Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Extract II from 'Ten Billion' by Stephen Emmott

Our emissions of CO2 modify our atmosphere. Our increasing water use had started to modify our hydrosphere. Rising atmospheric and sea-surface temperature had started to modify the cryosphere, most notably in the unexpected shrinking of the Arctic and Greenland ice sheets. Our increasing use of land, for agriculture, cities, roads, mining – as well as all the pollution we were creating – had started to modify our biosphere. Or, to put it another way: we had started to change our climate.
There are now more than 7 billion of us on Earth. As our numbers continue to grow, we continue to increase our need for far more water, far more food, far more land, far more transport and far more energy. As a result, we are accelerating the rate at which we're changing our climate. In fact, our activities are not only completely interconnected with but now also interact with, the complex system we live on: Earth. It is important to understand how all this is connected.
Let's take one important, yet little known, aspect of increasing water use: "hidden water". Hidden water is water used to produce things we consume but typically do not think of as containing water. Such things include chicken, beef, cotton, cars, chocolate and mobile phones. For example: it takes around 3,000 litres of water to produce a burger. In 2012 around five billion burgers were consumed in the UK alone. That's 15 trillion litres of water – on burgers. Just in the UK. Something like 14 billion burgers were consumed in the United States in 2012. That's around 42 trillion litres of water. To produce burgers in the US. In one year. It takes around 9,000 litres of water to produce a chicken. In the UK alone we consumed around one billion chickens in 2012. It takes around 27,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of chocolate. That's roughly 2,700 litres of water per bar of chocolate. This should surely be something to think about while you're curled up on the sofa eating it in your pyjamas.
But I have bad news about pyjamas. Because I'm afraid your cotton pyjamas take 9,000 litres of water to produce. And it takes 100 litres of water to produce a cup of coffee. And that's before any water has actually been added to your coffee. We probably drank about 20 billion cups of coffee last year in the UK. And – irony of ironies – it takes something like four litres of water to produce a one-litre plastic bottle of water. Last year, in the UK alone, we bought, drank and threw away nine  billion plastic water bottles. That is 36 billion litres of water, used completely unnecessarily. Water wasted to produce bottles – for water. And it takes around 72,000 litres of water to produce one of the 'chips' that typically powers your laptop, Sat Nav, phone, iPad and your car. There were over two billion such chips produced in 2012. That is at least 145 trillion litres of water. On semiconductor chips. In short, we're consuming water, like food, at a rate that is completely unsustainable.
Demand for land for food is going to double – at least – by 2050, and triple – at least – by the end of this century. This means that pressure to clear many of the world's remaining tropical rainforests for human use is going to intensify every decade, because this is predominantly the only available land that is left for expanding agriculture at scale. Unless Siberia thaws out before we finish deforestation. By 2050, 1bn hectares of land is likely to be cleared to meet rising food demands from a growing population. This is an area greater than the US. And accompanying this will be three gigatons per year extra CO2 emissions. If Siberia does thaw out before we finish our deforestation, it would result in a vast amount of new land being available for agriculture, as well as opening up a very rich source of minerals, metals, oil and gas. In the process this would almost certainly completely change global geopolitics. Siberia thawing would turn Russia into a remarkable economic and political force this century because of its newly uncovered mineral, agricultural and energy resources. It would also inevitably be accompanied by vast stores of methane – currently sealed under the Siberian permafrost tundra – being released, greatly accelerating our climate problem even further.
Meanwhile, another 3 billion people are going to need somewhere to live. By 2050, 70% of us are going to be living in cities. This century will see the rapid expansion of cities, as well as the emergence of entirely new cities that do not yet exist. It's worth mentioning that of the 19 Brazilian cities that have doubled in population in the past decade, 10 are in the Amazon. All this is going to use yet more land.
We currently have no known means of being able to feed 10 billion of us at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system. Indeed, simply to feed ourselves in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than the entire agricultural output of the past 10,000 years combined. Yet food productivity is set to decline, possibly very sharply, over the coming decades due to: climate change; soil degradation and desertification – both of which are increasing rapidly in many parts of the world; and water stress. By the end of this century, large parts of the planet will not have any usable water.

At the same time, the global shipping and airline sectors are projected to continue to expand rapidly every year, transporting more of us, and more of the stuff we want to consume, around the planet year on year. That is going to cause enormous problems for us in terms of more CO2 emissions, more black carbon, and more pollution from mining and processing to make all this stuff.


Blogger changeinthewind said...

Can you think of a civilization which practiced restraint?

3:05 pm, July 16, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Actually I was reading a few weeks ago about a civilisation that decided it profited everyone more to cooperate rather than compete. I can't remember the article or the civilisation—sorry.

Most civilisations before the twentieth century at least had some restraint—usually expressed as taboos. Even in the twentieth century this was true. When I first came to England greed was not OK. I actually heard people mutter—when some dreadful event had happened—that they weren't paying enough taxes. Unimaginable to an American.

Thrift and modesty linger in this culture among older people, even if the young are far too Americanized. It was Thatcher who made greed OK and wrecked English society. This is not to say that the whole of the country was like that; but there was a strong streak streak of it running through. The English have provided so many explorers and legends precisely because underneath their superficial air of conformity there is a far greater tolerance for what is often labeled eccentricity. They're able to adapt and make do—that's how they got through the wars and two blitzes. By the end of WWII there were large areas of the population who were close to starving, and rationing went on for another decade at least. Yet England bounced back.

In America it seems to be the opposite in terms of attitude: Greed has always been OK and underneath the veneer of individuality and authenticity is a culture of absolutely rigid conformity, including conformity of thought. Which is one reason I cannot go back.

3:21 pm, July 16, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

I think it was a group of south pacific islanders. Did not last very long.

Empire is not base on civility. Not on tolerant either. And England had an empire, it spanned the globe.

what do you think it was which fostered a sense of we are in this together in the English people, the older generations anyway?

3:58 pm, July 16, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Besides the war it seems to me—although this may sound strange—that it has something to do with the class society, the majority of whom are not giving the orders. Also the fact that it is an island nation. This has its pros and cons. People go out of their way—as they do in Alaska, which again weirdly resembles the UK in some ways—to avoid confrontation, but when they do let fly, O my. And one can sense that the anger is not necessarily related to the topic at hand, but has very dark roots going back thousands of years. Stiff upper lip? Yes, but that's a development that hasn't been around more than a century or two (Ian Hislop did some very good TV programmes on the Stiff Upper Lip). The English in many ways are far more in touch with their emotions than Americans (who substitute sentimentality) and are seething cauldrons of undifferentiated emotion under the cool exteriors. This too is passing, of course, along with well-dressing and other old customs. There's a well at Binsey which I love, which was always dressed until a few years ago.

One of my favourite stories is about a bishop on the South Coast who was trying to get two parishes to merge. They talked about it and stalled for fifteen years until the bishop finally identified the old codger who was the sticking point. So he took him to the pub and after a few beers asked him, 'So, now, tell me please, what is the REAL reason you don't want to merge with the other parish?'

The old codger was silent for a long moment and then growled, 'They didn't tell us the Danes were coming.'

The grudge had been held a thousand years.

5:26 pm, July 16, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

so, part of the problem on this side of the water is there is no deep communal memory ... nor grudges held dearly in restraint.

You can't get old bark to grow on a young tree.

What is well dressing?

6:17 pm, July 16, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

That's right. A lot of America's problem is that for all its claims it's never become a single nation. The closest it has come in my view was Obama's first election.

Well dressing is putting flower and other offerings by the wells...they have a vast symbolism here

7:05 pm, July 16, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Odd that England has been able to put its civil wars behind it ... Although, not so .. "the troubles" of northern Ireland is in part the legacy of Cromwell is it not?

We certainly have not digested our civil war. That is a bad history still festering. Race is still a huge problem here although I think this is changing.

America is a BIG place as well, so one can "escape" from a problem; we still think we can go out west, just leave it all behind.

Now the illusion of going west is having enough money. Maybe always this has been so. Hah. For a while yet, maybe. The world is not getting any bigger so where is there now to run?

Finally, there is no place left to run to. Nor is there money enough to get there.

How does the saying go? There is nothing which so concentrates the mind as the knowledge that one will hang at sunrise.

Is that hope?

8:37 pm, July 16, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Actually, according to the Buddhists, you only really begin where hope is no longer an option.

9:06 pm, July 16, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Buddhists also say, "always, just beginning." I wonder if Buddhists consume bottled water?

"It is only when the real pain of suffering is seen as greater than the perceived risk of doing something to change that suffering does an individual finally act.

Anthony de Mello (paraphrased)

11:13 pm, July 16, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,
Your comment about Americans substituting sentimentality reminded me of Jung's remark that "sentimentality is a superstructure covering brutality" The American musician,Lou Reed,has this very disturbing song called "Last Great American Whale". The lyrics seem to reflect some of the feeling being expressed in the comments. You can go to You Tube to watch/listen to the song.
PS: Still trying to come to grips with my own brutality. I suspect that we all are.

11:30 pm, July 16, 2013  

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