By SARAH CHARLES | Published: NOVEMBER 29, 2018
Sixty percent of the world’s species have been lost in less than 50 years, and almost nobody noticed. How could this alarming and cataclysmic destruction of over half of the Earth’s species go almost completely unnoticed?
The current news cycle is exhausting. In November, on the day that the World Wildlife Fund released their bi-annual Living Index report, the news was busy discussing the midterm elections, Trump’s deployment of up to 7,000 US troops to the border of Mexico, the deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence in our nation’s history, and Megyn Kelly’s claims that blackface is no big deal.
The recent report by the United Nations stating that we need to drastically change society and the way it functions by 2040 was able to get some coverage for a day or two, but then the cycle just moved on, but we those that care, shouldn’t move on so quickly.
On the tails of the harrowing report from UN climate scientists comes more shockingly bad news from the World Wildlife Fund. Since 1970, over 60% of species on earth have been lost due to a massive increase in human consumption as countries across the world continue to develop. The report cites massive deforestation due to agriculture and livestock grazing in the world’s most biodiverse areas as one of the biggest problems on land. In our oceans, increasing temperatures and plastic pollution have caused the majority of die-offs.
One of the most alarming statistics to come out of this year’s Living Index report is that freshwater species declined by 83% since 1970. This significant loss is undoubtedly affecting the health of freshwater systems. We rely on freshwater as a drinking water source globally. How will such a massive change to the ecosystem affect our public health?
The biggest losses came in Central and South America, where a loss of 89% of the vertebrate population was observed. Cattle ranching and deforestation in the Amazon and the rainforests of South America has been exploding since the 1990s as global demand for meat continues to grow. Our rainforests are our biggest resource for biodiversity, and they are being burned and destroyed to make room for pastures and factory farms.
The 2018 report explains that while currently 25% of the world’s surface shows no impacts of human activity, by 2050 that number will drop to 10%. Human consumption has now caused a mass extinction of their own, with no signs of slowing down. Tanya Steele, the WWF’s chief executive in Britain, told CNN: “We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.” Current science is overwhelmingly telling us that the very way our society functions needs to make changes now if we want to save our ecosystems and the health of our planet. Those changes start at the individual level. We can all start to consider our impacts, our carbon footprint, and identify waste we produce in our daily lives. Our decisions will make or break the vibrancy, health, and existence of even more of the Earth’s species, including our own.