Unbridled consumption has decimated global wildlife, triggered a mass extinction and exhausted Earth’s capacity to accommodate humanity’s expanding appetites, conservation group WWF warned on 30 October 2018.
From 1970 to 2014, a total of 60 per cent of all animals with a backbone – fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals – were wiped out by human activity, according to WWF’s Living Planet report, based on an ongoing survey of more than 4,000 species spread over 16,700 populations scattered across the globe.
“The situation is really bad, and it keeps getting worse,” WWF International director-general Marco Lambertini told Agence France-Presse.
“The only good news is that we know exactly what is happening.”
For freshwater fauna, the decline in population over the 44 years monitored was 80 per cent. Regionally, Latin America was hit hardest, seeing a nearly 90 per cent loss of wildlife over the same period.
Another data set confirmed the depth of an unfolding mass extinction event, only the sixth in the last half-billion years.
Depending on which of Earth’s lifeforms are included, the current rate of species loss is 100 to 1,000 times higher than only a few hundred years ago, when people began to alter Earth’s chemistry and crowd other creatures out of existence.
Measured by weight, or biomass, wild animals today account for only 4 per cent of mammals on Earth, with humans (36 per cent) and livestock (60 per cent) making up the rest.
“The statistics are scary,” said researcher Piero Visconti at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, one of 59 co-authors of the report.
“Unlike population declines, extinctions are irreversible.”
For corals, it may be too late.
Back-to-back marine heatwaves have already wiped out up to half of the globe’s shallow-water reefs, which support a quarter of all marine life.
Even if humanity manages to cap global warming at 1.5 deg C, coral mortality will likely be 70 to 90 per cent. A 2 deg C rise would be a death sentence, a major United Nations report concluded this month.
The onslaught of hunting, shrinking habitat, pollution, illegal trade and climate change has been too much to overcome, Mr Lambertini said.
“It is the exponential growth over the last 50 years in the use of energy, water, timber, fish, food, fertiliser, pesticides, minerals, plastics – everything.”
“We need a new global deal for nature,” he added, noting two key ingredients in the 195-nation Paris climate treaty.
“One was the realisation that climate change was dangerous for the economy and society, not just polar bears,” Mr Lambertini said.
Similarly, he argued, threatened ecosystem services long taken for granted – drinkable water, breathable air, heat-absorbing oceans, forests that soak up carbon dioxide, productive soil – are worth tens of trillions of dollars every year.
“A healthy, sustainable future for all is only possible on a planet where nature thrives and forests, oceans and rivers are teeming with biodiversity and life,” he said. (The Straits Times)