Here’s the transcript of a three-minute extract from Stephen Emmott’s “Ten Billion” as performed at the Avignon Drama Festival this summer, available at
Comparison with the other recordings of Emmott shows how important the input of Katie Mitchell, his director and co-author, must have been in getting Emmott to talk sense. Whether that sense is true or not is another matter.
Note his very peculiar definition of “industrial revolution”, and the claim that climate change is accelerating.
By 1800 we had reached a billion people, and one of the principle reasons we were able to do so was because of the invention of agriculture. The agricultural revolution enabled us to go from hunter gatherers to highly organised producers of food in fairly short order. It was crucial in breaking thousands of years of cycles of famine and enabled us to expand rapidly.
It’s worth mentioning that in fact there were three industrial revolutions. The first was thirteen thousand years ago. It was the domestication of animals. The second was in the thirteenth century. That’s about the selective breeding of different plant types. And the third was between the fifteenth and nineteenth century, and that was about the one that we learned at school, which was mechanisation and agricultural productivity.
But there’s a different story here. It’s about the start of a fundamental transformation of land use by humans. 1998 has see the warmest record, warmest year on record, and between 1998 and now, we’vehad something like ten to twelve warmest years on record.
Now we hear the term “climate” on an almost daily basis these days. So it’s worth just thinking about what it means for a second. So, obviously, climate is not the same as weather. In fact climate is one of the two key systems that determines whether we’re able to live on this planet.
Its generated by four components: the atmosphere- the air thatwe breathe; the hydrosphere – the water system; the cryosphere – let’s call that glaciers and ice sheets for the moment; and the biosphere – the planet’s plants and animals.
So as population increases, our need, our demand for water increases, and our demand for food increases. As our demand for food increases, so too does our demand for more land, and that accelerates deforestation. As our demand for food increases, also it increases the demand for more food processing and transportation, and those increase our demand for more energy. The whole system increases the rate at which we’re producing greenhouse gases, and that continues to accelerate climate change further. As climate change accelerates further, it puts further stress on water, food, and land, whilst at the same time, increasing population growth continues to put more demand on water, food, and land. And as population continues to increase, stress on the entire system continues to increase.