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Will humanity change course and act within the limits of our finite planet? (Photo: "Masai Mara"/ Christopher Michel/flickr/cc)

Planet on the Brink: Human Activity Killing the Planet's Life-Supporting Systems

WWF's state of the planet report reveals alarming and avoidable biodiversity loss

Andrea Germanos

Human activity has brought the planet's life-supporting systems to the brink of tipping points, causing an "alarming" loss in biodiversity and critical threats to the services nature has provided humankind.

So finds the newest state of the planet report (pdf) from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which offers a damning look on the health of the Earth.

"We're gradually destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life," stated Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF.

Among the report's findings is a dramatic loss in biodiversity. Its Living Planet Index, managed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and based on over 10,000 populations of over 3,000 species, shows a 52 percent decline in global wildlife between 1970 and 2010. And that's a trend that "shows no sign of slowing down."

Among the causes of the decline are climate change, habitat loss and degradation, and exploitation.

Breaking these losses down further, the report states that populations of freshwater species have declined 76 percent, compared to losses of 39 percent each for marine species and terrestrial populations.

Region-wise, Latin America has suffered the biggest decline in biodiversity, with species populations plummeting 83 percent.

Global wildlife populations have declined over 50 percent between 1970 and 2010.The impacts of humankind's assault on the planet are not being felt equally, the report notes, as higher-income countries have an "ecological footprint" five times higher than those of lower-income countries. In fact, because of resource imports, high-income countries "may effectively be outsourcing biodiversity loss," stated Keya Chatterjee, WWF’s senior director of footprint.

Looking at humanity's overall "ecological footprint," the report states that we need 1.5 planets to provide for the current demands on nature.

Water footprints are noted as well, and the report states that in some ares "such as Australia, India and USA ...life-giving aquifers are being severely depleted." Agriculture is responsible for the lion's share of use, accounting for 92 percent of the global water footprint

Because of the human activity changes is causing on the planet, the report states, "we can no longer exclude the possibility of reaching critical tipping points that could abruptly and irreversibly change living conditions on Earth."

The WWF stresses that these sobering statistics were not unavoidable, and that the challenges we now confront to effect change are not insurmountable.

"The scale of biodiversity loss and damage to the very ecosystems that are essential to our existence is alarming. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live," stated Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science at the ZSL.

As WWF's Roberts stated, "we already have the knowledge and tools to avoid the worst predictions. We all live on a finite planet and it's time we started acting within those limits."

To hear more about some of the details of the report, watch this video from ZSL:


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