A new report from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) adds to the deluge of recent horrifying environmental news about the increasing pressure of climate change and extinctions that are happening at such a pace that nature cannot keep up. According to the WWF’s Living Planet Report, in just the last 40 years, humans are responsible for wiping out 60 percent of the Earth’s wildlife. The staggering loss is reflected in the organization’s Living Planet Index, which tracks global biodiversity by measuring the abundance of mammals, reptiles, birds, and other species.
The report comes 20 years after the WWF’s first study of global biodiversity in 1998. Since then, WWF has called upon experts from around the globe, summoning Google Earth programmers, organizations such as Global Fishing Watch, and academics to contribute to the study.
While climate change isn’t helping, the WWF indicates that human activity is more responsible for Earth’s shrinking biodiversity than anything else. The consequences have taken a toll across broad swaths of the planet:
Indeed, a recent assessment found that only a quarter of land on Earth is substantively free of the impacts of human activities. This is projected to decline to just one tenth by 2050. Land degradation includes forest loss; while globally this loss has slowed due to reforestation and plantations it has accelerated in tropical forests that contain some of the highest levels of biodiversity on Earth.
The oceans are in just as much trouble. In total, nearly six billion tons of fish and invertebrates have vanished from the Earth’s seas since 1950.
The report states:
Plastic pollution has been detected in all major marine environments worldwide, from shorelines and surface waters down to the deepest parts of the ocean…Freshwater habitats, such as lakes, rivers and wetlands, are the source of life for all humans yet they are also the most threatened, strongly affected by a range of factors including habitat modification, fragmentation and destruction; invasive species; overfishing; pollution; disease; and climate change.
There are a few reassuring passages in the report, but not many. Researchers from the Global Footprint Network cite an increased biocapacity—an ecosystem’s ability for self-renewal— of “about 27% in the past 50 years” as one reason not to buy your ticket to Mars today.
As silver linings go, however, that’s a pretty small one. During the last 50 years, humanity’s ecological footprint has skyrocketed 190 percent, thanks to steady growth in fossil fuel production, which accounts for 60 percent of the damage humanity causes to our planet.
Marco Lambertini, the director general of WWF International, sees the situation as an obligation—and a chance to make a difference. “Few people have had the chance to find themselves on the cusp of a truly historic transformation,” he says. “Our planet is at a crossroads, and we have the opportunity to decide the path ahead.”
WWF does offer a framework for Earth to paw its way back, advocating for the “need to radically escalate the political relevance of nature and galvanize a cohesive movement across state and non-state actors to drive change…Business as usual is not an option.”
Source: The Guardian
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics