Over the last 40 years, the world’s human population has almost doubled—from 3.8 billion in 1970 to 7 billion in 2011. Unfortunately, our fellow vertebrates haven’t fared as well.
According to a recent study published by the World Wildlife Fund, between 1970 and 2012, the world’s population of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish has declined by 58 percent.
The main cause of this has been habitat loss, especially because of agriculture. Roughly one third of the world’s surface is given over to agriculture, which has come at the cost of habitats, and the degradation of remaining natural spaces. Even when a forest isn’t cut down for farmland, the pesticides and herbicides used on the crops gets into local water supplies and causes all kinds of problems.
“This research delivers a wakeup call that for decades we’ve treated our planet as if it’s disposable,” says Carter Roberts, WWF president and CEO.
There are numerous reasons why we’ve been thinking this way, but wastefulness is at the core. With one third of the Earth dedicated to agriculture, for example, you’d think that everyone in the world would have enough to eat. You’d be laughably mistaken, of course. People go hungry around the world, while others throw food out every day. We’re not only destroying the world, we’re doing it inefficiently and in ways that harm more than they help.
“The good news is that we can fix it,” says Roberts. “It requires updating our approach to food, energy, transportation, and how we live our lives.”
There are no easy solutions, of course, but that’s no excuse for not pursuing them. In fact, according to that study, if we don’t work on improving things, we could see a two-thirds reduction in vertebrate life by 2020—just over three years from now.
Although the WWF report sounds an alarm, it also delivers reason for hope. It cites the positive momentum being built by recent global agreements on climate change and sustainable development as a way for the human race to get the earth back on the track to sustainability.
“A strong natural environment is the key to defeating poverty, improving health, and developing a just and prosperous future,” says WWF Director General Marco Lambertini. “We have proven that we know what it takes to build a resilient planet for future generations, we just need to act on that knowledge.”