When the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released its Living Planet Report 2014
on September 30, it wasn’t the usual doom-and-gloom environmental news story that is forgotten the next day.
The report — the result of a science-based study using 10,380 populations from 3,038 species of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles from around the globe — is garnering worldwide attention for its sit-up-and-take-notice findings: between 1970 and 2010, the planet has lost 52 percent of its biodiversity. In the same forty-year period, the human population has nearly doubled. Those figures take a while to sink in, especially since the previous WWF report that analyzed animal populations, published in 2012, showed a decline of only 28 percent over a similar time frame.
Specifically, the WWF biennial report found that we have lost 76 percent of freshwater wildlife, 39 percent of terrestrial wildlife, and 39 percent of marine wildlife since 1970. While some animal species numbers are increasing and some are stable, the declining populations are decreasing sorapidly that the overall trend is down. Latin American biodiversity took the biggest plunge, diminishing by 83 percent. Statistics boil down to the fact that every year, we use 1.5 planet’s worth of natural resources. If we all lived the lifestyle of a typical United States resident, we would need 3.9 planets per year. If we all had the footprint of the average citizen of Qatar, we would need 4.8 planets. The term "overshoot day" is defined as the date when we have used up our annual supply of renewable resources and start spending down the Earth’s natural capital. In 2014, that day was August 20.
The cause for this staggering demise in biodiversity is human activities. We have degraded natural habitats by clearing forests, plowing grasslands, and polluting waters; and have overhunted the land and overfished the oceans. A single culprit, climate change, is now responsible for 7.1 percent of the current declines in animal populations, but its toll is on the rise.
While the WWF Living Planet Report 2014 is distressing, it notes some conservation success stories.Mountain gorillas in Africa are rebounding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda due, in part, to ecotourism. And after the Nepalese government cracked down on poaching in five protected areas, the nation’s tiger population started to increase. The declining trend in worldwide biodiversity can be mitigated and reversed. To achieve sustainability again, each country’s per capita ecological footprint must be less than the per capita biocapacity available, while still maintaining a decent standard of living for its people.