I am going to say something three times:
We are going to lose 67% of the world’s wildlife.
By 2020 we will have lost 67% of the world’s living creatures.
Between 1970 and 2020 – 50 short years – over two thirds of the world’s wildlife will be gone.
So says the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in their report published two weeks ago.
Not extinctions, we’re talking about population decrease here. The glossy pages of this Living Planet Report hardly do justice to the gut-wrenching horror of this statistic.
Welcome to the Anthropocene
It’s here, ladies and gentlemen, denounced like a bashful monk with his finger in the abbot’s pie. The Anthropocene. The Holocene’s bastard child.
The opening of the Living Planet report proclaims it. As its preface states: ‘Fifty years of exponential growth has accumulated to such an extent that we have reached Planetary Boundaries – and crashed through them.’
For a quick geography revision class, let’s define it one more time. The Anthropocene is the geological age in which humans are the dominant force on the atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth systems. This is a shift of seismic proportions.
If you were so hungry that you finished all the apples on your tree too quickly and started to get hungry so turned to the leaves, to the bark, to the trunk, and to the roots, until the tree could no longer grow any more fruit, not this year, not next year, nor the year after, then people would probably say you’ve gone mad.
If your chicken laid one egg a day, but on Wednesday you fancied two eggs so you roasted that chicken to fill yourself up, you’re probably going to regret it Thursday. And definitely on Friday.
The Living Planet report is a terrifying look at our future. The WWF have become the next global institution to declare scientific backing to the Anthropocene. But still no one seems to care.
It evidences an 81% decrease in population abundance for freshwater animals.
It estimates our cost per annum to remedy the 30% of global land currently being degraded at $300 billion.
Sorry to Bang On
The report draws on soy production as a case study. What it suggests is damning for meat-heavy diets. Monopolisation of land space in areas of South America increase yield-risk, degrade soil quality, necessitate huge land clearance, and harm local populations. From 1990 to 2010, land used for soy production in South America grew from 17 million hectares to 46 million hectares, an area twice the size of the United Kingdom.
93% of soy imported from South America is used – not for soya butter or soya burgers – but for animal feed. 93%
If you’re serious about the environment and still eat meat, how about this for a damning indication of the meat industries effects:
80% of total agricultural land is directly or indirectly allocated to livestock for the production of meat, dairy and other animal proteins.
And to clinch it:
All this food accounts for just 17% of our calorie intake. Seem wasteful?
What not to Do
Panic, apparently. The writers of the report are optimistic.
One thing to consider not doing is carbon offsetting. Or, if you choose to, understand its limitations.
When you book a flight, be it to Nice or New Zealand, and decide to ‘carbon offset’ your trip (perhaps some company will plant some trees for you), you’re not necessarily helping.
Firstly, as the report points out, ‘although planted forests are important for the provision of timber… natural forests are often a more valuable source of ecosystem services overall and their loss should not be understated.‘ Planting another tree doesn’t bring back to life that fragile, unique eco-system. Nor does it put those fossil fuels back in the ground they came from.
Looking to the Future
From ‘The Great Acceleration’ of the past 60 years, we come now to ‘The Great Transition’. This is a period of ‘greening’, of ‘rewilding’, of achieving the 2030 Sustainability Goals set out by the United Nations. In brief, of coming to terms with our responsibility over a planet grown all too small for us.
And one of the most important changes (which the Sustainability Goals doesn’t suggest, of course) is a economic paradigm shift away from our prevailing one of infinite growth. How is infinite GDP growth – the most common indicator of the successful nation state – possible on a finite planet? When the quarterly reports of Tesco or Amazon are reported on the Today Programme like Baseball scores, should we be cheering or mourning?
The Living Planet report is a startling statistical document that has received far too little media attention.
It ought to be a call to arms.