It takes around 3,000 litres of water to make a burger. In 2012, around 14 billion burgers were consumed in the US—that’s 42 trillion litres of water. It takes around 9,000 litres of water to produce a chicken and 2,700 litres of water per bar of chocolate. A car takes 3,000 litres of water to make (not counting what it will take to keep it clean through its life cycle). It takes 72,000 litres of water to produce one ‘chip’ used in cellphones, laptops or iPads. This ‘hidden water’ is of course what a cow or a bull will drink before it ends up as burger patty, the water it takes to mine iron to make the car, grow rubber trees for its tyres, irrigate cocoa plantations for the chocolates and so on.
Moving on to energy, we will have to build 1,800 large dams, 23,000 nuclear power stations, 14 million wind turbines and 36 billion solar panels to meet the world’s energy demands at the end of this century. One long-haul flight burns 100 tonnes of fuel. This year we will fly 6,000 billion kilometers. Flora and fauna? Forty-one per cent of all ambhibians, 33 per cent of reef-building corals, 25 per cent of all mammals and 13 per cent of birds are at the risk of imminent extinction.
Reeling under the numbers? Ten Billion has many more and they come at you in relentless, staccato, rapid-fire prose, like how a porcupine’s quills must at its attacker (if they are not extinct already). Scientist Stephen Emmott leads a new kind of laboratory in Cambridge, which is into a lot of things: molecular biology, neuroscience, climatology, programming life and artificial photosynthesis. Here, he wants to lift you by the collar and holler into your face that you are wrecking this earth and not doing anything about it. Most readers will have a vague idea about things discussed in the book but Emmott aims them between your eyes. Take the world population—the title of the book. In 1800, about 200 years ago, there were 1 billion of us. By 1960, we were 3 billion. Now we are 7 billion. By the end of this century we will be 10 billion. And yet, according to the UN, Zambia’s population is projected to grow by 941 per cent by the end of this century. Iraq is projected to grow by 344 per cent and Liberia by 300 per cent. Even the population of the US will grow by 53 per cent by 2100, though the reproduction rate among its teens is at its lowest now.
Every graph in the book, whether charting the extinction rate of species, loss of rainforests or rise in world temperatures from about 300 years ago to now, creeps low and then shoots up. We have ruined everything in the past few hundred years and we are hurtling towards total annihilation faster than ever, the book says. It’s a most useful book for the environment warrior to keep with him or her, the size—smaller than an iPad mini—should fit the hip pocket, perfect for a quick draw.
So, what can we do save the earth? There are two options. Technologising our way out of it and radical behaviour change. Can either of them work? In the professor’s own words: “We urgently need to do—and I mean actually do—something radical to avert a global catastrophe. But I don’t think we will. I think we’re f***ed.”
Will skip the burger, both to save the planet 3,000 litres of water and to keep the cholesterol in check.
The term, '10' 'Billion' is a great illusion. There are 2.7 billion people in India and China. the world population may be 5 billion. We see new little people, and we don't care, and rightly feel happy. I would like to read the book, it seems a scientific 'book of lists'. What is really funny is, that people consumed more burgers reading the same facts in the 'book of lists'. People actually feel, that the Maharaja is a 'Mac' in the U. S., hence the chicken Maharaja Mac, the biggest Macdonald burger available here.
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