Rapid Unprecedented Ecological Decline
What exactly is the situation ?
You may not see it while looking out your window, and it may not have shown up in your daily life yet, but all forms of life in all locations on Earth are dying, fast.
Exactly how fast? According to the World Wildlife Fund's 'Living Planet Report':
"The 2020 global Living Planet Index shows an average 68% fall in populations of wild mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016".
Graphically, that looks like this:
WWF Living Planet Report 2020, Chapter 1 'AN SOS FOR NATURE' pg 16
Look closely and think hard about what this means: 68% is just over two-thirds, it indicates how much has been lost, and this total is for all wild vertebrates world wide. Another way to count this is to say there is only 32% as much vertebrate life on earth as there was in 1970. Two thirds of it has perished in only 46 years.
If we continue this trend, there will be 0 vertebrate life on earth in 17 years (2038).
Sound horrifying? I agree.
Sound impossible? It's not.
Check out pages 18/19 of the report to see what's happened in South America and page 20-22 to see why
As a comparison, let's take a look at the long term global human population :
Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2013) - "World Population Growth". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: 'https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth' [Online Resource]
Once again, look closely at the change in population since 1900. If we count just the last hundred years that is +5.7 Billion people; a nearly 5-fold increase in 1 life-span.
If we consider the period of 1970 - 2016 from the WWF report above, the population precisely doubles from 3.7 billion to 7.4 billion.
+3,700,000,000 humans in 45 years
What's the connection between these population changes ?
Here's the correlation:
Humans consume natural resources; not only to survive but also for business, travel, recreation, entertainment, and comfort. We consume plants and animals directly to use as food and materials, but we also kill them indirectly by destroying their habitat, polluting, changing their climate, and spreading invasive species.
Now it needs to be clear that consumption itself is not a problem; in fact it is an integral and necessary part of the ecosystem and how it works. The real problem is:
We are consuming far, far more resources than we need to, and far faster than the planetary Eco-system can keep up with at our current population.
Our population is exploding to numbers that the planetary ecosystem will simply not be able to support, even if we bring our collective consumption down to the minimum necessary for survival.
To round out these simplified statements, lets take a look at a graphic from the World Wildlife Fund that shows an estimate of just how badly we're over-consuming today:
WWF Living Planet Report 2020, Chapter 2 'Our World in 2020' pg 57
That's roughly 1.75x more consumption than the earth can support, and climbing.
Let's also look at a pair of graphs from Encyclopedia Britannica that show how a population curve changes when any organism reaches the limit of its environment:
Thompson, John N. Post, Eric Encyclopedia Britannica
Look Familiar? Our human population is no exception and will follow the same path. If we don't choose to moderate our consumption and our growth immediately, our devastation of planetary resources will do so for us. And it will not go well.
The human population is exploding and our activities have driven the rest of life on this planet to the brink of extinction on a global scale in just a coulpe of generations. We need to scale back our personal consumption habits immediately, and redesign our entire society, economic systems, and values as soon as we possibly can.
This represents the most basic, simplified version of our current situation as possible. The number and types of specific problems that we've created is considerable and their scope and consequences are all equally as severe.
If I could offer 1 piece of advice, it would be to read the 2020 WWF Living Planet Report and the key messages of the IPBES Global Assessment Report to learn more about the hard, scientific evidence that backs these claims. They do an excellent job of covering the range of major problems, their role in the rapidly unfolding crisis, and how the things that you do at home and at the store are driving them.
But if you prefer a shorter read, or the 1SustainableJoe version, you can read more about each problem by following the links to each below, which are based almost entirely on the two reports listed above. New topics will be added progressively.
If you're still not sure about why you should care about any of this, take a look at the WHY IT MATTERS section to get a better idea.
Or if you're already pretty disturbed by what you've learned, jump to the WHAT WE CAN DO section to find out how to slow this all down as quickly as possible.
We cannot afford not to.