Unbridled consumption has decimated global wildlife, triggered a mass extinction and exhausted Earth’s capacity to accommodate humanity’s expanding appetites, the conservation group WWF warned Tuesday.
From 1970 to 2014, 60 percent of all animals with a backbone — fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals — were wiped out by human activity, according to WWF’s Living Planet report, based on an ongoing survey of more than 4,000 species spread over 16,700 populations scattered across the globe.
“The situation is really bad, and it keeps getting worse,” WWF International director general Marco Lambertini said.
“The only good news is that we know exactly what is happening.”
For freshwater fauna, the decline in population over the 44 years monitored was a staggering 80 percent. Regionally, Latin America was hit hardest, seeing a nearly 90 percent loss of wildlife over the same period.
Depending on different Earth’s lifeforms, the current rate of species loss is 100 to 1,000 times higher than only a few hundred years ago, when people began to alter the Earth’s chemistry and crowd other creatures out of existence.
Ten thousand years ago that ratio was probably reversed.
“The statistics are scary,” said Piero Visconti, a researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and one of 59 co-authors of the 80-page report.
“Unlike population declines, extinctions are irreversible.”
For corals, it may already be too late.
Back-to-back marine heatwaves have already wiped out up to half of the globe´s shallow-water reefs, which support a quarter of all marine life.
Even if humanity manages to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — mission impossible, according to some scientists — coral mortality will likely be 70 to 90 percent.
Half-a-century of conservation efforts have scored spectacular successes, with significant recoveries among tigers, manatees, grizzly bears, bluefin tuna and bald eagles.
“If we didn’t make those efforts, the situation would have been much worse,” Lambertini said.
But the onslaught of hunting, shrinking habitat, pollution, illegal trade and climate change — all caused by humans — has been too much to overcome, he acknowledged.
“Scientists call it the ‘great acceleration’,” he said.
“It is the exponential growth over the last 50 years in the use of energy, water, timber, fish, food, fertiliser, pesticides, minerals, plastics — everything.”