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Discussion > Stephen Emmott: Ten Billion

Stephen Emmott’s stage hit “Ten Billion” has been rehashed as a Penguin book out this month. There’s an interview and an extensive extract in the Observer today
in which he says this about climate:

Meanwhile the emerging climate problem is on an entirely different scale. The problem is that we may well be heading towards a number of critical "tipping points" in the global climate system. There is a politically agreed global target – driven by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – to limit the global average temperature rise to 2C. The rationale for this target is that a rise above 2C carries a significant risk of catastrophic climate change that would almost certainly lead to irreversible planetary "tipping points", caused by events such as the melting of the Greenland ice shelf, the release of frozen methane deposits from Arctic tundra, or dieback of the Amazon. In fact, the first two are happening now – at below the 2C threshold...
Alex Cull and I gave his play a good fisking at’s-a-fct-we’re-fcked.html
and here
but to no avail. The same exaggerations, dodgy predictions, and outright whoppers are apparently repeated in the book, together with the sinister anecdote about his scientist colleague who recommends arming your children - presumably to shoot down the millions of climate refugees who, according to Emmott, are about to invade this Green and unpleasant land.
As I point out in comments wherever I can, Emmott may be Microsoft Professor of Computational Science at Cambridge, but he’s also an unscientific weirdo peddling an anti-human deep green message of doom. It needs squashing wherever it appears. Any help greatly appreciated.

Jul 1, 2013 at 4:43 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers


Donna Laframboise rallied to the cause in a post yesterday (well, still today in my neck of the cyberuniverse). In her review of the Observer excerpt, Donna concludes:

What is it about doomsters? Are they genetically pre-disposed to see everything in the worst possible light? Or do they wake up one morning and consciously decide to be one of those pinched, sour-faced individuals who walks into a room and sucks all the joy, hope, and optimism out of it?

Nothing is sacred as far as these scolding schoolmarms are concerned. No small pleasure escapes their condemnation. Thus, Emmott’s tedious essay – which, in my view contains not a single original idea, but merely rehashes the standard Chicken Little exhortations found in books such as The Population Bomb (1968), Planetary Overload (1993) and Our Final Hour (2003) [...]

The Coming Hellhole – Exhibit #7 of the Drama Queen Files

Jul 3, 2013 at 7:23 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Thanks Hilary, and thanks to Donna, who credits Alex and me.
There have also been critical articles by TimWorstall at
and at
The latter article quotes at length a paywalled article in the Times.
Emmott’s “Start the Week” appearance was disappointing. Sue MacGregor kept the guests on a tight rein to ensure that nothing as upsetting as whether the world was about to end actually got discussed. I’m transcribing it for Alex Cull’s Mytranscriptbox.

In the meantime, Alex noted this exchange from near the end, which demonstrates Emmott’s untapped talent for creating humorous dialogue:

Sue MacGregor: “So if you could, very briefly, shout very loudly one message at our government, our British government, what would it be? What should they concentrate on?
Stephen Emmott: Action and not words.
Sue MacGregor: Well, action – in which department?
Stephen Emmott: Well, I think in every department – the Department of Energy, Department of Transport, Department of – just every single department.
Sue MacGregor: Right, okay, fair enough. [Someone - either Danny Dorling or Amartya Sen - is laughing in the background.]

Jul 4, 2013 at 7:22 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Oh for an analysis to pin down what flaws of character, what missing links that lead in most adults to a sense of responsibility and restraint, and an ability to respond to talk of distant dangers in a considered way rather than tumbling down in an almighty panic, breathlessly intent on spreading alarm by documenting and articulating in vivid detail just what might happen. Will happen if we don't do X and Y and Z, and fast, perhaps under their tutelage. Ehrlich was an earlier example in our times, and despite being exposed as wrong just about every time a check of his guff was feasible, still continues with his portentous prophet persona. Why? And what can lead a presumably otherwise competent man like Emmott to follow his lead? Is it simply because they enjoy scaring people? Could it be as simple as that?

Progressive parents these days need not seek to protect their babies from groundless fears from fantastic creatures, they need to give thought to at first shielding them from such as Emmott, and later to equipping them to deal with their outpourings.

Jul 4, 2013 at 10:17 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

John Shade
I’m less bothered by Emmott’s flaws of character than by the state of a society which can accept his message unquestioningly.
There’s an ad out for Ten Billion which you can see here
and at several other places. I’m wondering whether the incitement to commit a crime in the text constitutes a contravention of Advertising Standards Authority rules. More details here

Jul 4, 2013 at 2:40 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Interestingly, the line
‘Teach my son how to use a gun’
has disappeared from that buzzfeed site sometime this afternoon.
There is now a blank space where it was, just under the last graph.
But you can still see it at the copycat sites for example here.

Jul 4, 2013 at 6:30 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Ironically the only voluntary population reduction has come about by consuming more, not less. People with little to do or look forward to, have sex. It's not sex education that has dramtically reduced the birth rate among westerners it's the choice between holidays somewhere exotic with your lover and one in Wales with the kids. It's the choice between Italian marble and sticky lino.

While it's not unreasonable to worry a bit about global population, I long since realised that it's something that has to run it's course. What can we do about it but hope for the best? It's not like we're ever going to favour genocide is it?

Jul 4, 2013 at 8:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

For once I’ll disagree with you. In my experience, neither Italian marble nor sticky lino are conducive to procreation, but what do I know? Perhaps tastes in procreational behaviour have changed since my procreating days.

At the risk of being a bore, I’d like to point out that I’ve added a second article about the graphs from Emmott’s book which are being used as publicity material at:
They are dreadful. Worse than anything Al Gore could imagine. I’d be grateful if anyone with the relevant expertise could add their criticisms, here or there, and get the widest possible publicity for this nonsense.
If, as Paul Matthews suggests, they’ve reacted so fast to a criticism here, maybe they can be persuaded that the only way to avoid universal scorn and derision for Emmott, Microsoft and Penguin is to pulp the book. They can always blame the graphic designer.

The address for the graphs is

And they’ve added footnotes with sources for the graphs. We’re having an effect.

Jul 4, 2013 at 8:43 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

"Italian marble nor sticky lino are conducive to procreation", that's the point Geoff. Dreams of Italian marble are overlaid by fears that once you have kids all you'll be able to afford will be lino and whatever you do have will be under regular kiddie attack. Once couples have had a bit of time to enjoy their own home, career and social life it's something of a wrench to mess it all up with kids. Even if the urge to have babies is overwhelming, many are stopping at one or two.

Add in another factor of the consumer society - unrealistic expectations and people don't even get together until older when the opportunity to breed is almost over. Or never.

Jul 4, 2013 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Knowing that your 2.2 children (or whatever) will probably survive into adulthood might have a significant impact too on many decisions. Plus increasing wealth and female education/aspirations (and inreased age at childbirth).

It's already reduced many western countries birthrates to replacement levels, or below. No unpleasant laws or green policies required. The French, I believe, had tax incentives for the third child some years ago because they were worried about not enough babies.

Jul 9, 2013 at 12:32 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart