The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization by Thomas Homer-Dixon

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Facts from The Upside of Down:


Although India's population is growing at the slow rate of 1.4% a year, because the country has over 1 billion people, that low rate translates into an additional 16 million people (or the equivalent of adding an extra Calcutta to its population each year) annually.

In 1950, there were about two poor people for every rich person on Earth; today there are about four; in 2025, there will be nearly six.


Between 2000 and the beginning of 2005, China's daily oil imports soared 140%. As recently as 1993, China could meet its oil needs from its own fields; now it imports half its oil, and in fifteen years it will import three-quarters of its supply.

3 large spoonfuls of crude oil contain about the same amount of energy as eight hours of human manual labor. When we fill our car with gas, we're pouring into the tank the energy equivalent of about two years of human manual labor.

Since 1930, the average depth of an oil well in the United States has increased from 1,000 to 2,000 meters, and the average reserves of a new oil field has fallen fell from more than 20 million barrels to fewer than 1 million. And because more work is needed to extract oil in the U.S., the cost of producing a barrel has nearly quadrupled.

While U.S. energy intensity has fallen almost 2 percent annually over the past twenty years, the country's economy has grown faster, at over 3 percent annually. So although energy intensity has dropped almost 40 percent since 1980, the total U.S. appetite for energy has still gone up more than 27 percent.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest producer of oil, has pumped a total of 46 billion barrels of oil in the past seventeen years, without any decrease in its stated reserve figure of about 260 billion barrels. The world is likely to get no warning before Saudi output peaks — an event that credible authorities suggest could happen soon.

Stresses & Multipliers:

Diverse events like the Iraq war, the 9/11 attacks, the 2005 urban riots in France, and hurricane Katrina may be the foreshocks of a coming global breakdown.

Humankind now makes up one of the largest bodies of genetically identical biomasses on Earth: all of us, taken together, weigh nearly a third of a billion tons. Combined with our proximity in enormous cities, and our constant travel back and forth across the globe, we're now a rich environment — just like a huge Petri dish brimming with nutrients — for the emergence and spread of disease.

The financial repercussions of the September 11th attacks were enormous: the total cost of lost economic growth and decreased equity value around the world ultimately exceeded $1 trillion. Since the cost of the attack on the World Trade Center to Al Qaeda was probably only a few hundred thousand dollars, the terrorists multiplied their impact well over a million-fold.

Living off the Land:

Between 1970 and 2002, the floor area of the average American house grew nearly 50%, even though the number of occupants per house fell.

Between 1977 and 1996, the weight of the average American cheeseburger grew over 25%, and the volume of the average soft drink grew more than 50%.

While a catalytic converter reduces the smog-producing chemicals coming out of a car's tailpipe, it also results in greater gas consumption per mile along with increased emissions of carbon dioxide. In the process of dealing with one problem - urban smog - we've increased our impact on Earth's atmosphere and climate.

China is one of many countries where fires burn nonstop in underground coal seams, often triggered by poor mining practices. By some estimates, these human-created fires in China consume more than two hundred million metric tons of coal each year and produce nearly as much carbon dioxide as all the cars and small trucks in the United States.

About 40% of the world's population now lacks sufficient water for basic sanitation and hygiene, and nearly one out of every five people does not have enough to drink.

Nearly half of the world's major fish stocks are now fished to their maximum limit; since 1950, industrialized fishing has reduced the total mass of large predatory fish in the world's oceans by 90 percent.

Climate & Environment:

Over the past twenty years, warming of the Arctic ocean has been eight times faster than it was over the past hundred years.

Scientists have recently found that the Greenland ice sheet's rate of ice loss has more than doubled in the past ten years, from 90 to 220 cubic kilometers annually. In 2006 the ice sheet will dump into the ocean about 225 times the amount of fresh water that Los Angeles consumes.

According to a 2005 study, the atmosphere's level of carbon dioxide is the highest in 650,000 years.

Nine of the ten hottest years since the 1860s (when people began accurately recording temperature) have occurred since 1995, and 2005 was statistically tied with 1990 as the warmest year on record.

By 2100 emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels are likely to have tripled from today's level to over seventy-five billion metric tons a year — even assuming that new technologies will steadily reduce carbon dioxide output per dollar of GDP.

The International Energy Agency predicts that the increase in China's emissions from 2000 to 2030 will nearly match the increase from all rich countries.

Widening gaps:

Financial crises have become more frequent over the past thirty years. According to the World Bank, ninety-three countries experienced an astonishing 112 systemic banking crises between the late 1970s and the year 2000.

According to UNICEF, 1 billion children (nearly half the children in the world) are severely deprived of nutrition, water, sanitation, health, shelter, or education. Over 640 million children lack adequate shelter, and every day four thousand die because of dirty water or poor sanitation.

At the other end of the spectrum, in 2006 the world has 793 billionaires with a combined wealth of $2.6 trillion. If they'd liquidated this wealth in 2006, they could have hired the poorest half of the world's workers — the 1.4 billion workers who earn a few dollars a day — for almost two years.

In 1870 the average income in the world's richest country was about nine times greater than that in the world's poorest country. By 1990 it was forty-five times greater.

The number of overweight people in the world — about 1.2 billion, mostly in rich countries — now roughly equals the number of underfed and undernourished, almost all in poor countries.

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