When the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released its Living Planet Report 2014 on September 30, it wasn’t the usual doom-and-gloom environmental news story that is forgotten the next day. The report—the result of a science-based study using 10,380 populations from 3,038 species of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles from around the globe—is garnering worldwide attention for its sit-up-and-take-notice findings: between 1970 and 2010, the planet has lost 52 percent of its biodiversity.
In the same 40-year period, the human population has nearly doubled.
Those figures take a while to sink in, especially since the previous WWF report that analyzed animal populations, published in 2012, showed a decline of only 28 percent over a similar time frame.
Using up an Earth-and-a-half every year
Specifically, the WWF biennial report found that we have lost 76 percent of freshwater wildlife, 39 percent of terrestrial wildlife and 39 percent of marine wildlife since 1970. While some animal species numbers are increasing and some are stable, the declining populations are decreasing so rapidly that the overall trend is down. Latin American biodiversity took the biggest plunge, diminishing by 83 percent.
Elsewhere in the tropics, populations are down 56 percent. Temperate zones fared better, with a loss of 36 percent; while terrestrial animal populations in parks and wildlife refuges are down 18 percent, indicating that protected areas can limit losses. Low-income countries are suffering a disproportionately greater loss of biodiversity: a 58 percent decline. While high-income countries actually showed a 10 percent increase in biodiversity, a loss of 18 percent in middle-income countries and the astounding figure for low-income countries cancelled those gains out.
Despite the fact that low-income countries are suffering the greatest ecosystem losses, high-income countries are using five times the ecological resources that they do. Those living in high-income countries are consuming more resources per person than nature can replenish, which means that per capita ecological footprints in high-income countries are greater than the amount of biocapacity (the ability of an ecosystem to produce useful biological materials for food, fuel, building and other needs and to absorb carbon dioxide emissions) available per person. People residing in middle- and low-income countries have had little increase in their per capita footprints over the same time period.
Those statistics boil down to the fact that every year, we use 1.5 planet’s worth of natural resources. If we all lived the lifestyle of a typical United States resident, we would need 3.9 planets per year. If we all had the footprint of the average citizen of Qatar, we would need 4.8 planets. The term “overshoot day” is defined as the date when we have used up our annual supply of renewable resources and start spending down the Earth’s natural capital. In 2014, that day was August 20.
Climate change contributes to the loss
The cause for this staggering demise in biodiversity is human activities. We have degraded natural habitats by clearing forests, plowing grasslands and polluting waters; and have overhunted the land and overfished the oceans. A single culprit, climate change, is now responsible for 7.1 percent of the current declines in animal populations, but its toll is on the rise.
The amount of carbon in our atmosphere has risen to levels not seen in more than a million years, triggering a warmer worldwide climate and wildlife crises. Just a few days ago, on October 1, 2014, ClimateProgress reported that an estimated 35,000 walruses came ashore in record numbers on a beach in northwest Alaska. Summer sea ice in the Arctic is disappearing, keeping these walruses from their preferred sea ice outposts. NASA reported that 2014 had the sixth-lowest amount of sea ice recorded since 1978.
Smaller footprints will add to the gains
While the WWF Living Planet Report 2014 is distressing, it notes some conservation success stories. Mountain gorillas in Africa are rebounding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda due, in part, to ecotourism. And after the Nepalese government cracked down on poaching in five protected areas, the nation’s tiger population started to increase.
The declining trend in worldwide biodiversity can be mitigated and reversed. To achieve sustainability again, each country’s per capita ecological footprint must be less than the per capita biocapacity available, while still maintaining a decent standard of living for its people. WWF suggests we can do that by shifting to smarter food and energy production; consuming responsibly at corporate, government and personal levels; and putting a high value on natural capital when making policy and development decisions. Just two countries account for a third of the world’s total ecological footprint: China, at 19 percent, and the United States, with nearly 14 percent.
Perhaps those who take the most from the world should be the ones working the hardest to replenish it.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,
I agree with Saul. Scary numbers and strength in numbers an as an industry is required to address it. But so is consumer demand. The problem comes in numbers like these don’t translate to the average Joe Bloggs on the street, it’s too macro and means nothing. As industry professionals, we ‘get’ it (although many don’t) and how it all inter-relates in our ecosystem that we are but a small part of, that what we do affects the rest, and in turn returns consequences to us. Physical karma.
Each consumer may be thought as “tinkering at the edges” but added together they are the trojan horse. We need to translate figures as these to daily impacts on the average consumer, educate on those, and provide actionable insights on how they can improve. It’s not easy – even providing people recycling facilities takes a huge effort to get take up, and in much of the world that’s just not possible. We have to provide something for the “what’s in it for me” consumer who can’t relate to the macro environment issues.
Project Assistant (Education Programme) at Coastal Oceans Research and Development Indian Ocean (CORDIO East Africa)
This report highlights the immense outlook on human action on global resources. the civil society and other organizations are making strides at trying to control the situation. Quite sad what has happened to planet earth. I note that we have to act now more than ever to try and control issues on the planet and human consumption behaviors.
“We can if we want, we can’t because we want”
We must act now.
It is not a question of the reality taking a while to sink in, it is already there for all to see. The world may be making fast and highly valuable strives in technology, but for most its occupants, the intensive reliantce on its biodiversity still huge. Unless the world makes some real effort in reducing poverty, the poor will continue to use biodiversity unsustainably and herein lies the problem.
At least there is a tiny bit of good news with it, thankfully. Encouraging to see that if we make changes it really can make a difference.
This is alarming to say the least. We obviously need more protection and less access to what’s left of our wilderness areas.
These are scary numbers! But I am worried that even this will not kick the world into taking it seriously. Governments are too fixated on then economy and it will be a while before this topic beats the economic agenda, and by that time it will be too late.
I totally agree with your point ‘Perhaps those who take the most from the world should be the ones working the hardest to replenish it’. People spend far to long criticizing least developed country’s for deforestation or hunting without really considering that when it boils down it, it is all to feed their capitalist hunger.
I woke up this morning & there were no birds singing. I went for a drive to a game reserve & there were no wild animals roaming the plains. I then decided to go a nature reserve to see natures beautiful tree & plant life but could not find any. I looked around & saw it was all gone. Thank you Humankind! Let’s give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well-done. In our lust & greed for possessions, power & control we have achieved nothing but the destruction & decimation of our planet. Have we no shame?
This is exactly why those who love the earth must speak up and fight back. Sign petitions, go on marches, do your bit. We can fight back and we must.
Thanks for sharing this. Sober reading.
I think studies have shown that plants (trees included) react to threats, disease and damage by giving off chemicals. Just because it isn’t adrenaline as we would know it, doesn’t mean they are not experiencing stress. Let’s be thankful they probably don’t experience actual pain, at least not the type animals feel.
The WWF report is horrifying but was not a surprise, which is an indication of how bad things are for the world outside the built artificiality of human civilization. The only long term solution to preserve some of the natural world that remains, involves human population control (voluntary or involuntary through nature, if we don’t act on our own) and a change in our way of life as a society built on consumption and acquisition. A tall order, and much more damage will come first
But there are local efforts in so many places and more voices are joining daily. Let’s keep up the noise and the fight so more will hear and begin to see the planetary emergency that is in front of our noses if we want to look. Then maybe we will have a chance to salvage some remnants of this glorious oasis of life that we foolishly take so much for granted.
This article was very informative & should be noted by all who love our earth & natural resources.
If we were to continue thinking that individual species have no interconnection with other species and the whole complexity of what biodiversity is then we may be committing the mistake of not thinking about the whole system. We need to remember that each and every species is part of the whole system that constitutes our natural environmental system, our life supporting system.
The Sci-Fi movies which we have seen on TV’s will surely become true one day when we have to search another planet to live. I am optimistic in the sense that we can save our planet if we stop encroaching the forests now and remove the mask of so called sustainable development and growth.
It is all crap
Many countries have resorted to preserve natural growing forest stock. you may approach your authority with the proposal to preserve your age old trees.
Judicious use of scarce resources to meet the needs and not the greed of human beings is the only way to preserve our biodiversity. We have to know the value of these resources and spread the message across the globe regarding the importance of conserving the biodiversity.It requires concerted effort from all concerned.
Yes Candice, this could be true indeed. Here in Papua New Guinea, we are loosing many species every day as the foreign logging industries are so rampant that the widespread destruction is incontrollable as most of our ancient trees of over 100 years old with nests and had became habitats for many aboreal species; are brutallly and painfully choppped down at the ruthless teeth of the chain saws of the loggers under the pretext of “forests development” seven days a week.
If these ancient trees only have mouths so that they can scream in pain and call for help before perishing, surely, the perpetrators would have second thoughts in their cruelty against other living things who also having feelings and emotions like we humans.
Absolutely right, WWF’s has the statistics but the loss of biodiversity continues each day without out control. What we need is support from you as our friends across the globe with financial resources to aggressively advocate and promote our “Conservation Programmes” here in the Third World nations. WWF which has the finance to spread itself into other nations, it can not win the battle alone because we all can stand together to help in every attempt to save the biodiversity upon this planet, so we all need an integrated approach.
In our consultancy services, we are conducting our campaigns amongst our people but this is only on a local scale at the national level. What about our region and all over the world?
We need your support and helping hands.
The non-environmentally friendly leaderships will probably try to make it look like loss of biodiversity is due to population growth even though if every person planted three trees a year, and helped some wildlife along, and we had better more environmentally-friendly infrastructure and less pollutants–that may help stop and even increase biodiversity. Of course, that would mean more advanced societies than so far our leaderships are willing or capable of creating.
Thanks for keeping our attention focused.