Human-driven mass extinction is imminent

From BirdGuides and WWF

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s latest Living Planet Report finds that humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970. Policy makers are urged to set revised targets for sustainable development in the report, which documents a mass loss of wildlife and pending ecological meltdown, explaining that the Earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions.

Fifty nine scientists from across the globe were involved with the compilation of the report, which finds that the huge and constantly growing consumption of food and resources by humans is the lead threat to the web of life – billions of years in the making – on which the global population depends for clean water and air.

High Plateau, Madagascar 2004. Where have all the trees gone? Photo by Glyn Young

Mike Barrett, Executive Director of Science and Conservation at WWF, commented: “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.”

Only a quarter of the world’s land area is now exempt from the impact of human activity, according to the report (and that’s without global climate change), and this is forecast to fall to just a tenth by 2050. Ever-rising food production and an increased demand for energy, land and water are the main drivers behind this obliteration of land and the life it holds. Many scientists believe a sixth mass extinction has begun on Earth, and is the first to be caused be a single species.

The report uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife. It found that South and Central America suffered the most dramatic decline in vertebrate populations – an 89% loss in populations compared with 1970. Marine freshwater species are particularly at risk, and plastic pollution has been detected in the deepest parts of the world’s oceans, including the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific.

Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, called for immediate change, saying: “We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles”, with Barrett adding: “We need a new global deal for nature and people and we have this narrow window of less than two years to get it. This really is the last chance. We have to get it right this time.”

The Living Planet Report documents the state of the planet—including biodiversity, ecosystems, and demand on natural resources—and what it means for humans and wildlife. Published by WWF every two years, the report brings together a variety of research to provide a comprehensive view of the health of the Earth. Download the latest report here

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