It’s no secret that we have been increasingly overusing the Earth’s natural resources. However, many people are unaware of the scale that our devastating consumption and destruction is affecting the whole of the natural world.
Since 1970, the rate of environmental destruction has been increasing drastically: the number of humans has more than doubled in this time, but the rate at which we are extracting resources has trippled1. WWF and Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have said in their Living Planet Report 2020, that we have reached a point of consumption that exceeds regeneration, with least a 56% excess in the use of natural resources.
In other words, with our current rate of consumption, we are using the equivalent of the natural resources that could only be provided by 1.56 planet Earths. There is no positive way to spin this, we are exceeding all reasonable limits and have pushed nature into a free-fall.
In real world terms, one in three fisheries are overfished to critical levels1 with up to 90% of large fish being lost in many areas2. On land, 80,000 acres of rainforest are lost every day3 and in Latin America and the Caribbean wildlife population have been devastated with the highest extinction rate ever seen1. In summary, wildlife populations have declined across the world by 68% on average.
Dollars vs. Diversity
Statistics are often just meaningless numbers to many of us. Yet, it seems rightfully so in the case of environmental destruction as the multitude and scale of these threats are often too great for our minds to fully understand. However, it is no surprise that the numbers have been crunched where profit is concerned. Global leaders and financial corporations have been funding the industries that are causing the most damage. These are industries that are literally ensuring their own destruction in the long run in the interest of short term financial gain.
Even worse, because an unwillingness to develop new approaches to a green society, failing industries are supported just for the sake of tradition. An estimated $700bn (£537bn) goes into farming subsidies, with a vast majority of farms deliberately carrying out environmental destruction or misuse. Livestock rearing for example is dependent on forest clearance and produces incredibly high emissions of greenhouse gasses as well as pollution of land and rivers from fertiliser overuse4. Despite the political rhetoric, only 1% of these subsidies are used to benefit the environment. Perhaps even worse than the rampant destruction of our environment, is the fact that we have been aware that we are tipping the scales for quite some time.
For every piece of the natural environment that gets destroyed, we further push wildlife towards extinction. For every species lost, from rat to rhino, it creates a domino effect for other species in their ecosystem. To biologists, this is known as a trophic cascade. When sea otters were pushed to the brink of extinction in parts of North America, their favourite prey species, sea urchins, became unregulated and saw a population explosion. In turn, the urchins overgrazed and ultimately wiped out kelp forests, leaving swathes of empty ocean behind, uninhabited by the thousands of species that had previously called the kelp forests their homes.
If the loss of a single species can result in the destruction of an entire ecosystem, then imagine what the loss of thousands of species, all across the planet, would do. This isn’t a case of one or two species threatened with becoming extinct, not even a couple of hundred.
Although some people value nature for their own intrinsic reasons, nature is fundamental to our lives. Linkages between biodiversity, food security and human health have been long documented and even though environmental destruction is often pushed for economic gain, healthy thriving ecosystems can bring greater financial benefits than damaged ones1. It has been calculated that a healthy, wild shark can bring an estimated $1.9m (£1.46m) across its lifetime in tourist revenue. For consumption, it is worth a measly $108, that’s 17,000 times less than if it was alive6.
Wildlife conservation is vital for saving animals from extinction, saving ecosystems from collapsing and ultimately saving human kind from ourselves. Here at WAWA Conservation we recognise the importance of all species, not just ones that exhibit the ‘cute and fluffy’ factor pushed by many leading conservation organisations. We work to support conservationists working with the most amazing and unique species, and you can support our efforts here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a painful realisation of how entwined we are with nature, and how our continued encroachment and pressure on the natural world can create conditions unsuitable for us to even live. Thankfully, the environmental movement has been picking up traction in recent years. Unprecedented support and calls for change, such as the climate strikes of 2019 and Extinction Rebellion, have been generated by the record levels of environmental disasters in recent years.
If we act now, there is hope. Pioneering models from the Living Planet Report 2020 have provided evidence that there is still time to reverse the trend with an immediate and unparalleled focus on transforming our food system and restoring biodiversity. If we don’t, every extinction pushes us further into a downward spiral where our own futures are uncertain. The fundamental life support systems of our planet are showing signs of stress, and this needs to be our final wake-up call.
How you can help turn the tide
Here at WAWA Conservation, we want to support the underdogs, the species that may not be well-known, but are important nonetheless. It’s our aim to support the projects working to study and save them, and we hope you will join us in our mission to protect all things weird and wonderful.
If you want to be part of the solution to this environmental crisis you can help by supporting WAWA Conservation. Make a donation now to secure a better planet and a better future for everyone.
For more information, see the websites for the EDGE list at https://www.edgeofexistence.org/what-is-edge/, and the IUCN Species Survival Commission https://www.iucn.org/commissions/species-survival-commission/about.
1 WWF (2020) Living Planet Report 2020 – Bending the curve of biodiversity loss. Almond, R.E.A,. Grooten M. and Petersen, T. (Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.
2 Valdivia, A., Cox, C. E., Bruno, J. F. (2017). Predatory fish depletion and recovery potential on Caribbean reefs. Science Advances. Vol. 3, no. 3.
3 Mongabay https://rainforests.mongabay.com/08-deforestation.html Accessed 14 October 2020
4 The Global Consultation Report of the Food and Land Use Coalition. September 2019 https://www.foodandlandusecoalition.org/global-report/
5 IUCN Red List https://www.iucnredlist.org/ Accessed 13 October 2020.
6 Mongabay https://news.mongabay.com/2011/05/left-alive-and-wild-a-single-shark-worth-1-9-million/ Accessed 14 October 2020