Book Review – ‘Ten Billion’ by Stephen Emmott
To read this, it took me two and a half hours. I expected it to take longer, but once I started, I couldn’t put it down. It was almost as though some invisible force had sucked me into the pages and the idea of trying to leave was too scary to even attempt. From the first page to the last, I was caught hook, line, and sinker. There was no escape once I’d read the first line.
The book in question is Ten Billion by Stephen Emmott. A non-fiction book about the impact our energy consumption and climate change will have on our future. Here is the synopsis as given in large, bold, black lettering on the fluorescent orange cover:
This is a book about us.
It’s a book about you, your children, your friends. It’s about every one of us. It’s about out failure: failure as individuals, the failure of business, and the failure of our politicians.
It’s about the unprecedented planetary emergency we’ve created.
It’s about the future of us.
And that was no joke. Reading the book, seeing the graphs, charts, photographs. Reading the facts. Witnessing with my own eyes in the print before me everything we as a planet and as a people do wrong. And noticing that I do a lot of it myself. I certainly felt like a failure.
But the book does more than point out our flaws as a human race. Sure, it does that a lot. Almost entirely, in fact. But it also makes us think about what we’re doing. It gives examples of where we’re going wrong, and what it means in the long run. Certain examples including the ‘hidden water’ usage really hit home. For instance, quoted straight from the pages: ‘It takes around 27,000 litres of water to make one kilogram of chocolate. That’s roughly 2,700 litres of water per bar of chocolate, This should surely be something to think about when you’re curled up on the sofa eating it in your pyjamas.’ And I was. Not in my pyjamas, but I was curled up on my bed, reading this book, with a box of Mint Matchmakers to hand. Suffice to say I shot a nervous, albeit guilty, glance at the box, closed it, and carried on reading.
The very structure of the book is interesting. Barely any page is full with words. Several contain a mere sentence. And even then, between every large chunk of mind-blowing fact is a graph, a chart, or a photograph just to make sure you get the picture (no pun intended). And it works. Just when you think your brain will explode from taking in too many numbers, or trying to process a difficult amount of information, WHAM. You’re hit with a photo of decaying fields, crop farms or out-of-control car manufacturing.
As I’m sure was the point of the book, I felt extremely nervous for the future of our planet by the close of the book. I’ll go so far as to say I was scared. It really affected me. After I’d closed the final page I sat for ten minutes with my hands to my head just thinking. What were we going to do? What can I do?
But it’s not entirely doom and gloom. Though the majority of the book is dedicated to metaphorically slapping each and every one of us around the chops, it does give us hope for the future. I found myself towards the end thinking, ‘Well if this is really how bad it is, how are we ever going to change it? We can’t just sit back and do nothing. What can we do?’ And to an extent he answers this. Admittedly, it gives large scale action suggestions which the individual wouldn’t be of much help towards. But it does leave you with a sense that change is needed, and change can be made. And as the final pages fade from white, to light grey, to dark grey, to black, you are left with a feeling of foreboding, but the will to change.
Compact, and easy to read, this book deserves every human pair of eyes to look over its pages. An incredible telling of our future downfall, in a way that feels almost fictional, and is perhaps why I was able to make it to the end in one sitting. Though a non-fiction book, the way Emmott tells the facts is done so in a creative way that hits home with a punch, whilst not giving the reader an information hangover.
My rating: 4/5.
This book, for me, would have received all five stars had it given more advice for how the individual can make a difference. I found myself at the end of the book wanting to change, but having been told by Emmott himself that the things I was doing were probably not making a difference. Had he given some advice to the individual, I would have rated this five. I was left wanting to change, but with no idea how.
Highly recommended read. And did I mention it was fluorescent orange? I did? Well good. Because it is. Now go buy it.