Green On The Box
I’ve watched a couple of really interesting documentaries recently and given their green nature I thought I’d share them with you so you can watch them too.
Last night on BBC4 there was a Horizon special presented by David Attenborough (which was apparently first aired in December 2009) entitled “How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?” and while the population estimates may have been a little out (we have probably hit 7 billion already), the challenges we face haven’t changed one bit.
I encourage you to watch it as soon as you can; it’s available on iPlayer until 1st December.
As the population heads ever upwards, the programme looks at the 3 main shortages that will impact our lifestyles, our politics and eventually our ability to support everybody:
I have to admit that it was rather full of doom and gloom but it also had glimpses of inspiration to combat the impact of an every growing population. I had my eyes opened to issues that are already on a scale far greater than I would have thought.
Water of Life
With the sight of emergency water trucks driving around Mexico City to provide drinking water for up to 5 million people a day, I dug a little deeper and found that as many as 1 billion inhabitants of cities may face similar dry taps by 2050 if nothing is done.
I also never realised just how much water goes into making things – take a burger for example, it is estimated that an average burger requires 2400 litres of water to produce.
Now this doesn’t mean that this water is lost forever, after all there is the same amount of water on the planet now as there has been for thousands, if not millions of years. But it does cause water shortages in areas where more water is being drawn from sources than is being replaced by rain and rivers.
Food Glorious Food
Then there are the food shortages we face. With much of the fertile land of the world already being used for agriculture and with crop yields apparently levelling off, we face a huge challenge to feed all the hungry mouths.
Unless technology can increase the rate at which we can produce food, I can’t see any way out of this situation without changes to our diets in order to better utilise the land we have. I don’t know what these changes will be; maybe we will have to eat fewer oranges in favour of planting more potatoes, who knows?
Power To The People
The final piece of the jigsaw mentioned by Attenborough is the one that this blog focuses most on – energy. Year upon year the human race taps into more electricity than ever and the demands we are now placing on our planet may be pushing us over the brink and into the abyss.
Unless new sources of clean energy can be found and built on a massive scale, the amount we are each able to consume will have to fall if supply and demand are to balance. A rather large shift in human behaviour will be required, particularly in the Western world.
Stephen Hawking Rides To The Rescue
Another show which was on just last week does give me hope though. In episode 4 of a Brave New World with Stephen Hawking (available until 14th December) I learned that efforts are being made all over the world to tackle some of the issues faced in Attenborough’s documentary.
Some scientists think that we may not be too far away from successful nuclear fusion which has the potential to provide a huge amount of energy with few of the limitations or side-effects of other sources of power generation.
I reckon that technological progress will speed up if energy becomes more abundant and cheaper which may then help us solve the other two challenges we face in water and food.
But Mr Hawking also reveals how some scientists are looking at ways of growing meat in a lab rather than in a field as a live animal. They are a long way off production right now but if they ever get to that stage then the land, water and food requirements for the meat industry would tumble. I for one would not be against eating meat that has been grown rather than reared as long as the taste, texture and nutrients were the same.
I don’t want to waffle on too much in this post as I cannot explain things nearly as well as they do in the two programmes so go watch them now and come back and leave a comment letting me know what you think of the future we are staring at.
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