Are humans the “infestation” of planet Earth?


I say YES! And a prominent Microsoft scientist agrees. Although he didn’t actually refer to infestation specifically, his 3600-word article left no doubt. The title itself speaks volumes:

“Humans: the real threat to life on Earth.”

Microsoft’s head of Computational Science (based in Cambridge, UK), Dr. Stephen Emmott recently presented the world with a terrifying wake-up call. And his message is simply this. Unless we make some HUGE changes in the way we live and reproduce, our future descendants are in deep trouble. A link to his entire article (an edited extract from his new book, Ten Billion) is provided below.

85-second video, Ten Billion Book trailer (August 20130

Book description. Deforestation. Desertification. Species extinction. Global warming. Growing threats to food and water. These driving issues of our times are the result of one huge problem: Us.

Dr. Emmott's book comes out in Sept. 2013.

Dr. Emmott’s book comes out in Sept. 2013.

Dr. Emmott does a magnificent job of describing the global issues that we face yet, like others before him, he makes no mention of the single most powerful “behavioral change” that we could make to alleviate many of those dire realities. Like practically all of our most brilliant scientists, he probably believes that we truly “need” to eat animal protein in order to be healthy.

Once he realizes that we don’t need ANY animal protein, he will quickly grasp the staggering benefits of using 90% less land, 90% less water and 90% less energy to produce the same number of food calories. Maybe then he will see the ray of hope that I see—a plant-based pathway out of this horrible mess that our species has created.

As he says, “The only solution left to us is to change our behavior, radically and globally.” Yes, but let’s start with the single “behavioral change” that will yield the greatest benefit—in the least amount of time. Let’s put together a “dream team” of leaders to teach the entire world what we should be eating. Let’s stop destroying the lungs of the world (our rain forests) in the search for more arable land to perpetuate the most harmful, wasteful and unsustainable diet-style imaginable.

Dr. Stephen Emmott as he appears in the Forbes article referenced below.

Dr. Stephen Emmott as he appears in the Forbes article referenced below.

Otherwise, I agree with Dr. Emmott’s dismal conclusion. In his book he appeals to the world leaders to take decisive action, but confesses that he doesn’t think that they will, concluding in his own words, “I think we’re f_ _ _ _ d.”

His well-researched article appeared in The Guardian on 6-29-13 and reminded me a great deal of one of my earlier blogs, Too many people, wasting resources, eating the wrong food. Dr. Emmott’s article begins:

If population levels continue to rise at the current rate, our grandchildren will see the Earth plunged into an unprecedented environmental crisis.

We currently have no known means of being able to feed 10 billion of us at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system. Indeed, simply to feed ourselves in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than the entire agricultural output of the past 10,000 years combined.

Yet food productivity is set to decline, possibly very sharply, over the coming decades due to: climate change; soil degradation and desertification – both of which are increasing rapidly in many parts of the world; and water stress. By the end of this century, large parts of the planet will not have any usable water.

90-second interview with Dr. Emmott (August 2013)

Pretty chilling stuff. So, who is Stephen Emmott? You can read his entire bio at the link below, but here are a few highlights.

    • He has two jobs. Professor of Computational Science at the University of Oxford, and head of Computational Science at Microsoft (Cambridge, UK)
    • His new book is entitled Ten Billion and will begin shipping in September of 2013. Now available on Amazon.
    • With a PhD in Computational Neuroscience, a prior stint as a post-doctoral fellow & scientist at Bell Labs, and now heading up computational science at Microsoft, he is arguably one of the world’s most prominent “big picture” thinkers.
Land, Water and Energy? One of my slides that I use frequently in my presentations.

Land, Water and Energy? One of my slides that I use frequently in my presentations.

He makes his case with numbers. Here are a few of his points about our “big three” finite natural resources that caught my eye:

    • Water. It takes 4 liters of water to produce a one-liter plastic water bottle.
    • Land. Demand for land for food is going to double – at least – by 2050, and triple – at least – by the end of this century. This means that pressure to clear many of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests for human use is going to intensify every decade.
    • Energy. We are going to have to triple – at least – energy production by the end of this century to meet expected demand. To meet that demand, we will need to build, roughly speaking, something like: 1,800 of the world’s largest dams, or 23,000 nuclear power stations, 14 million wind turbines, and 36 billion solar panels.

The Solution. He writes, The only solution left to us is to change our behaviour, radically and globally, on every level. In short, we urgently need to consume less. A lot less. Radically less. And we need to conserve more. A lot more.

To accomplish such a radical change in behaviour would also need radical government action. But as far as this kind of change is concerned, politicians are currently part of the problem, not part of the solution, because the decisions that need to be taken to implement significant behaviour change inevitably make politicians very unpopular – as they are all too aware.

What would our word leaders do if they knew that a huge asteroid would collide with our planet on June 3, 2072?

What would our word leaders do if they knew that a huge asteroid would collide with our planet on June 3, 2072?

Leadership. Since beginning this blog in February of 2011, at least 100 of my 777 blogs to date have dealt in some way with leadership.

We need powerful leadership coupled with a lot of money to organize and execute a plan that is capable of addressing these catastrophic issues that are unmistakable products of the human species.

Although Dr. Emmott doesn’t think we’re capable of getting it done, he does offer a solution to an imaginary disaster of a similar scope:

Asteroid approaching. If we discovered tomorrow that there was an asteroid on a collision course with Earth and – because physics is a fairly simple science – we were able to calculate that it was going to hit Earth on 3 June 2072, and we knew that its impact was going to wipe out 70% of all life on Earth, governments worldwide would marshal the entire planet into unprecedented action.

Every scientist, engineer, university and business would be enlisted: half to find a way of stopping it, the other half to find a way for our species to survive and rebuild if the first option proved unsuccessful. We are in almost precisely that situation now, except that there isn’t a specific date and there isn’t an asteroid. The problem is us.

The Dream Team for Change. Here’s the line-up. Stephen Emmott works for Microsoft and understands the “big picture” perhaps better than any other person. Bill Gates has been talking lately about the unsustainability of our feeding model. He’s also got the billions necessary to quickly teach the world what we should be eating. I am thinking that we should organize an “Asteroid-type” task force to begin the urgent process of preparing our planet for the rapidly approaching disasters of epic proportions. Now, who else do we need on our team?

Bill Clinton went vegan in 2010 and it probably saved his life. He remains our most prominent spokesman for eating plant-based.

Bill Clinton went vegan in 2010 and it probably saved his life. He remains our most prominent spokesman for eating plant-based.

I have been writing for years about the necessity of a globally-recognized leader who truly “gets it” about food. And I wrote recently about 5 reasons why Bill Clinton should be the Global King of WFPB.

He already has first-hand knowledge of the disease-reversing power of plant-based nutrition. Now, he just needs to spend a few hours with Dr. Emmott to help him connect the rest of the dots. Then he’ll be ready to ask Mr. Gates for all the money we need to get this Asteroid Type Project underway—perhaps under the umbrella of the Clinton Global Initiative.

It’s going to be real tough to curb population growth and change the way we live. But, in comparison, it will be relatively simple to start changing the way all of us eat. We just need leadership and MONEY—and lots of it.

Back to Infestation. Does Dr. Emmott agree with me that humans are the infestation of planet Earth? You be the judge:

Infestation. The state of being invaded or overrun by pests or parasites. To be present (in a place or site) in large numbers, typically so as to cause damage or disease.

Sounds to me like he agrees with the “infestation” label. He writes: “Earth is home to millions of species. Just one dominates it. Us. Our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities have modified almost every part of our planet. In fact, we are having a profound impact on it. Indeed, our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities are now the drivers of every global problem we face. And every one of these problems is accelerating as we continue to grow towards a global population of 10 billion. In fact, I believe we can rightly call the situation we’re in right now an emergency – an unprecedented planetary emergency.”

“We can rightly call the situation we’re in an unprecedented emergency. 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 fucked. I asked one of the most rational, brightest scientists I know – a scientist working in this area, a young scientist, a scientist in my lab – if there was just one thing he had to do about the situation we face, what would it be? His reply? “Teach my son how to use a gun.”

Chelsea Clinton as she appears on the Clinton Foundation website. A vegan herself, she may have had a major influence on her father's dietary change.

Chelsea Clinton as she appears on the Clinton Foundation website. A vegan herself, she may have had a major influence on her father’s dietary change.

What can I do? I can do my best to facilitate an alliance between the kinds of brains, power and resources that have the combined ability to help us all avert this unprecedented planetary emergency. And since I have had no luck in getting an audience with Bill Clinton or Bill Gates, I have written aletter to Chelsea and mailed it on 7-12-13 along with a copy of our book. (See link below).

If only she would decide to make this her #1 project for the rest of her life. As the only child of POTUS 42 and probably 45, she may be the best person on Earth to inspire the  leadership, resources and support necessary to make those radical changes that Dr. Emmott mentions. No less than our future as a species hangs in the balance.

My second blog on “infestation” posted one month after this one, on August 9. Responding to a reader who objected to my terminology. “Infestation” IS the best word—if it gets your attention For your convenience, a few links to the primary source article, relevant blogs and information on Dr. Emmott.

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Why should we be eating mostly plants? The “big picture” in 4 minutes.

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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. Leveraging his expertise in making complex things simple, he is now seeking corporate clients who are interested in slashing their cost of health care. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation, where he also sits on the board of directors.
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5 Responses to Are humans the “infestation” of planet Earth?

  1. Veggiemom66 says:

    You lost me at “infestation”….. Hope you rethink your terminology before you go forward with this. (And i’m almost a vegan)

    • J. Morris Hicks says:

      Hi Veggie Mom,

      You’re right. “Infestation” is not a very pretty word, but I do believe in calling a spade a spade. By the way, I was not the first to use that word to describe us. I believe it may have been Mark Twain among others. Here’s why:

      Do you realize that we’re the only species (of millions) in the history of the world that has not lived in harmony with the other living beings on the planet? Also consider that we’ve now taken over every square inch of the Earth to feed ourselves and continue to burn down rain forests when we need more land. We’ve grown seven-fold since 1804, from one billion to seven billion and are exhausting our precious resources at the speed of light.

      Imagine that you were another being looking in from outer space. You might say:

      Look at those creatures down there using up all their finite resources. Didn’t they learn anything from the Easter Island civilization collapse? They spend more time talking about one silly ballplayer (A. Rod) than the fact that they soon not have enough land, water and energy to feed their exploding population. What a stupid bunch they are!

      So V. Mom, can you think of a better word to describe the mess we’ve made? I suggest you read Lester Brown’s book if you need more information. “Full Planet, Empty Plates.” In his book, he talks about how the French use a simple riddle to explain exponential growth to children. They’re told about the multiplying lily pads in a huge pond. One on the first day, two on the second, four on the third day, and so forth. After thirty days, the pond is full. Then they’re asked “How full is the pond on the 29th day?

      ANSWER: Half full. Lester Brown says we seven billion humans are in our 30th day now. And we’ve already exceeded the sustainable carrying capacity of our planet.

      Thanks for your comment. Jim Hicks

  2. Here is a 2010 plant-based education series by the Vegan Society that I found today:

    ###################
    2) Making the Connection

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/making-connection/
    ::::::
    Do you have to choose between a healthy, fun, modern lifestyle and a fair, sustainable, compassionate lifestyle?

    No, you can have it all! Watch “Making the Connection” and decide for yourself.

    Making the Connection is a new film which invites you on a journey – together with a chef, a farmer, an MP, an athlete, a dietitian, a poet.

    Explores an exciting lifestyle which combines delicious, healthy food with tackling many of the global challenges facing us today.

    Will you make the connection and become part of the solution?

    Watch the full documentary now (playlist – 31 minutes)
    ::::::

    A) Making t/ Connection Chp 1 Food

    . . . . . Etc. . . .

    ####################

  3. CJ says:

    Hi Jim, what a powerful post this was. I’ve been away a bit so catching up… you’ve been on a roll with some really great posts the past couple weeks. Let me start with saying that your July 1st post, Do you breathe air, drink water and have sex?” was just plain “epic”. It really hit all the key points on the whole big picture you speak of. I also liked your revisit follow-up post on this as well which teed up this most recent infestation post… which is a wake up call for everyone. I really like the fact that more people such as yourself are bringing the overpopulation topic to the forefront. Dr. Emmott will benefit from hearing from people like you who have the full picture on one of the most important changes that the world needs to make, and soon — the move to plant-based diet. I’d nominate you to be on the “asteroid team” for sure. Wishing you great health… powerful, insightful work as always!

  4. Steve Mulder says:

    First heard of this idea from Richard Preston’s book “The Hot Zone”.  I think his quote was something like “mother earth will rid herself of the human parasite”.  That was 1994!

    Did you see that picture of Stephen Emmontt?  What a tortured looking soul!  This “infestation idea” is gaining traction but is seriously flawed.  It’s an evolutionary concept–but the idea goes way back to the pagan philosophy of “Mother Nature” as an object of veneration. Very similar to the philosophy found in Cameron’s movie, “Avatar”.

    Evolutionists devalue human life with a principle that only the strong survive, and are outraged that “the strong” on this planet are accelerating it’s destruction.  They want the “destroyers of the planet” dead.  Nothing personal of course–just let mother earth destroy the “infestation”.  Mother earth is ultimately “strongest” and will survive this human plague in their school of thinking.  At least that is my impression.

    Contrast this with the “last shall be first”–unselfish, self-sacrificing love to all mankind, that is the core philosophy promoted by Jesus.  The Scriptural teaching that man, the crowning act of God’s creation, through rebellion against God has launched into a self-destructive lifestyle, both individually and collectively, makes much more sense to me.  I am accountable to that Deity, and living by His laws, live in harmony with Him and His creation.  But I also have hope that the planet has a future–a very good future.  God expects me to work now, warning of the consequences of this self-destructive rebellion against God.  But my version has a perfect ending.  A happy ending.  A real ending–not Hollywood’s Neo-apocalyptic destruction (WW Z).  

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