The Emmott / Penguin graphs in detail

The graphs can be seen at

and lots of other places by googling “13 Graphs That Suggest The Planet Might Be Totally Screwed”. Here’s a quick summary of the content:

The first is World Population from 10,000BC until 2100AD. Reliable census figures are available for about 1% of that period. By squeezing the past thousand years into 1cm of the x axis, and tacking a projection for the next hundred years on to current figures, Emmott gets a lovely hockeystick, or long-toed jackboot. By stopping at 2100 and choosing an extremely condensed timescale, he hides the current deceleration and eventual decline which is projected by all serious demographers.

The second is Water use, which seems to be about 5000 cubic km today, rising to 6000 in 2025. The graph runs from 1900 and appears to have five data points.

The third, Transport, shows the number of motor vehicles, up from zero in 1930 (?) to a billion today. Dorling pointed out in his discussion with Emmott on Radio 4’s “Start the Week” that sales of cars have been declining in Japan for the past 20 years, suggesting that  numbers of vehicles will tail off as population growth tails off, giving an S-shaped curve.

The fourth graph shows Coal consumption rising from120 quadrillion BTUs in 2007 to 210 quadrillion BTUs in 2037. It has two data points, which seem to be for 2007 and 2011, followed by a straight line that goes up.

The fifth graph is a genuine hockeystick showing Global carbon emissions going up from maybe a hundred million metric tonnes in 1750 to 9000 million metric tonnes today, with the elbow in the hockeystick occurring about 1960, just after we started measuring emissions accurately.

The sixth graph, showing Global CO2 in the atmosphere, is another genuine hockeystick. It runs from 8000BC to 2013AD, so the blade showing human emissions covers about 1% of the timescale and is therefore practically vertical.

The seventh graph is entitled Global temperature increase, and shows the temperature anomaly from 1880 to 2013. It seems to have annual data points, but has been smoothed in some way to eliminate the high 1998 figure. An overlaid bar chart in grey seems to give annual figures, and clearly indicates the current pause.

There are no estimates for future temperatures, which is just as well, since the graph would need to be made five times as high to accommodate the 6°C increase which Emmott mentions in the text.

The eighth graph is entitled Fires in the Americas and has major fires rising from about two per decade in the fifties and sixties to about ninety per decade now. Those are extraordinarily small numbers for major fires over two continents, however you define “major”. Maybe they googled “major fires” and didn’t get a lot of hits in the fifties and sixties. There seem to be six data points splodged any old how in the middle or at the end of each decade.

The ninth graph is Loss of tropical rainforest and woodland from 1750 to 2000, as a percentage of the existing stock in 1700. Loss appears to increase rapidly from about 1940, reaching 30% in 2000, with about 5% occurring in the last decade. There have been recent articles suggesting that forest and woodland, or at least the green bits on Google Earth, have actually been increasing recently. It would be nice to have some information on that.

The tenth graph is entitled Global ocean warming and shows the heat content in 10 to-the-power-of-22 joules. It runs from 1960 to 2010, and – bizarrely – from minus ten units to plus fifteen. Can anyone explain what  minus ten to-the-power-of-22 joules looks like? I imagine a kind of Black Hole with icicles hanging inward.

The eleventh graph is called Floods in Asia and shows major floods per decade going up from fifty per decade in 1950 to 650 per decade in 2010. Again, as with fires, it’s hard to see how floods in Asia could multiply thirteen-fold without someone having noticed.

The twelfth graph is called Exploitation of the world’s marine species and shows the percentage being exploited rising from 10% in 1900 to 80% in 2000.

The thirteenth is called Species extinction, and shows an extinction rate (whatever that means) rising gently from five (but five what?) in 60,000BC to about fifteen in 2013AD, and then going from 15 to what looks like about 7,000 in the space of a decade round about 2050. Whatever the extinction rate is, it’s measured on a logarithmic scale that seems to be likely to rise into the quadrillions before the end of the century.

A  quick comment:

These graphs make Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” look like a work of serious science. Most of these graphs, if they were produced by a first year university student in his end of year exam, would result in a fail, wouldn’t they? Where they’re not false, they’re questionable, and where they’re not questionable, it’s because it’s not possible to give a clear meaning to the data.

What’s a major fire or a major flood?

What does “fully exploit marine resources” mean? We haven’t  eliminated 80% of marine species, and we haven’t stopped eating fish.

Is the extinction rate the number of species becoming extinct per year (or decade or century)? And it was five a year in 60,000BC was it, rising to eight a year in about 53,000BC when – whoops – it suddenly rises to ten? What happened in 53,000 BC that two more species than the average suddenly popped their clogs? And which two were they? And what’s going to happen about 2050 to put the rate up from a current twenty or so to 7,000? And why is the scale suddenly expanded by 3000% on the future bit?

And, last but not least, what would the average Microsoft executive say to an employee who produced a projection (measured in quadrillions of units) based on a graph with two data points?

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22 Responses to The Emmott / Penguin graphs in detail

  1. As Spock would say, “Fascinating!”

  2. Mooloo says:

    Can anyone explain what minus ten to-the-power-of-22 joules looks like?

    0.000 000 000 1 Joules

    It’s a feature of logarithmic scales that any value less than one is negative.

    Not that we could meaningfully measure any difference of that size. It inspires little faith that he could even put a number like that on a scale.

  3. Mooloo
    But the graph doesn’t look logarithmic. It’s labelled normally 20,15, 10, 5, 0, -5, -10.
    It’s the Species extinction graph which looks logarithmic, with equidistant “extinction rates” of 10, 100, 1000, 10,000.

  4. alexjc38 says:

    It would be interesting to see Emmott’s assumptions and workings-out for the Species Extinction graph. What he’s probably trying to illustrate is the factoid about current extinction rates (“100 to 1000 times faster than the natural extinction rate”, etc.)

    There was an item last week on the Today programme about human impacts on the environment, in which extinctions were mentioned. According to Justin Webb’s introduction: “Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study is bringing together some of the finest human minds today to wrestle with the issue of our footprint, in particular impact on other species.” (Jonathon Porritt is one of them, I see, from the website.)

    Here’s the site:

    Under the Additional Information header: “Nearly 900 species have been pushed into extinction by human activities in the last 500 years, and this is probably just a small proportion of the species and extinctions known to science. Such a rapid loss is thought to be as much as 10,000 times the ‘natural’ rates of extinction that would otherwise occur.” Maybe that’s where Emmott’s “10,000” comes from, I wonder.

    Justin Webb’s guest on Today was environmental anthropologist Veronica Strang, and one of the first things she said was “we’re now looking at an extinction event that’s caused fundamentally by human activities, which will result in the loss of about a quarter of our species within the next 50 years”.

    If Emmott and Strang had been in their current roles back in 1980, they could have contributed to the authoritative Global 2000 Report, which predicted the loss of 15 – 20% of all species by the year 2000.

  5. Alex
    “Nearly 900 species have been pushed into extinction by human activities in the last 500 years” equals less than two species every year. So if that’s “10,000 times the ‘natural’ rates of extinction that would otherwise occur”, the natural rate is one species every 20,000 years. Now as a kid I knew about the mammoth and the sabre tooth tiger, and I don’t think we did for them.
    And species of what? All living things, which we can’t even enumerate to the nearest million? Or mammals, of which we’ve wiped out about 50 in the last 5 centuries, almot all of them on newly discovered islands?
    The answers to these and other questions are possibly to be found in the source references to the graphs, which have suddenly appeared on the Buzzfeed site. Or maybe not. Don’t expect Emmott and Penguin to provide clear answers to reasonable questions

  6. alexjc38 says:

    Emmott’s sources appear to be:

    1) Stuart Pimm and Peter Raven’s paper “Extinction by numbers”, published in Nature, 2000:

    Going by the abstract, this appears to be mostly about applying the principles of island ecology to terrestrial “islands” in tropical forests, which is the sort of argument addressed in “Historical bird and terrestrial mammal extinction rates and causes” by Loehle and Eschenbach.

    2) Anthony Barnosky et al, “Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?”, published in Nature, 2011:

    There’s a copy of this paper here:

    What’s interesting is that Barnosky et al are writing about a possible mass extinction event but over the next few centuries, not decades. That near-vertical line just before the year 2050, in Emmott’s graph must, I think, come from the earlier paper (Pimm and Raven) which mentions the possibility of mass species die-off if the tropical forests were all cleared: “The extinction curve should accelerate rapidly to a peak by the middle of the twenty-first century if the rate of forest clearing remains constant.”

    As we get further and further from the year 2000 and closer to 2050, it will be instructive to keep asking Willis Eschenbach’s question “Where are the corpses?” to see if there is any evidence of a rapid acceleration in extinctions of known creatures. How many could we expect by 2020, for example? 2025? 2030?

    Will we start to read about 2080 or 2100, as years by which a massive die-off will occur? It will be interesting to see if, when and by how much the goalposts are moved.

  7. Foxgoose says:

    Emmott’s prime talent seems to be self promotion.

    He shares with Paul Nurse and Steve Jones a desperate need to leverage his specialised narrow scientific credentials – so that he can climb onto the world stage as philosopher prince and bedazzle the scientifically clueless with bullshit.

    He differs from Jones and Nurse however, in that he doesn’t appear to have had a particularly stellar scientific career in the first place.

    I believe he was originally a neuroscientist who got involved in computer design at Bell Labs.

    He was then head hunted by NCR business machines to set up a UK research unit called “The Knowledge Lab”. It was described thus in the MIT Technology Review:-

    “The Knowledge Lab boasts an eclectic mix of twenty- and thirtysomething staffers. Computer scientist works alongside technical engineer, artist, jewelry designer, graphics/industrial designer, biophysicist, mathematician, economist, psychologist and philosopher. The 25-member team’s mission is broad: focus on tomorrow’s consumer. Or, as the Knowledge Lab’s glossy launch brochure declared: “To create foresight-to get a grasp of the future before it happens. To start to lead the way in challenging established assumptions.” Housed in a stylish open-plan studio space in central London, the lab is separated from Financial Solutions’ reception by a wall of frosted glass, perforated with portholes to give visitors a glimpse of this future.
    The Knowledge Lab’s director, neuroscientist Stephen Emmott, sums up the lab’s fundamental focus within the rather loose bounds set by its parent company with two words: relationship technology. “The context for everything we do is the networked economy,” Emmott says, “and the central purpose of networks is to establish and maintain relationships.”
    The relationships that interest Emmott and his lab are those between consumer and consumer and between consumer and supplier-the demands and preferences of the consumer and how the supplier serves and stimulates these demands. By exploring and exploiting these relationships, NCR hopes to find ways to reposition itself after a troubled time in the 115-year-old company’s history. And in setting up the lab, NCR has forged unusual relationships of its own, recruiting its own customers (banks) to help fund and advise the new center and even contribute their research to its projects-much as MIT’s Media Lab is funded through its relationship with technology firms. The verdict is still out on how successful this project will be. While observers express praise for the lab’s boldness, they also voice skepticism about the originality of some of its ideas. And some question whether the ultimate aim of the lab is more PR than R&D.”

    I think the journalist nailed Steve & his magic microwave in the last sentence there.

    Another one of Steve’s world shaking inventions was the intelligent financial cufflink:-

    “Emmott’s idea of invisible computing extends well beyond the kitchen. There’s a prototype secure system enabling micro-payments and communication via either the Internet or phone using everyday objects-rings or cufflinks might serve as tokens, increasing or decreasing in monetary value when waved at a point-of-sale device or ATM”

    The piece finishes with another fairly damning critique:-

    “Michael Bove, head of the MIT Media Lab’s Object-Based Media Group, is one observer who has his doubts. “There have only been a handful [of technology projects] announced so far,” he notes, “and a number of these sound as if they were created to make NCR a good press release.”

    Clearly Stevie baby was surfing on a tidal wave of bullshit from an early age and using his background to play the “science futurologist” to gullible business people.

    It doesn’t appear that any of his futuristic notions ever made anybody any profit.

    All that seems to have happened is – he’s found an even more gullible audience in the Graun reading “climate concerned arts community”.

  8. alexjc38 says:

    @ Foxgoose, here’s an AP news article from 1999 which has NCR’s Prof. Emmott describing an Intelligent Bin, which would scan our rubbish for RFID tags in packaging and compile a personalised shopping list (which it could then send to retailers over the internet) based on what we chuck away.

    “The trash cans could be on the market within five to 10 years, but it will require the industry to move away from bar codes, Emmott said.”

    Strangely, the Intelligent Bin concept doesn’t seem to have caught on, yet.

  9. myrmecia says:

    Most of your criticisms are mere nit-picking. In others you ‘play dumb’ (as in the extinction rate) and parade your expectation to be spoonfed. Sure, Emmott performed an attention-seeking, hand-wringing monologue on stage – but let’s get back to the book, please. If the book is as bad as you claim in its science, it’s a pity you have to resort to politics for your arguments.

  10. myrmecia
    The book isn’t published yet, but a long extract in the Observer, plus these graphs, indicate that it’s what Emmott said it would be – a retelling of what you accurately call his “attention-seeking, hand-wringing monologue on stage”.
    A graph with two data points and a line soaring off into the future; a graph whose x axis suddenly changes scale by a factor of 30 with no warning; a population graph which similarly changes scale for the current millenium (I’ve just noticed that one) a graph of motor vehicle ownership that has motor vehicles coming into existence circa 1932; a graph on species extinction which appears to record the loss of two species circa 53,000BC with the next big rise occurring in 2040; a graph of fires per decade which appers to inflect in 1964, 1974, 1986 and 1999 (just noticed that one too); floods per decade with inflection points in 1963, 1975, 1987 and 1999 (rough estimates) and so on.
    Mere nit-picking? Maybe, but that’s a lot of nits. Best to comb them out now before they hatch and we’re all scratching ourselves silly.
    OK, a load of crappy graphs aren’t the end of the world. But the end of the world is precisely the subject of the book. Better to get it right, don’t you think, before you start arming your children? Especially if you’re a professor who pours scorn on the mathematical abilities of your colleagues. See his talk to NESTA, discussed at
    in which he spoke of the need for:
    “…an entirely new generation of  entirely new kinds of scientists, of scientists … who are computationally first rate, and I don’t mean people who know where the on button is on their Macintosh, I mean conceptually and mathematically computationally first rate.”
    OK, you wouldn’ expect any better from the poor intern at Penguin who had to rush these graphs out in a hurry when the publishers brought the date of publication forward to counter the publication of Dorling’s “Population: Ten Billion”. But the end of the world is a serious subject, isn’t it? Is Professor Emmott, who has signed this book and must take responsibility for the contents, a serious person?

  11. myrmecia says:

    Sounds pretty pathetic the way you describe it, Geoff. John Gray over at The Guardian has reviewed Dorling’s and Emmott’s books in tandem. He has read both books and is more inclined to reject Dorling’s assumptions, analysis and conclusions than Emmott’s. You are right, though: let’s hold off coming to conclusions till we have had the opportunity to assess the books on the basis of reading them.

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  13. Pingback: Stephen Emmott Comes Out | Geoffchambers's Blog

  14. I saw a pair of Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers when I was out hunting in central Louisiana in 1963. I got yelled at by my high school assistant-principal who emphatically told me that species had gone extinct in 1934. Several years ago, a team of biologists discovered TWO nesting pairs in Arkansas. A lot of what we label as “extinct” may not necessarily be so, just living in areas where most “scientists” don’t visit.

    I was an imagery analyst in the Air Force for over 25 years. There are still hundreds of thousands of square miles where the population density is just short of zero. There are what, a dozen cities now with populations of 10 million or more? I don’t think we’ve become so crowded that we’re going to cause massive extinctions.

    I saw a peregrine falcon sitting on the top of a lamp post near one of the busier intersections of Colorado Springs this morning when I was out driving. I see red foxes, raccoons (they keep getting into my trash cans), rabbits, squirrels, mourning doves, pigeons, all kinds of songbirds, and dozens of butterflies, moths, and other insects at least weekly. This is in a major built-up area of a major US city. Deer, elk, bears, cougars, coyotes, Bighorns, and Pronghorn antelope are not uncommon sights around here. I think the extinction nonsense is just that — nonsense.

  15. Mike Weatherford
    I think I saw a kingfisher nicking a goldfish from our pond in the suburb of a very ordinary French town. It was just a flash of blue so I’ll never know for sure. There’s certainly a hoopoe which visits the garden of the family beach house on the Mediterranean. Ours is one of the few houses which hasn’t been converted into blocks of holiday flats, and has kept a little green space where lizards and birds are still welcome.
    Americans are lucky to have kept an open space – psychological as well as geographical – in which they can revel in the variety of nature. We Brits sent Cook and Darwin round the world, but seem to have little consciousness of the importance of what we did. Discovering the infinite variety of nature and of human society was no small thing.

  16. James Turner says:

    Heat content in chemistry is usually given relative to some reference point. I suspect that is what he is trying to show with the ocean heat content graph. So a negative heat content is possible. The y axis is times the 10^22 joules, not -10 raised to the 22 power.

  17. Dodgy Geezer says:

    Now is the time to reprint Ehrlich’s ‘Population Bomb’

    Just leave out the original 1960s dates – it is almost word-for-word what is being put out now. A simple win for Penguin. Suggest it to one of their commissioning editors and ask for a percentage of the take…

  18. Mike Mellor says:

    1. You wrote

    …the current deceleration and eventual decline which is projected by all serious demographers</blockquote
    That sounds like an appeal to consensus to me.

    2. The manual on wonky graphs is How to Lie with Statistics>/i> by Darrell Huff, Pelican (a subsidiary of Penguin Books Ltd). Well worth a read.

    3. Whatsamatter you, dumping on Penguin? They are in business to make money out of publishing books. If you go to them with a manuscript on giant man-eating toads and they reckon it will sell, they will publish it. Gimme a break.

  19. Mike Mellor says:

    I swear I put the > after “demographers.” Blame Al Gore and his shonky internet.

  20. Mike Mellor
    Yes, “all demographers agree” is a statement of consensus. If Emmott wants to argue that they’re wrong, he’s free to do so. But he doesn’t. He simply disguises the consensus view with a graph designed deliberately to produce a hockeystick appearance. Every source mentioned is preceded by “adapted from” or “compiled from”. Simply reproducing the source graphs wouldn’t tell the story he wants to tell.

    I know about Pelicans. I’ve got lots of dog-eared ones on my shelves by the likes of Asimov and Darwin. Penguin used to make money successfully selling quality books cheaply.

  21. Pingback: 10 billion vs Population 10 billion | eternalexploration

  22. Mooloo says:

    Remember MIke that it is the alarmist side that argues that we need to go with the consensus. That makes Emmott a hypocrite who argues that we must go with a consensus in one place then the exact opposite soon afterwards — without even having the balls to admit that he is doing so.

    I don’t say that people need to go with a consensus because it is a consensus. I merely point out that there is one.

    Also in this case it isn’t so much a “consensus” entered into in a spirit of agreeing not to disagree, but a state where there is no serious disagreement on the likely results. Of course being real scientists, the demographers put in real caveats and likely errors. That is, they accept they might be wrong.

    Nor do demographers get much into the policy implications. Emmott wants us to believe the policy flows automatically from the “science”. Which is false. Indeed ludicrous.

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