The writing is on the wall. And it's been on the wall for a long time. David Suzuki writes:
Clean air, water and soil to grow food are necessities of life. So are diverse plant and animal populations. But as the human population continues to increase, animal numbers are falling. There's a strong correlation. A comprehensive report from the World Wildlife Federation and the Zoological Society of London found that wild animal populations dropped by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, and will likely reach a 67 per cent drop by 2020 if nothing is done to prevent the decline.
The report points to human activity as the main cause. Habitat degradation and destruction, hunting and overfishing, the illegal wildlife trade, invasive species, disease, pollution and climate change are causing an extinction crisis unlike any since dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. Animals worldwide are affected, from African elephants to European dolphins to Asian vultures to amphibians everywhere.
Humans will feel the impacts, the study notes: "Living systems keep the air breathable and water drinkable, and provide nutritious food. To continue to perform these vital services they need to retain their complexity, diversity and resilience."
We know from the work of Jared Diamond that the collapse of cultures and civilizations is nothing new. And all the signs tell us that we are nearing the point of no return. Nevertheless, Suzuki writes, we still have time to change course:
To address this, we must find ways to live sustainably, especially regarding energy and food. Rapid renewable energy development and shifting from fossil fuels to clean sources are crucial. So are consuming less animal protein -- especially in high-income countries -- and reducing waste along the food chain. "Furthermore, optimizing agricultural productivity within ecosystem boundaries, replacing chemical and fossil inputs by mimicking natural processes, and stimulating beneficial interactions between different agricultural systems, are key to strengthening the resilience of landscapes, natural systems and biodiversity -- and the livelihoods of those who depend on them."
To a large extent, conserving energy and consuming less of everything will determine whether we succeed or not. And while overconsumption, especially among the world's most well-off, is a key factor in the breakdown of natural systems, overpopulation can't be ignored. The best ways to address the population problem are to improve women's rights and provide greater access to birth control and education.
The challenges may be huge, but a better world is possible. The alternative is to watch as animals and plants go extinct, water becomes scarce, weather hits more extremes, conflicts over land and resources increase, and life becomes more difficult for people everywhere. As we've seen numerous times, once we start to tackle the challenges, we'll see many benefits emerge, from greater equity to better health and more balanced ways of living within planetary limits. Then we can all enjoy the many gifts Earth provides.
Something to think about in light of recent events.
Image: Valley Watch