The latest environmental wake up call has made headlines around the world after a report from World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) revealed the catastrophic impact humans have had on animal populations in just the last 44 years.
The Living Planet Index, which is the study WWF carried out with the Zoological Society of London and 59 scientists across the globe, look at data from 16,704 populations of animals from 1970 to 2014 (the latest data set available) and found the numbers of animals in these groups fell on average by 60%. The animal populations included everything from mammals and birds, to scalier friends like fish, reptiles and even amphibians, which shows that our whole precious ecosystem can be affected by just one change.
What’s led to this massive wiping out of animals though? Us.
Yep, unsurprisingly, humans did it. The experts say the problems started a long time ago, but spiked massively as consumerism did. Since the dawn of civilisation it’s estimated that humans have killed off 83% of all mammals and 50% of all plant life. However in just four years (from 2010-2014), the studies show a jump from 52% to 60% of decline in populations.
The biggest cause of wildlife decline has come from destruction of natural habitats that are destroyed to make way for farmland. It’s estimated that only one quarter of all land on Earth isn’t affected by human activities. The second biggest cause is killing for food. 300 mammal species have been eaten to extinction and more than half of the ocean is being industrially fished. The third biggest cause is chemical pollution from plastics and chemical run off from industries like farming and manufacturing. The chemicals enter and contaminate the waterways and oceans, and marine life is poisoned.
If you think this problem is just sad for animals, think again, because it affects humans just as much. Executive director of science and conservation at WWF, Mike Barrett, says: “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff. If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”
“This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is. This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.” – Mike Barrett
Natural ecosystems are essential to human life. Look at how the bee population directly effects the environment. Bees are essential to cross-pollination and without them plants stop growing – and humans starve. That’s not even taking into account the fact that all these chemicals that are hurting marine life are also likely in our drinking water. Environmental scientist, Professor Bob Watson, says destroying nature is just as dangerous as climate change (let’s not even get started how bad that is for animals AND humans!). “Nature contributes to human wellbeing culturally and spiritually, as well as through the critical production of food, clean water, and energy, and through regulating the Earth’s climate, pollution, pollination and floods,” Professor Watson says, “The Living Planet report clearly demonstrates that human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate, threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations.”
If you’ve made it this far you’re probably quietly horrified about the way this planet is heading and while it can’t be stressed enough how much a BIG worldwide change is needed, you’re not powerless to help. A couple things you can do right now to make a change are eating less meat (or going vegetarian), campaign and vote for governments who are committed to stopping the use of fossil fuels (like coal) and find eco-friendly solutions (like solar, wind and hydro), say no to plastic and protect nature by planting a tree, starting a home garden or donating to organisations that protect animals. It sounds trite, but together we can make a difference and make sure this planet and its wonderful creatures are here for our grandchildren to discover in the future.
“We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.” - Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF