…is the main finding from a major new climate report released by the United Nations in 2019. Their work has shown that natural life support systems that create the conditions for life, for all species including humans, are now deteriorating faster at a rate of destruction that is hundreds of times faster than anything the Earth has experience over the last 10 million years.
In all environments including coral reefs in the sea, forests on the land and air quality in the sky the biodiversity of the natural world is being destroyed.
This 3 year study, conducted by over 450 scientists has concluded that over one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction.
Nature all around the planet is dying and its human need for food, energy and resources exploitation and industrial development that are the drivers.
Only “transformative change” across all levels of society and huge investment in changing the way we view, respect and manage the natural world will change our destruction of it. Without changing course humanity is set to destroy the very systems that is depends on.
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Does The Report Tell Us Earth Is Dying?
Well, it makes for grim reading; a wake up call to the modern world: act now or face the consequences. And those consequences are already hitting home. Insects that pollinate the crops we need to survive; woodland that literally holds the Earth together, retaining water that will otherwise lead to massive floods – these natural life support systems are all being destroyed leading inevitably the degradation and destruction of planet Earth; the only home humanity has ever known.
Wild animal biomass has fallen by 82%
Decline of natural ecosystems 47%
Plant and animal species threatened with extinction 25%
The report says the biomass of wild animals has fallen by up to 82%, with two in five amphibian species at risk of extinction and one third of reef forming corals and one third of marine life. And if you wondering about the report’s accuracy, this analysis distills its findings from nearly 15,000 studies and government reports. Consisting of representatives from 132 World Governments it is the first major analysis of the state of the natural world since 2015. Never before in the history of Planet Earth has a natural extinction been so well recorded.
This is the first time in human history when so many world governments have come together to make a clear, unified statement on the state of the world’s nature and how this crisis will impact on human societies for millions of years to come.
The IPBES (intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), for which this report has been compiled, projects that major biodiversity losses will continue to 2050 and beyond.
“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” says IPBES chair Robert Watson, an atmospheric chemist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.
Re-sculpting the Face of Planet Earth
We have taken the proverbial surgeon’s knife to the face of Planet Earth. A major new BBC documentary, Earth from Space, depicts this in exquisite detail where cameras in space tell stories of life on our planet from a brand new perspective, revealing new discoveries, incredible colours and patterns, and just how fast it is changing.
But the beauty in our geometric patterns and industrial development of the planet belies some dangerous truths. 75% of the land and 66% of the oceans have been drastically changed by humanity as communities and the sum total of many millions and billions of people search for food and profit amongst the natural resources and landscapes of planet Earth.
And with the 33% of the land’s surface and 75% of its freshwater being harnessed for agricultural needs, as a species, we have taken control of the planet to serve our own needs at the expense of all life, including us. The report highlights other threats to nature, inextricably linked to climate change, including harvesting, logging, hunting, fishing, pollution and the spread of invasive species.
Other key findings show:
- A doubling of the world’s population since 1970, leading four-fold increase in the economy and a 10 times increase in international trade
- The loss of 100 million hectares of forests between 1980 and 2000, mainly due to the massive increase in palm oil plantations in South East Asia and deforestation in South America
- Less than 13% of wetlands remaining since 1700s
- A doubling of urban areas since 1990
- Plastic pollution increase by ten-fold since 1980
One of the lead authors of the report, Kate Brauman, from the University of Minnesota stated:
“We have documented a really unprecedented decline in biodiversity and nature, this is completely different than anything we’ve seen in human history in terms of the rate of decline and the scale of the threat,”
“When we laid it all out together I was just shocked to see how extreme the declines are in terms of species and in terms of the contributions that nature is providing to people.”
What are the key drivers?
The report is explicit in describing farming, industrialisation and urbanisation as the key drivers that cause the loss of natural habitats and the destruction of ecosystems. The clearing and destruction of forests directly removes trees and plant-life that absorb carbon dioxide that helps to regulate the planets life support systems.
Whilst the world’s oceans continue to be exploited, with demands from an ever growing and ever richer human population that demands a lifestyle and diet inclusive of meat and fish.
The direct hunting of wildlife and the direct exploitation of undeveloped natural environments coalesce around all of the other industrial pressures to create a destructive force that is almost out of control.
Almost? Can Anything Be Done?
There is always something that can be done but the impact entirely depends upon the actions we decide to take.
Whilst this report has mostly focussed on the scenarios of a warmer world and the consequences for all natural life including ourselves, it is not in itself an action plan, but rather a call to action – the canary in the coalmine – and a plea for societies and governments around the world to take action.
What could that action look like? Well the study describes the need for “transformative change”. And this is probably where we begin to see the scale of the challenges that lie ahead. Because transformative change means changing everything about human society, our ideologies and the way we live.
Business as usual means a dead planet.
The report suggests that the “paradigm of economic growth” needs to be revised. Moving away from our obsession with economic growth would reduce the pressure on the natural world enabling us to recognise and appreciate the value that a more holistic, whole centred approach to the experience of life.
But this means ending capitalism; the most successful ideology in the history of humanity. It means ending consumption and the pursuit of profits and the industrial development that is created as a result of that.
It means changing everything we know about Sustainable Development and understanding why this in itself is a paradox.
On above a complete rethink of the systems that have governed humanity for millenia we must proactively re-wild the planet, reintroducing lost habitats and re-wilding massive parts of the planet to provide a place for nature and reintroduce the life support that provide a future for ourselves.
“We need to secure half of the planet by 2050 with an interim target of 30% by 2030, Then we must restore nature and drive innovation. Only then will we leave future generations a healthy and sustainable planet” said Jonathan Baillie, from the National Geographic Society.
Individually we can our lifestyles and habits and this undoubtedly has an impact both in supporting the profile of the challenges facing the natural world but also in encouraging others to change their own lifestyles.
But truly; this impact is limited. The convenience of the modern world exerts a hypnotic like power over society, hiding its impact on the natural world, by packaging it up into shiny, well-branded products in shops and supermarkets.
If we’re being completely honest: we all like to consume and we don’t like change. Ironically; it’s the most natural instinct in the world. And 21st Century Capitalism knows what it’s doing: in the pursuit of profit it has been appealing to our natural instincts for several hundred years now.
Individual lifestyle changes are important; but they won’t cause the sea-change that is required. Direct political action is the only way to radically change the systems that we live in to redesign them in a way that limits its impact on nature.
Lobby your Government. Campaign. Fund Eco Organisations. Take part in environmental protests. Vote.