60% of the Planet’s Wildlife Has Died Off Since 1970
Every two years, the World Wildlife Fund, the world’s largest wildlife research and advocacy organization, releases a report called the Living Planet Report to document major issues facing conservation and wildlife around the globe. The 2018 report was just released, and it is bleak: the planet’s wildlife population has declined by 60% since 1970.
The Director’s cover letter calls the wildlife decline “a grim reminder and perhaps the ultimate indicator of the pressure we exert on the planet.” Overall, the report is a reminder of just how interconnected our ecosystems are; we are dependent on our natural resources to sustain human life, and our current patterns of consumption and waste are destroying the very systems we need to survive.
First, the human demand for resources — land, water, and energy — without an eye towards sustainability or renewable options, is putting an enormous drain on the remaining resources we have left. The report estimates that only 25% of the world’s land remains untouched by human consumption in some way. This degradation of natural habitats has far-reaching consequences that might have been unpredictable decades ago; for example, increases in agricultural farm land have displaced bee populations, which is having a dramatic impact on the pollination vital to sustaining food production.
Second, the pollution and waste we create is having a potentially irreversible impact on the planet and on wildlife populations. For example, plastic can now be found in every major water body on the planet, from surface level to as far down as the Mariana Trench at the bottom of the ocean. This is important not only because of the immediate impact on marine life, but also because humans depend on marine life as a food source; contaminated oceans mean contaminated food.
What is particularly important to note about the report is its emphasis on the interconnectedness of human life and the health of the planet. Wildlife conservation, and preservation of natural resources, are not simply “nice-to-haves,” as the report points out — they are absolutely crucial to sustaining human life. Everything we have and need, from medicines to food to materials for shelter, are crucially dependent on a healthy, functioning ecosystem. The report stresses that without a “dramatic move” to address these problems, human life as we know it will be in danger.
The report perhaps puts it best: “We are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and our impact on it. We may be the last that can take action to reverse this trend. From now until 2020 will be a decisive moment in history.”