all.
    We don’t know what he said at the Royal Court, but there’s a speech Emmott gave about “Error and Truth, modelling future carbon and climate” on this website.
    Do read the article first, entitled “De nieuwe Al Gore”. It’s in Dutch, but it’s infinitely easier to understand than Emmott’s talk.

  4. Robert of Ottawa

    Oh no! The planet is spinning out of control :-)

    Yes, I realize it doesn’t really add anything constructive to the conversation, but according to the Warmistas, a little ‘ysteria never did no ‘arm.

  5. Robert of Ottawa

    1) A google search uses as much electricity as boiling a kettle.

    Well, this statement is rather vague and meaningless to this electrical engineer. Did the playwrite actually exlain it, or just use a cheap rhetorical device that would wow ignorant ideological psycophants?

  6. agwnonsense

    he seems to believe “if you can’t dazzle his audiance with brilliance he can baffle them with bullsh*t” or “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story”

  7. Mooloo

    Google reckons it did 1,722,071,000,000 searches in 2011.

    A kettle takes at least 0.1 KWh to boil, assuming about a litre and no energy loss. Of course the energy loss in boiling water is huge, so we can safely double that, but let’s call it 1.5 times, to be safe.

    So that is 2.5 x 10^11 KWh if each Google search is the equivalent of boiling a kettle.

    That is 250 TWh (terrawatt-hours).

    World electricity production is about 21,000 TWh. Upwards of 5% is lost in transmission, making 20,000 TWh delivered to homes and factories.

    So according to Emmott, well over 1% of the world’s electricity is used just on Google searches.

    Luckily I generally use AltaVista, but you other bastards sure are greedy using all that power!

  8. Hilary Ostrov


    Do read the article first, entitled “De nieuwe Al Gore”. It’s in Dutch, but it’s infinitely easier to understand than Emmott’s talk.

    WHAT did I ever do to you that you would send me there, eh?!! That was soooooo painful that after the first six minutes (which felt more like 60), I had to put it on pause while I poured myself a glass of wine … in the futile hope that a spoonful of sugar (or a glassful of Shiraz) etc. etc. might help. It didn’t!

    Emmott makes Myles Allen – by strange coincidence, another Oxonian prof – seem positively “articulate”!

    I did watch the whole thing (which I know I could not have done without the aforementioned fortification). But I did take your advice, first … and I cannot disagree with your assessment that the article (even in Dutch) made far more sense than Emmott the wetenschapper. At least the Dutch can be translated into English; whereas Emmott’s (what we used to call) “double Dutch” cannot!

    Perhaps it was the (non-spontaneous) “standing ovation” he received that inspired him to take his act to the stage!

    The best parts of his presentation (at least from where I was sitting) were those in which the sound went mute for a merciful while.

    I can’t believe that my blood pressure is still in the normal range after listening to his assaults on logic, reason and the English language in this video which – if he had omitted all his protestations of time limitations and his far too frequent claims of what he was not going to talk about before he “talked” about them – could have been completed in … oh, I dunno, probably at least a third of the time. And that’s even including his um’s, ah’s, repetitions and variants thereof! Take those out and he could probably have done it in quarter-time (if not less)!

    Nor can I even begin to imagine how he might have captivated and enraptured the adulating reviewers of his stage performances!

    What kept running through my mind is that if/when the TV-movie is made it will be a very, very, very poor imitation of Peter Sellers’ marvelous 1979 flick Being There

    Chance, a simple gardener[‘s] … simple TV-informed utterances** are mistaken for profundity.

    ** For those whose tender age might have caused them to miss this classic, some examples are provided here.

  9. Barry Woods

    George Monbiot wrote about this green myth about the amount of water to produce a kilo of beef, 2 years ago in the Guardian: (saying he was wrong)

    George Monbiot:

    “Like many greens I have thoughtlessly repeated the claim that it requires 100,000 litres of water to produce every kilogram of beef. Fairlie shows that this figure is wrong by around three orders of magnitude. It arose from the absurd assumption that every drop of water that falls on a pasture disappears into the animals that graze it, never to re-emerge.”

    Didn’t the Guardian review this twice? Perhaps they could have run it by George…

  10. Gösta Oscarsson

    I recommend Hans Rosling’s Gapminder for those who want to know what official statistics around the world say about mortality, birth rates and – the resulting – population development. In an extremely pedagogical way he describes what has actually happened. And that is mostly very encouraging. Who knows that Iran has the same birth rate as Sweden and Theran somewhat lower than Stockholm? — And we Swedes do not plan to fill the world.

  11. geoffchambers

    Many thanks. I just spent a happy half hour at watching infant mortality rates decline, GDP grow etc. it’s a brilliant site. Anyone who appreciates how graphics can inform your understanding of complex changing facts should visit it constantly. I feel I’m going to learn certain sequences off by heart, like the dance routines from my favourite Hollywood musical comedies.
    Sorry to have ruined your evening. The trailer for Being There is at
    Emmott seems to be a kind of anti-Chance, in that he seems to be advising political leaders how to lose elections with pessimistic ideas too complex for the tiny minds of the average voter.

    When I commented on “Ten Billion” two weeks ago at
    many made the point that a performance at the Royal Court theatre reached only a tiny segment of the population. This is to ignore the structure of British society, where the tiny world of media professionals can have an influence out of all proportion to their size or intellectual weight. This situation hasn’t changed much since the 60s, when some trivial movements in pop music, design and the visual arts were transformed by a small number of journalists into Swinging London – a movement that swept the entire world – a process admirably described by Christopher Booker in “the Neophiliacs”.
    Something similar seems to be happening now with climate change. the exact process varies greatly from country to country, depending on political and social conditions. There’s no political debate in Britain, unlike the situation in Canada, Australia, or the USA, and so people are looking for a Messiah. I see our role as like that of Herod. Emmott and his trained new breed of scientists want to arm their children. That’s illegal in Britain. We can carry out Herod’s programme by legal means.

  12. Dodgy Geezer

    “The figure of 3000 litres of water to make a hamburger dwarfs average daily consumption of 150 litres per day. Even if you accept the concept of “virtual” water, (incorporating water used in the manufacture of products consumed) as explained in a Guardian article – according to which the true figure for UK water usage is 30 times greater than the official amount — you would need 10% of total water usage in the UK, including “virtual” water, just to keep us in hamburgers – an unlikely result..”

    Who cares if that’s a true figure or not? A moment’s thought will produce the realisation that water can NEVER be ‘used’. It flows in a cycle, through us and through everything. We don’t ‘use it up’ in any meaningful sense. It is still there in the water cycle after we use it.

    Perhaps it takes 1m liters of water to produce 1Kg of meat. So what? It could take 10m. The water is not lost. You might as well say that a day at the seaside ‘uses’ 85m cubic miles of water, because that’s how much there is in the Atlantic Ocean.

    In fact, there are about 3m tourists round the Med every year, and the Med is about 3m CuKm. So each tourist ‘uses’ 1CuKm of sea when paddling. Shock – Horror! We must ensure that people cut down their paddling to no more than knee height, thus saving the Med….

  13. Alex Cull

    First, just to say that Geoff did most of the work on this; I chipped in with some bits of research, but to Geoff should go the plaudits, really, for a very succinct and well-written article. He also translated those parts of the Katie Mitchell interview that were in French, and transcribed the after-show Q&A session with Stephen Emmott – no easy task, given the challenging nature of the audio.

    But now I bring you more tidings of population-related doom.

    Here is Dr. Raymond Ewell, quoted by the Kentucky New Era, Mar 8 1965:

    “If present trends continue”, says Dr. Raymond Ewell, vice president for research at the State University of New York in Buffalo and an authority on the subject, “it seems likely famine will reach serious proportions in India, Pakistan and China in the early 1970s, followed by Indonesia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Brazil, followed by most of the other countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America by 1980.

    “Such a famine will be of massive proportions, affecting hundreds of millions, possibly even billions of persons. If this happens, as appears very probable, it will be the most collossal catastrophe in history.”

    Experts agreed with him, as cited by the Eugene Register-Guard, Mar 10 1967:

    At least 70 million people are being added to the world every year, increasing the use of land needed for living space and decreasing the acreage available for raising food. In Latin America alone the population will mount from 25 million to 70 million by the turn of the century and India will add 200 million by 1980.

    And what will this mean? Some unpleasantness here and there? Some suffering in the most congested parts of the world? I give you the calmly stated but dire forecast of Raymond Ewell, vice president for research at the State University of New York in Buffalo:

    “If these trends continue for the next 10 or 15 years, mass starvation will inevitably result”.

    This is no minority view. This is the unanimous judgement of the specialists in the field of food and population. They have been saying it for years, but because the worst lies ahead 15 to 30 years, their warnings have been listened to mostly by other experts.

    And then came an article (Press-Courier, Nov 30 1969) entitled “Mankind May Drown in Own Flesh”:

    Rarely have scientists been agreed about anything as they are that this must stop. The living space of the world is limited. The resources of the world are limited. If mankind does not control its fearsome fecundity it will drown in its own flesh.

    This may sound like the synopsis of a horror film, but some experts are talking of the 1970s or 1980s as “the time of the famines”, the last chance for the race to decide whether it will limit and save itself or whether it will plunge towards oblivion in a tragedy beyond the imaginings of science fiction.

    So it was a f*ct then, as well! We were f*cked.

  14. banjo

    Emmottic? My reaction to the `New kind of scientific lecture`(apparently sans science) has more of an `emetic`.

  15. Alex Cull

    One of the newspaper articles I linked to above was saying much the same sort of thing (in 1967) that some of Stephen Emmott’s audience/reviewers are now saying:

    The beginning of doing anything substantial to avert catastrophe is a widespread public alertness to the magnitude and peril of what is happening. The prospect of increasing food supplies to come anywhere near to catching up with mounting population is not in sight.

    The size and near-certainty of calamity are slowly getting into the public consciousness. The specialist magazines have been full of it and recently one of the most vivid, provocative, and factual exposes of the food-population crisis appeared in the February issue of True magazine under the title, “The Nightmare of the Year 2000.” It was written by Lawrence Lader, executive director of the Population Policy Panel of the Hugh Moore Fund, and it had the impact of science fiction and the persuasiveness of documented fact.

    “The Nightmare of the Year 2000” sounds like something that Emmott et al could usefully re-print, just replacing the year 2000 with the year 2100. They’d need to remember to print it again in a few decades, when 2100 gets a little too close for comfort, but this time replacing 2100 with 2200… And then when 2200 gets too close…

  16. geoffchambers

    “The Nightmare of the Year 2000.” ..written by Lawrence Lader,… it had the impact of science fiction and the persuasiveness of documented fact.

    (from the 1967 article quoted by Alex above).
    This sentence needs translating for younger readers. “Documented fact” used to mean “something printed in a book or magazine, and therefore assumed to be true”. “Science Fiction” was a literary genre exploring possible futures or possible alternative worlds. It would occasionally get adapted as a low budget film or, more unusually, for TV or radio (“The Quatermass Experiment”, Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of “The War of the Worlds”) thus bringing scientific speculation to a mass audience.

    Now that anyone can write anything, “documented fact” tends to mean something like: “an authoritative statement backed up by peer review, or announced by some well-know personality, like Brian Cox or the President of the Royal Society”.

    Likewise, now that “science fiction” means “big budget movie for adolescents with lots of eye gouging”, the job of presenting the world with speculative fiction about the future has fallen to climatologists and professors of computational science, and is appreciated mainly by intellectual theatre audiences.

  17. Hilary Ostrov

    the job of presenting the world with speculative fiction about the future has fallen to climatologists and professors of computational science, and is appreciated mainly by intellectual theatre audiences.

    Geoff, that is so wickedly ironic – and so true – that I totally forgive you for the previous “transgression” you had inflicted upon me!

  18. geoffchambers

    Transgression? You mean the free invite to Emmott’s lecture on Error and Truth? You said you sat through the whole thing, which is more than I did.
    By the way, Alex is waiting anxiously for your transcript of the talk for his Transcriptbox.

  19. Hilary Ostrov


    As soon as the case of Shiraz arrives, I shall begin the transcription!

    Actually, there were some parts of the video which seemed to suggest that Emmott had some problems with the current models in use. Problems which his team are evidently going to fix … shades of Mueller?!

    Lots of chatter about “transparency”, making code available to all etc. etc. But without listening (at least twice again), it’s difficult to know if what I heard is what he actually said … not to mention whether or not he meant what (I think) he said!

  20. geoffchambers

    Emmott has an article (audio plus approximate transcription) on Public Radio International
    in which he talks about taking Ten Billion “to one of the most influential 21st century stages — a TED talk”.
    I hadn’t heard of these, but apparently it’s quite a big deal.

    My guess is that he’d have difficulty getting it on British TV. Even after the Jones report, the BBC could never get away with presenting one man’s monologue as THE science, and any commercial channel would want to make the most of the subject by setting up a debate, which would rather spoil the effect .

  21. geoffchambers

    Emmott’s back on the beat with his sandwichboards, this time at the Financial Times

    We learn a little more about the market research which led him to think that thousands were crying out for his message to be spread wider:

    After each performance he hung around The Royal Court foyer and bar to gauge audience response …“Older people tended to say: ‘You’re right, we really are f***ed.’ People in their twenties said things like, ‘We must find a way for every politician on Earth to see this’ or ‘you have galvanised me into wanting to take action.’” […] his own pessimism is as strong as ever: “I’m deeply sceptical about the rational optimists’ view that we will invent ourselves out of trouble, because our inventiveness and cleverness got us into trouble in the first place,” he says.

    Yerss. The people who invented the internal combustion engine, with it’s shoulder-wrenching hand crank at the front and smoke belching out the back are obviously the last people to be able to improve it technically..
    This is a scientist speaking, remember, who has been given the job of:

    developing a new kind of natural science, new kinds of computational methods and scientific (software) tools to underpin such a science, and a new generation of new kinds of scientists able to spearhead it.

    Yet he doesn’t believe his fellow scientists capable of building dykes in Bangladesh or desalination plants in the Middle East.

    Emmott does not believe that science and technology can save the planet […] “There is almost certainly more hope for the future in changing people’s consumption patterns,” he says. “Radical behaviour change is needed more urgently than anything that science and technology could provide.”
    So how might this be achieved? “It requires mass action at a societal level as well as government and businesses. But I’m not a social scientist,” adds Emmott in an unusually defensive moment.

    Or to put it in the vernacular which Emmott affects: “F*** all I can do mate. Only fing to do is hire this bloke Lewandowsky to nudge everyone into line, buy an intelligent electricity metre and kiss your lifestyle goodbye”.”

  22. Alex Cull

    Microsoft have just joined forces with IUCN in order to upgrade the famous Red List:

    “This century will be defined, not least, by whether we are able to tackle unprecedented global ecological and environmental challenges” said Professor Stephen Emmott, Head of Computational Science, Microsoft. “This will require NGO’s, Governments, universities and businesses to establish new kinds of partnerships, new kinds of science and scientists, and new kinds of technologies. Our partnership with the IUCN, led by Dr. Lucas Joppa, a leading ecologist based at my laboratory, is a pioneering example of this combination”.

    Reading that, the thought occurs: does Prof. Emmott actually believe the “we’re all f*cked, our inventiveness isn’t the answer, go buy a gun” stuff? And then reading reviews of his theatrical jeremiad, the thought occurs: does he actually believe the “new kinds of science and scientists, and new kinds of technologies” stuff? Which is it?

  23. Mooloo

    Well, Alex, Emmott believes we do much damage to the environment with our Google searches. I wonder how much energy it takes to do a Bing search?

    So a I think he probably lives in a mental world where what he does is right, it’s only wrong when others do it. So his research is vital and world-changing, but the rest of us have no chance of doing anything with technology.

    I’d love to have him chat to this fellow about Microsoft and greenwashing:

    I did like this bit, “This will require NGO’s, Governments, universities and businesses to establish new kinds of partnerships, new kinds of science and scientists, and new kinds of technologies” where he lists NGOs first. I have a lot of time for some international NGOs (Amnesty, MSF etc) but to expect of the environment-related ones to have any useful input into technological change is to live in a dreamworld.

  24. Alex Cull

    @ Mooloo, good point! And he lists businesses (i.e., like Microsoft, where they develop new technologies) last.

  25. geoffchambers

    This part of the Emmott quote:
    “This will require … new kinds of science and scientists”
    is straight from Emmott’s job description on his microsoft site.
    The overt reasoning seems to be: we’re not clever enough to fix this (“we” being your average scientists, engineers, politicians, academics..) We need a new kind of scientist, the kind that Emmott and his team are developing, and then hiring out apparently to any NGO’s, Governments, universities and businesses which fancy a partnership with the new Microsoft breed of new scentists.
    This is door-to-door salesmanship for the 21st century, with Emmott as the man from the Pru, ready to insure your future and that of your children.
    Microsoft is pleased with the success of Ten Billion, according to the FT article. I bet they are. They’ve got Oxford University on their side, plus the media via the Royal Court. Now for the NGOs and government departments and then who else is there left to persuade? There’s the people of course, but I mean, who else that counts?

  26. Menth

    “One day they may even become wealthy enough to hold dinner parties where they can worry whether the stuff they import from Europe has been ethically and sustainably produced.”

    Easily the best line I’ve read all year.

  27. Johnbuk

    When Prof. Emmott’s new scientific “drama” reaches the BBC (soon I imagine) will some of us need special glasses to be able to make out his new gossamer-like clothes?

  28. geoffchambers

    Gossamer-like clothes? Have you seen his photo on the Financial Times article? It was raining so hard whe he stepped out of the Oxfam fitting room he couldn’t get the suit off when he got to the appointment with the FT journalist.

  29. Johnbuk

    Geoff, I second Menth’s comment –

    “One day they may even become wealthy enough to hold dinner parties where they can worry whether the stuff they import from Europe has been ethically and sustainably produced.”

    Best this year.

  30. Jack Hughes

    “Climate concern” is just one aspect of dinner-party-persona syndrome.

    With DPPS you pretend to care about the issue-du-jour. This can be the endangered Bolivian Snail, or Alopecia, or Africa, or the weather in Bangladesh in 50 years time.

    No need to actually do anything – except wring your hands – just make the right noises. Nobody is going to oppose you. Nobody will stand up and say “bollocks to Africa” or “I don’t care about Bangladesh”.

    Instead you can feel very smug and sanctimonious and bask in that feeling of being a caring person.

    DPPS is what drives a lot of journoes – after all their profession is based on pretending to care for someone for just long enough to file the story then you move on and pretend to care for someone else.

    A lot of support for the greenies and climateers is based on DPPS – lots of dinner party points for pretending to care about trees or dolphins or abstract things like “biodiversity”.

    The problem comes when you try to base decisions or policy on how many dinner party points the options will earn. Thomas Sowell described this problem in “Visions of the Anointed” with the tag line “Self-Regard as the Basis for Policy”.

  31. geoffchambers

    Jack Hughes
    Was it you who posted a critique here a while ago of the opinionocracy – the social class (media, marketing, etc) which exists essentially to sell its opinions?
    Sowell looks very interesting, as does Lakoff who is associated with him on Wiki. I see echos of Christopher Lasch. Here in France, my knowledge of modern sociology (essentially American) is limited by what’s been translated.
    Ben here often says that left / right distinctions no longer apply. This seems to me a dangerous position, since it seems to imply the death of politics. That doesn’t preclude the possibility that “rightwing” politics may sometimes replace “leftwing” politics as the source of radical (as opposed to conservative) ideas. I’d define “leftwing” as being on the side of the disadvantaged, and on that definition, Sowell would seem to be a leftwinger, whatever Forbes might think.

  32. geoffchambers

    Emmott is giving a talk at Cambridge next Wednesday

    Wednesday 26 September 2012
    “Need and Nature of a new Scientific Revolution” 
    5pm – 6.30pm
    Bristol Myers-Squibb lecture theatre
    Department of Chemistry, Lensfield Rd, Cambridge, CB2 1EW

    Following his acclaimed performance in ’10 billion’ at the Royal Court, Microsoft Research’s Stephen Emmott will be speaking on the consequences of over-population and the difficult technological and societal choices we face in addressing the global challenges of the 21st century. This will be followed by a panel discussion, with bioengineering experts including Tom Knight, Claire Marris and Jim Haseloff giving their views and taking questions from the public on issues surrounding the application of Synthetic Biology to these challenges in the coming years.

  33. geoffchambers

    I’m making a point of following up every mention of Emmott and his unpublished unsubstantiated Ten Billion that I find, and commenting on it where I can. I don’t expect to reach many readers like that, but at least Emmott will know he has a stalker.
    Why Emmott? Like me, he’s not an expert on climate, so we’re intellectual equals, him with his professorship at Cambridge and Oxford and visiting professorship at UCL, and me with my physics and maths A-levels. Like me, he’s English, and shares many of my typically English traits, like for instance a rather unworldly left-wing outlook, coupled with a respect for the opinions of the military which would be considered quasi-fascist in most other European countries.
    Which brings me to the latest mention of his oeuvre, by Robert McKie in an open letter in the Guardian addressed to the new Environment Secretary Owen Paterson
    in which he says

    Now it is true that Britain may avoid some of the very worst direct impacts of this grand experiment when – later this century – global average temperatures rise by at least 3C to 6C, but we will not escape the secondary consequences. As central Europe and much of Asia scorches, millions of starving people will reach our shores. Our country will be turned into a military outpost dedicated to keeping them out, a point recently raised by Professor Stephen Emmott, who has observed that senior army officers have recently become a common sight at climate conferences. If nothing else, this suggests that the military sees the dangers we face, even if politicians like you do not.

    I’ve omitted the beginning of his article, in which he repeats the often quoted lie that Lawson is a climate change denier. In the above paragraph, he departs from the scientific consensus when he talks of global average temperatures rising by “at least 3°C to 6°C” (the IPCC estimates the median level of CO2 sensitivity as 3°C. A median of 3°C and “at least 3°C” are not the same thing). He then goes on to indulge in fantasies of Britain being invades by hordes of foreigners. When the eccentric (but high cultivated) conservative politician Enoch Powell indulged in similar speculation, he was accused of being a fascist by the same middle class lefties who idolised Emmott and who trust the word of Robin McKie, science correspondent of the Observer.
    “The Barbarians are at the gate. The army is ready for them.” This is a fascist message, announced by Emmott, and repeated three times now in the Observer and Guardian by Robin McKie. How often can one repeat a totally unsubstantiated, quasi-racist message, before being considered a fascist?

  34. Vinny Burgoo

    Geoff, I suspect that The Observer will be getting an e-mail from George Marshall soon. His UK Climate Change & Migration Coalition has recently issued advice on how to use migration when selling climate change.

    (Footnote 8 is fun. Perceived exaggeration? That’s not what the science says.)

    McKie presented migration as a threat to national security. This is something that the UKCCMC assumes no progressive organization would ever do in an explicit fashion (whoops!) but even when not explicit ‘there is a danger that a focus on migration as a negative impact of climate change could unintentionally promote this framing of the issue.’ Such framing is bad because it makes migration look like a bad thing, whereas migration can have many positive aspects. For example, voluntary migration demonstrates agency on the part of those who are migrating and even involuntary migration, such as that caused by climate change, can be shown in a good light if, instead of speculating about what might happen if it happened, you make it part of the solution rather than part of the problem by talking about what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen, thereby preventing its ever becoming a problem, which of course it wouldn’t be even if it ever did become a problem because it’s not capable of being a problem, and even if it were capable of becoming a problem that’s not something we should be talking about because that plays into the hands of those who think it’s capable of being a problem and that opens the door to xenophobes and nationalists and how then can we use worries about migration to make people worry about global warming without seeming like …

    Sorry. The batteries in my automatic paraphraser have just run out. (They haven’t run out of juice. They’ve just ran out of the door.)

    The UKCCMC doesn’t say who wrote that advisory document (or ‘research’, as it’s billed at UKCCMC HQ) but it has George Marshall himself written all over it. When it comes to ambidextrous have-it-both-ways hand-wringing waffle, few can beat him.

    (Such stuff always reminds me of the 1990 Beeb drama _The March_, in which hundreds of thousands of starving Africans marched on Europe so that Europeans would have to choose between helping them – and helping themselves rediscover what matters – or watching them die. Does anyone remember how that ended? Did the plucky Commissioner get visas for them all? Did the Mahdi lead them all home again? Did the Med Sea part so that they were all able to walk across, claim their rightful wonga and help unhappy, plundering consumerists rediscover fellowship and the joys of going everywhere on foot?)

  35. Tom Fuller

    Are we ready for a new term? I submit for your consideration the Emmoticon. False statements pictured graphically and intended to produce an emotional overreaction…

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    Sell Chocolate bars…Buy arctic land, tinned food and O2 cylinders.

  38. Sundance

    I would like to nominate Stephen Emmott for the title of “Upper Class Twit Of The Year”.

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  41. peter cole

    i watched 10 billion and you just reaffirmed what i have always said. we are on a road to destruction. thanks for stating the fucking obvious. we are fucked because clever people like you drive this world forward without thinking of the future of mankind.



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