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State of the Planet

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The State of the Planet

Robert Engelman, Population Action International

Bangladesh is one of the success stories of the effort that’s been going on really since the 1970s. This isn’t the result of population control. This is result of governments and healthcare providers and nonprofit organizations making available to women and men the means to basically plan their own pregnancies and have children when they want to have children.

Frederick Meyerson, Georgetown University

The average person in the United States produces five times the global average of greenhouse gases. And when you compare it to Bangladesh it’s more like a hundred times. When you add 140 or 150 million Americans to the world population, in terms of consumption, it’s a really big impact.

Amy Coen, Population Action International

The greatest success story in the world is that population is slowing – women are getting what they want. They’re getting family planning. They’re getting the means to slow their family size. And when they get that. Not only do you give these people a healthy family, you give them hope.

Venkateswar Ramaswamy, Calcutta Community Leader

It's because of years and years of deprivation, poor sanitation, scarcity of drinking water, general degraded environment, that a kind of rage builds up, and it just needs small sparks to set it on fire and riots can break out.

Thomas Homer-Dixon, University of Toronto

It's very easy for the billion or so people in rich countries in rich countries to forget exactly what life is like for the 3 to 4 billion very poor people on this planet. We have to remember that 3 billion on this planet survive on less than $2.00 a day – somewhere around 1 to 1 1/2 billion survive on less than a dollar a day.



Bangladesh is one of the world's most densely populated countries. This is where nearly 145 million people – roughly half the population of the United States – are crammed into an area the size of Wisconsin. Not very long ago the average births per woman was just over six. Throughout Bangladesh’s countryside, thousands of community health workers are helping to reduce fertility rates. Today it’s half that and still falling.

Most experts predict that in about fifty years our planet's population will level off at about nine and a half billion and then slowly begin to fall. Despite this extraordinary achievement, there's a dark side to our victory over the population explosion. It can be found in the crowded urban slums and rural shantytowns of the developing world.

Too often those of us living with the luxuries of the West assume that the battle to save the environment will be fought amid the turmoil of the developing world.

This is where families walk great distances just to gather water from tainted ponds and streams. Where women search barren landscapes for scraps of firewood for heating and cooking. And men scratch out a meager existence on small plots of arid land. While the unemployed – suffering from extreme poverty and anger – often turn to violence and even terrorism.

Bangladeshi women carrying water

Bangladeshi women carrying water

Too often those of us living with the luxuries of the West assume that the battle to save the environment will be fought amid the turmoil of the developing world. But there's another, more familiar battleground – it's located in our planet's richest country, the United States.

As a result of immigration and low infant mortality, over the next fifty years the United State's population is expected to reach 420 million. The implications are enormous.

Americans live in a hi-tech world of automobiles and factories requiring huge amounts of energy. Our life styles impose more than a hundred times the stress on the planet than many of those in the developing world. This raises one of the most fundamental questions of our time: can our planet provide future generations with even the basic necessities of life?

Though our planet is covered by an extraordinary amount of water, over 97 percent is undrinkable seawater and another 2 percent is locked-up in our polar ice caps. Satellite imagery shows a more promising sight – the vast amount of water vapor circling the Earth. The whitest areas indicate rain or snow – the only source of our planet's freshwater. A closer view shows intense activity over the Amazon Basin of South America.

We have journeyed here to dramatize the inequitable distribution of our planet’s fresh water. The amount of rainwater collected by the Amazon is enormous. In fact the river carries one fifth of the world’s fresh water.

Amazon fisherman, Brazil

Amazon fisherman, Brazil

However the Amazon also flows through one of our planet's most sparsely populated regions – a treasure of biodiversity and indigenous cultures isolated from the rest of the world. But as a result of its remote location, relatively few can benefit.

Unlike the Amazon, many of our planet's greatest rivers are in danger of running dry. That includes the Amu Darya, the Nile, the Colorado, the Mekong, and the Yellow River. In a world that's growing by 80 million people each year – and where the demand for water doubles every 20 years – this doesn't bode well for the state of our planet, especially in the cities of the world.

Recently, our planet’s urban population reached a watershed mark in recorded history. It may have happened when a Kurdish refugee sought relief in Istanbul, or a woman left Peru’s countryside to give birth in the slums of Lima, or an unemployed student left his village in Guatemala for a job in New York City, or a young rice farmer started a new life working in the food stalls of Shanghai.

The exact person or location is not important but the event was truly historic. For the first time the urban population of our planet outnumbers those living in rural areas. In 1950 there were 86 cities with a population over one million. Today there are more than 400. Within ten years 600 cities will each be home to over a million people.



Read more about The State of the Planet:
Introduction | Population | Fresh Water | Wetlands | Global Warming | Ecosystems


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Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization | State of the Planet's Oceans | State of the Ocean's Animals
State of the Planet's Wildlife | The State of the Planet | Future Conditional | On the Brink | Hot Zones
Seas of Grass | Land of Plenty, Land of Want | Urban Explosion | Rivers of Destiny

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