How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?

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How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth? (52:00)
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Thirst, starvation, claustrophobia—all three await the whole of humanity, if global population and consumption rates continue unchanged. This program explores the looming crisis in practical terms, measuring as accurately as possible our planet’s capacity for human habitation. Host Sir David Attenborough guides viewers through the core problems of water scarcity, shortsighted agricultural policies, and alarming birth and death statistics compiled by the United Nations. Expert guests include population expert and London School of Economics professor Timothy Dyson; Nature Conservancy Sustainable Waters Program director Brian Richter; and NASA analyst Dr. Molly Brown. A BBC Production. (52 minutes)

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Segments in this Video - (22)

1. Human Population and Scale of Change (01:55)
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More than a billion people on the planet lack access to safe drinking water. As the population grows, the scale of change will leave no one untouched.

2. Population Density and Environmental Problems (02:44)

Human population density is a factor in every environmental problem. Richard Attenborough discusses the changes in the natural environment over his 50 years of experience.

3. Billions More Humans (02:17)

The Optimum Population Trust campaigns to control birth rates. In the next 40 years, Earth will need to accommodate nearly 3 billion more people.

4. Human Population Growth Unchecked (02:51)

United Nations world population projections show how growing populations will be distributed. For most of human existence, human population size was kept in check by Nature--just as it is for other animals.

5. Life Extension (01:50)

One of humankind's greatest achievements has been the extension of life through control of infectious diseases. Today, life-giving water is in short supply.

6. Water Shortage (02:21)

More than a billion people on the planet lack access to safe drinking water. Chronic water shortages are often the result of poor infrastructure, politics, poverty, or simply living in an arid part of the world.

7. Water Problems in Mexico City (02:26)

Mexico City, the world's 8th richest city, has a water problem stemming from leaks in the system and back-up reservoirs running dry. Colossal quantities of water are used in industry and agriculture.

8. Shrinking Seas (02:32)

The Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects. Lake Chad has shrunk by 90%. Lack of water will result in food shortages.

9. Crop Yields (02:31)

There is no more land on which to extend agriculture. In industrialized nations, farmers have tripled their yields with the invention of synthetic fertilizers and technology.

10. International Land Deals (02:21)

Globally, there is a leveling off of agricultural yields. Some of the richest countries are buying large tracts of land from some of the poorest countries. The aim is to intensify food production and export it back to their own countries.

11. Problems in Rwanda (02:39)

The future is going to be particularly challenging for the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda's population will double in 26 years to 20 million, yet its land is not able to produce more food. Most Rwandans must grow their own food.

12. Rwandan Civil War (02:07)

In 1994, the two major tribes in Rwanda embarked in a mutual slaughter that left 1 million dead in three months. Conflict was intensified by the shortage of resources. The Rwandans are caught in a vicious cycle that cannot be broken.

13. Energy Resources (02:06)

Of all the resources that humans have harnessed from the earth, one has transformed everything: energy. Humans use 85 million barrels of oil each day.

14. Industrialization vs. Nature (02:46)

Oil in Texas is getting harder to find. A Texas oilman has granted a license for offshore drilling in Alaska. Mankind's industrialization is having a devastating effect on the natural world.

15. Fair Share of Earth's Capacity (02:03)

"Carrying capacity" is the upper limit of population any environment can support. How many people can Earth "carry"? The "productive biocapacity" would yield 2 hectares per person--if everything were divided equally.

16. Beyond Earth's Means (01:57)

If all humans consumed the amount of the average Indian today, the earth could sustain as many as 15 billion people. If all humans lived as the average American does, the earth could support only 1.5 billion people.

17. Population Control Policies (03:30)

In 1979, the Chinese government introduces its one-child policy. The policy is a direct response to preceding decades of famine and starvation. In India, sterilization procedures were offered for monetary incentives.

18. Educated Women in India (02:04)

In Kerala, India, the population is dense, but nearly every couple has a small family. Thanks to a long tradition of compulsory schooling for boys and girls, Kerala has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

19. Birth Rates and Education for Women (01:35)

In Kerala, where women are highly educated, the average age of marriage is 28. Birth rates tend to fall where women have access to education. Access to birth control is of vital importance where women and men want to limit their families.

20. Ecosystems Hold Solutions (02:14)

An expert in water supply believes ecosystems hold solutions to the world's water shortages. Mexico City must re-establish its "hydrological cycle."

21. Water Forests (01:34)

The area surrounding Mexico City was an ancient forest. The remains of this forest are the city's only hope of recapturing its water from the environment. The city relies on rain.

22. Mankind at a Crossroads (02:49)

As the human population continues to grow, the delicate relationship between humans and the environment is stretched to the breaking point. If current trends continue without intervention, humans have only themselves to blame.

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