COP21: Governments are still missing the bigger picture

A new film shows how the planet is losing species at a rate 1,000 times faster than we would expect from natural processes


With COP21, the UN’s climate change conference, drawing to a conclusion, a new feature documentary sheds light on the extent of man-made damage to the natural environment and the total inadequacy of the response from governments to date.

The consensus that will emerge from the COP21 conference in Paris, which ends on Friday, is unlikely to be sufficient to stop the damage we are imposing on the planet. It is reported that the government of Saudi Arabia is still disputing terms such as ‘decarbonisation’ and India argues that the right to development incorporates the right to pollute. The conference will only, at best, deliver a commitment to a maximum temperature of 2 or 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

In reality, Ten Billion asserts, our challenge is to balance the monumental scale of human consumption without toppling the earth’s fragile life support system, making our planet uninhabitable.

Based on a book of the same name, Ten Billion is an adaptation of a play performed at the Royal Court in 2012 by leading scientist and head of Computational Science at Microsoft Research, Professor Stephen Emmott. Emmott challenges us to make radical changes in society, to consume much less and fundamentally rethink our way of living.

Rising sea levels, rapid deforestation, fossil fuel usage and wasteful and damaging food production techniques mean that as humanity develops, we are causing irreversible damage to the planet and ultimately to life on earth itself.

The chaos brought about by the struggle for limited resources could lead to increased global tension, conflict and the displacement of millions of people on an unprecedented scale. Some of the facts presented by Emmott include:

  • Demand for food is set to double by 2050, yet 40 per cent of ice-free land is already taken up by agriculture.

  • Between 1950 and 2050, the number of cars on the road will have increased from 100 million to two and a half billion.

  • The planet is losing species at a rate 1,000 times faster than we would expect from natural processes.

Unlike other well-known documentaries on environmental damage, Ten Billion does not offer sobering fixes to our imminent doom. In fact, in his analysis of the people’s apathy, Professor Emmott bluntly points out ‘We’re fucked.’ ‘The problem’, he asserts, ‘is us’. According to Emmott, our overconsumption and our ever growing desire to accumulate ‘stuff’ makes it unlikely that we will ever be willing to adopt the necessary measures to stop or slow down the rate at which we are destroying the planet.

The film compares the climate crisis to an imminent asteroid strike, and asks difficult questions about the paucity of humanity’s response. Professor Emmott argues that state governments and international bodies are beseeched by territorial politics and are missing the bigger picture. Controlling carbon emissions and sustainable energy resources are just one aspect of the problem, the real issue is how to sustain our insatiable pattern of consumption.

Ten Billion is the most gripping wake-up call since ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and highlights the planetary emergency we face by joining the dots between our behaviour and our increasingly volatile world – from freak weather to the events that triggered the refugee crisis.

Ten Billion is available to watch on Now TV and was directed by Peter Webber, director of ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’, ‘Hannibal Rising’ & ‘Emperor’ and produced by Oxford Films, makers of award-winning films ‘Hilary & Jackie’ and ‘Restoration’.

Charlene Badibanga is advocacy executive for 89up

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