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Introduction: Planet Under Pressure

Planet under pressure is a six-part BBC News Online series looking at 
some of the most pressing environmental issues facing the human race today.

	By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

We are a successful breed. Our advance from our hominid origins has 
brought us near-dominance of the world, and a rapidly accelerating 
understanding of it.

Scientists now say we are in a new stage of the Earth's history, the 
Anthropocene Epoch, when we ourselves have become the globe's principal 

But several eminent scientists are concerned that we have become too 
successful - that the unprecedented human pressure on the Earth's 
ecosystems threatens our future as a species.

We confront problems more intractable than any previous generation, some 
of them at the moment apparently insoluble.

BBC News Online's Planet under Pressure series takes a detailed look at 
six areas where most experts agree that a crisis is brewing:

# Food: An estimated 1 in 6 people suffer from hunger and malnutrition 
while attempts to grow food are damaging swathes of productive land.

# Water: By 2025, two-thirds of the world's people are likely to be living 
in areas of acute water stress.

# Energy: Oil production could peak and supplies start to decline by 2010

# Climate change: The world's greatest environmental challenge, according 
to the UK prime minister Tony Blair, with increased storms, floods, 
drought and species losses predicted.

# Biodiversity: Many scientists think the Earth is now entering its sixth 
great extinction phase.

# Pollution: Hazardous chemicals are now found in the bodies of all 
new-born babies, and an estimated one in four people worldwide are 
exposed to unhealthy concentrations of air pollutants.

All six problems are linked and urgent, so a list of priorities is 
little help.

It is pointless to preserve species and habitats, for example, if 
climate change will destroy them anyway, or to develop novel crops if 
the water they need is not there.

And underlying all these pressures is a seventh - human population.

There are already more than six billion of us, and on present trends the 
UN says we shall probably number about 8.9 billion by 2050.

Population growth means something else, too: although the proportion of 
people living in poverty is continuing to fall, the absolute number goes 
on rising, because fecundity outstrips our efforts to improve their lives.

Poverty matters because it leaves many people no choice but to exploit 
the environment, and it fuels frustration.

Above all, it condemns them to stunted lives and early deaths - both 

Difficult dilemmas

Planet under pressure is more about questions than answers. What sort of 
lifestyle can the Earth sustain?

How many of us can live at northern consumption levels, and what level 
should everyone else be expected to settle for?

How can we expect poor people to respect the environment when they need 
to use it to survive?

Are eco-friendly lives a luxury for the rich or a necessity for everyone?

And how can we act when sizeable and sincere parts of society say we are 
already overcoming the problems, not being overwhelmed by them?

Species survival

As many see it, we are not doing too badly.

More people are living healthier and longer lives. For increasing 
numbers, the future offers living standards undreamt of even a 
generation ago.

But we do have to think through the implications of our success and to 
realise its weaknesses.

Living within the planet's means need not condemn us to giving up what 
we now assume we need for a full life, just to sharing it.

The challenge we face is not about feeling guilty for our consumption or 
virtuous for being "green" - it is about the growing recognition that, 
as the human race, we stand or fall together.

Ingenuity and technology continue to offer hope of a better world. But 
they can promise only so much.

You do not need ingenuity and technology to save the roughly 30,000 
under-fives who die daily from hunger or easily preventable diseases.

And facing up to the planet's pressure points is about their survival, 
and ours.

 From population to cars to forests - graphs of the increasing pressures 
on our planet


Dependence on fossil fuels is pushing up CO2 emissions

Air pollution is a serious problem in the world's biggest cities

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/10/01 14:00:33 GMT


A six-part series looking at the biggest problems facing the Earth

<> Introduction 
Many scientists fear for the future of the human race

Water scarcity: A looming crisis? 
<> Sucked dry 
Indian farmers face water-guzzling marble factories
Photojournal: On parched land 

Quiz: How much do you know? 
Map: The world's water hotspots 
Viewpoints: The water debate 

Part 1: Species under threat 

Send us your pictures and stories 

Nature 'mankind's gravest threat' 
09 Aug 04  |  Science/Nature
World 'appeasing' climate threat 
03 Jun 04  |  Science/Nature
China swelters as energy crisis soars 
22 Jun 04  |  Business

The water debate 

Global warming? 

2015 - Where will we be? 
For updates and info, contact scott at planttrees dot org.