I stumbled across the BBC documentary mini-series Supersized Earth on Netflix and it’s really quite fascinating. Host Dallas Campbell explores how humans have changed the face of the Earth over the past 100 years by visiting some of the largest engineering projects around the world. They are just mind boggling. In Hong Kong, over 3.5 million people live above the fourteenth floor. That’s like lifting the entire city of Chicago into skyrises. Our open face mines dive even deeper into the earth than our cities rise. We have dammed over 1/3 of the world’s river flow capacity. And our cities don’t flood because we can divert rivers through underground caverns with pumps that could drain a swimming pool in a second.
The pace of change is increasing too. In 1936 Hoover Dam was the tallest dam in the world. Today it doesn’t even make it in the top 25. The South To North aquifer under construction in China, designed to relieve water shortages in the north, will be one of the longest rivers in the world–longer the the width of the continental US. China is also leading highway construction. In the last 20 years they’ve built more highways than exist in the US.
Another fascinating feat: a boat designed to transport the untransportable. Campbell visits the Blue Marlin which is preparing to transport an oil rig across the Pacific Ocean. Because the oil rig cannot be lifted, the Blue Marlin must sink 10 meters underwater to scoop it up.
Overall the documentary is very well produced, with slick animations woven with satellite images and some very impressive views. Campbell keeps it interesting too, undertaking some challenges at each stop, like downhill bike racing, cleaning windows on the world’s tallest building, and detonating explosives at a mine. It’s since been removed from Netflix, but you can still see parts of it on Youtube.