Population: 14 Billion

blog post photo

by Larry Bambrick
Executive Producer/Series Producer

Day One:
Tuesday, June 16 — Dry Day in the Rain

It’s been just two weeks since the end of the “No Oil” shoot.

It’s been a bit of a blur. We’re setting up for 10 more days of drama shooting, and then out on the road for the documentary shooting. While making tv is typically more of a marathon than a sprint…in this phase we’re certainly running as fast as we can.

We’re starting today at a Greenhouse — where we’re imagining one of the characters we’re following through the story.

The story of the doubling of the world’s population is incredibly difficult to tell. The experts disagree on where the population will eventually end up. The reality is that the rate of growth has slowed down.

In 1960, the world’s population was 3 billion. Today, it’s almost 7 billion. An enormous doubling in fifty years. We want this episode of the series to ask the question — what would happen if the population doubled again? Not over fifty year…but in an instant.

It’s a fascinating question. What’s the carrying capacity of the planet? Could we grow enough food? Could we find enough room to live? Would there be enough water?

They’re all interesting questions — but how do we show all the various aspects of the problem?

To try to do that, we’ve decided that we’ll create three specific characters that we’ll follow through the show. An architect who has to try to build the buildings to house all the people in this crowded world. A farmer, who has to try to grow the food. And a landscaper in California who tries to live in this overly crowded world.

Today we’re focusing on the California landscaper.

We’ve placed him in Los Angeles because the prosperity of the state — the city and all the people living in Southern California — depends on water. Not the ocean, but water that’s piped in through a series of canals and pipes all the way from the Colorado River.

In a world with twice the population you’d think that food was the biggest problem. But — as it is already in much of the world — water will be the resource that will be in shortest supply. Too bad it’s raining. Hard to create a world that’s parched for water — when it’s literally falling from the sky.

Great help today by the folks at the University of Guelph. They have a world-renowned agriculture department. They’re developing the crops of the future. Sustainable farming practices. They’ve let us take over one of their greenhouses to shoot our scenes today.

Day Three
Thursday June 18th — Water Water Everywhere

Where would California get more water?

If there were twice as many people — twice the demand for water — where could it come from? Los Angeles is on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, that’s plenty of water, right?

The problem is that drinking salt water would kill us. We actually survive on about one per cent of the world’s water — the fresh water that can be found in the lakes and the rivers.

Salt water can be turned into drinkable fresh water. There are many small communities that do it with backyard methods. Digging a pit — filling it with water and covering it with a tarp — will evaporate salt water. The salt will stay behind and the fresh water will condense on the tarp. It works in small batches.

Saudi Arabia is one of the country’s in the world that does a similar thing — but on a much larger scale. They have enormous desalination plants that help keep the country supplied with water. But turning salt water into fresh water takes tremendous amounts of energy.

Today we’re on the shore of lake Ontario again — making it stand in for the Pacific Ocean. Our California Guy is standing in line — in a world where water supplies have been strictly rationed. Off shore, our visual effects team is going to make it look as if enormous desalination plants are being built off the shore of California.

But how much can they produce? How much will it cost? And will it be enough to keep the California dream — the American dream — alive?

Video Preview: “Raw Sewage Ooze”
— As the population doubles with lightning speed, water use surges — causing the sewers to flood streets with human waste.

Day Five
Tuesday June 23rd — Where Would You Go?

Cities are running out of water. And food. Pollution is building [an interesting side note. Pollution from China regularly makes its way over to California, riding the jet stream. If a polluted butterfly flaps its wings in China…it’s certainly felt around the world.) Where is the best place in the world to go?

The Great Lakes are the largest depository of fresh water in the world. Today, we’re filming a scene of immigrants flooding the American borders. The Canadian/American border would be one of the most desirable spots in the world. But if there was a flood of people into North America…would we let them in?

America exports much of the grain it produces now — wheat, oats, barley — how soon before those exports would stop? How quickly would America — would any country in the world — stop exporting completely?

Overall one of the tough questions we have to ask on this series is — how realistic should we be?

If the population of the world really doubled over night, there would be chaos. Law and order would break down completely. To focus exclusively on that though takes us away from the central purpose of the show — to force people to ask questions about the world we live in now, but removing one of the fundamental structures of modern life. If all we did was say “life would be awful and lawless” we’re not doing our job.

But if we can explain how fragile all of our systems our. Our power supply. Our water supply. Our food supply. Then we’ve done something interesting.

Tonight we’ve created a dramatic scene at a border crossing. We’re trying to answer the question at the top of this entry — where would people go? Where the infrastructure was strongest. Where the water was most plentiful.

But America couldn’t handle twice as many Americans…let alone the influx of immigrants from all over the world. Where would you go with twice as many people in the world? Wherever it was,  things would quickly go from bad to worse.

Re-Shoot Day One
Friday October 30 — Nowhere to Go

Well, a lot has happened since June when we were first shooting this episode of Aftermath.

While it was the second one that we started shooting, Population was the first episode that we started to edit.

And like all shows, it took a while to find our feet.

These new episodes of Aftermath are extremely different from the first show. In that one, we wanted to discover what would happen if people suddenly disappeared from the planet.

To tell that story, we tried to break it up — especially initially — into bite sized pieces. What would happen one minute after we disappeared. Two minutes. Thirty minutes.

We tried to take that same approach — breaking it into small piece — with the Population Overload episode too.

The difficulty is that if there were NO people on the planet, things happen in a relatively order pace. But with people — and with twice as many people — there are many more complicated decisions we have to make.

What would governments do? How quickly? What would people do? How would they react? How quickly?

What’s become clear is that these four episodes of Aftermath aren’t a series, more like four independent one-hour documentaries, all asking extremely difficult questions.

All of that to say — by focusing on the small in the Population story, we lost sight of the big picture. We didn’t get all the scenes we need to in the summer, so we’re back shooting in the fall.

One of things we need to do a better job of is to give the show a sense of claustrophobia. A sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and the sheer size of the problem.

So we’ve built a tent city in a park near Hamilton. If — overnight — the population doubled, the first obvious crisis would be: “where would everyone stay?” We’re used to seeing refugee camps overseas. In famine ravaged Africa, or Kosovo. But what would those look like in North America? And where would they be?

We’re imaging a huge tent city descending on Central Park in Manhattan. And another one on the Mall in Washington.

Shooting some of the footage on smaller digital cameras is also allowing us to get inside the scenes. Make it feel more immediate. Grittier. I think these two days of reshooting will allow us to get the tight living shots that we need to bring this episode home.

Video Preview: “Forced Migration”
— As the population increases dramatically, shanty towns form along the few fresh water sources that remain.

Re-Shoot Day Two
Saturday October 31 — Trick or Treat

Los Angeles is a city that has no business being there.

Certainly no business being surrounded by farmer’s fields and fruit orchards.

The only way it survives is bringing in massive amounts of water from elsewhere [as a sidebar. One of my favorite movies of all time is Chinatown. As a fictional depiction of the city, its dependence on water,  and the choices people will make to keep it coming, it’s second to none.)

Today — the last day of drama shooting for Aftermath — is the day the dream runs dry. Our Los Angeles landscaper decides to leave. It’s time for him — like millions of other people — to head north. To dependable supplies of clean water.

One of the sobering truths about the issues of this episode is that a lot of them are already happening. Aquifers that supply farms in the mid-west are getting smaller as irrigation grows. Fertilizers and pesticides are running into rivers and streams. Water is a desperate need for millions around the world already.

How many people can the Earth support?

To have everyone living as we do in the West — spending the money we do, eating the food we do, enjoying the lifestyle we do — would take three planets. Three Earths.

The best estimates of where the population is going doesn’t have it doubling again. Nine billion is about as high as anyone is prepared to go.

But even that will require further intensification in cities. Enormous urban centres of 30 million. Imagine living in a city like that?

But who’s willing to make the choices needed to slow us down? It’s a global problem that requires a global solution. The undercurrent of this episode is clearly — we only have one world. When we use up the water, burn the fuel, ruin the fields through over-framing, that’s it. There’s not another planet waiting on the other side of the sun.

If people come away from this episode looking at the world around them and at least asking — how much further can we go? How much further should we go, then I think we’ve done our job.

Don’t miss Aftermath Population Overload premiering September 16th at 10P et/pt.


  1. VidyaShivkumar
    September 22, 2010, 1:44 am