Species across land, rivers, and seas decimated as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and destroy habitats
- The Guardian, Monday 29 September 2014 18.00 EDT
Creatures across land, rivers, and the seas are being decimated as humans kill them for food in unsustainable numbers, while polluting or destroying their habitats, the research by scientists at World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London found.
“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors.
This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” He said nature, which provides food and clean water and air, was essential for human wellbeing.
“We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now,” said Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF.
He said more of the Earth must be protected from development and deforestation, while food and energy had to be produced sustainably.
The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 40% since 1970.
From forest elephants in central Africa, where poaching rates now exceed birth rates, to the Hoolock gibbon in Bangladesh and European snakes like the meadow and asp vipers, destruction of habitat has seen populations tumble.
Marine animal populations have also fallen by 40% overall, with turtles suffering in particular.
Hunting, the destruction of nesting grounds and getting drowned in fishing nets have seen turtle numbers fall by 80%.
A second index in the new Living Planet report calculates humanity’s “ecological footprint”, ie the scale at which it is using up natural resources.
Currently, the global population is cutting down trees faster than they regrow,
catching fish faster than the oceans can restock,
pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them,
and emitting more climate-warming carbon dioxide than oceans and forests can absorb.
The report concludes that today’s average global rate of consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it.
But four planets would be required to sustain US levels of consumption, or 2.5 Earths to match UK consumption levels.
The fastest decline among the animal populations were found in freshwater ecosystems, where numbers have plummeted by 75% since 1970.
“Rivers are the bottom of the system,” said Dave Tickner, WWF’s chief freshwater adviser. “Whatever happens on the land, it all ends up in the rivers.” For example, he said, tens of billions of tonnes of effluent are dumped in the Ganges in India every year.
As well as pollution, dams and the increasing abstraction of water damage freshwater systems. There are more than 45,000 major dams – 15m or higher – around the world.
“These slice rivers up into a thousand pieces,” Tickner said, preventing the healthy flow of water.
While population has risen fourfold in the last century, water use has gone up sevenfold. “We are living thirstier and thirstier lives,” he said.