Overpopulation, climate change, mass migration… our relationship with terra firma has never been more complicated. Could Earth’s land be an overlooked, increasingly precious resource?
From the sky, it looks like an entire city is adrift in the Indian Ocean. A forest of tower-blocks rise above the emerald-coloured water while just a handful of trees poke through the canopy of concrete.
For those living in Malé, the overcrowded capital of the Maldives, there is no choice but to build upwards.
Caged by the sea, they have no more land to spread onto, yet the city’s population has soared by nearly 52% since 2006. The last census in 2014 counted 158,000 people crammed into the city’s 2.2 sq miles (5.7 sq km) of space, and officials say the figure has since grown further.
Although extreme, Malé is an example in miniature of something that is happening on a far larger scale around the world. With 83 million more people appearing on the planet every year, rising populations are placing increasing pressure on the land.
The UN’s latest estimates state that there are 7.6 billion people jostling for space on Earth at present and that number will rise to 9.8 billion by 2050. By the end of the century, their projections say there could be 11.2 billion people on our planet.