Too Many People Destroys Nature
By Maria Fotopoulos
Wildlife populations have plummeted 69 percent since 1970. That’s the major takeaway from the recent Living Planet Report 2022 released by the nonprofit organization, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The dismal report is a follow-up to the equally shocking 2014 report that Earth lost 50 percent of wildlife in 40 years.
“Despite 30 years of policy interventions to stop biodiversity loss we continue to observe similar declines to those shown in previous reports,” says the WWF. The report notes that conservation is helping, but urgent action is needed to reverse loss of the natural world.
All biodiversity – wild living plants, animals, insects, marine creatures – is essential to human survival. Healthy ecosystems mean food, balance on the planet and well-being for all. As the WWF report puts it, “Terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems – for example forests, grasslands, wetlands, mangrove swamps and the oceans – provide us with services essential for human well-being such as food and feed, medicines, energy and fibers. They regulate climate, natural hazards and extreme events, air quality, the quantity and quality of fresh water, pollination and the dispersal of seeds, pests and diseases, soils, ocean acidification, and the creation and maintenance of habitats.”
So it’s not just about saving the “pretty animals” – although, that is reason enough.
The Living Planet Report 2022, authored by 89 contributors, looked at populations of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles, analyzing almost 32,000 populations of 5,230 species worldwide. The findings showed that the hardest hit wildlife are freshwater species, declining by an average of 83 percent since 1970. From a regional view, the most devastated area is Latin America and the islands of the Caribbean, which have seen a 94 percent decline in wildlife populations, followed by Africa, with a 66 percent decline. Wildlife of the Asia-Pacific region declined by 55 percent; North America, 20 percent and Europe, 18 percent.
WWF proposes an ambitious and probably unrealistic goal, given the current state of humanity: creating a world that is “nature positive by 2030.” This means ensuring there’s more natural world by decade end than in 2020.
Amidst so much bad news, there are some positives. The report emphasizes the importance of connectivity, a theme emerging in the U.S. and in other countries. While we have been good in America, for example, about establishing national and state parks and wildlife sanctuaries, what we missed was the importance of connecting these spaces for wildlife. Conservationists and environmentalists are increasingly talking about this and working to build in more connectivity, because animals gotta move!
The WWF report also has encouraging news about mangroves, the “forests of the sea” that are important reservoirs of biodiversity. While they still are being deforested, the destruction has been “reduced dramatically since the 1980s,” writes WWF, with “plausible scenarios where the global mangrove area may stabilize or even increase by 2070.”
Nonetheless, the few positives the report indicates are far outweighed by persistent losses. And unfortunately, WWF focuses heavily on climate change to make its arguments for dramatic changes in all aspects of how we live, including changing to more “plant-based products in our diets,” even while referencing that, at this point, the loss of wild living things continues to be driven primarily by habitat loss, or what WWF refers to as “land use.” (According to WWF, “Yet every year we lose roughly 10 million hectares of forests …” Words matter; we don’t “lose” them; they’re taken down by human processes for the most part.) “While climate change has not been the dominant driver of the loss of biodiversity to date, unless we limit warming to less than 2○C, and preferably 1.5○C, climate change is likely to become the dominant cause of biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services in the coming decades,” per the report.
Large numbers of people tune out as soon as they hear the words “climate change,” so if powerful organizations want to convince everyone of the need to preserve biodiversity, using climate change as the cudgel is not a winning strategy. “Climate change” or “climate” is used more than 90 times in the 115-page report, while “population” in the context of too many people is barely mentioned – called only an “indirect driver” of biodiversity loss – and “overpopulation” isn’t mentioned.
Overpopulation is not an indirect driver of biodiversity loss; it is a prime driver. The dramatic increase in human population parallels the loss of biodiversity. That WWF ignores the fact of an Earth overpopulated with humans – 8 billion potentially headed to 11 or 12 billion – is a stunning omission. Any serious effort to create a sustainable planet and reverse the tremendous loss of biodiversity must address human population growth.
The report talks about agricultural expansion, water scarcity, timber extraction, mining, infrastructure development and overgrazing, among other impacts, but fails to emphasize that these all are human-driven activities. The rate of those activities increasing is all driven by ever-increasing numbers of humans. The greater the number of people, the more impact. Yes, better practices and reduced consumption will help, but if there’s no real drive to stabilize human population and then reduce it (by noncoercive and nonviolent means) to sustainable numbers, loss of biodiversity will continue. Incremental gains from better practices and reduced consumption will be lost as more and more people are added to the planet.
As with most of the large, mainstream environmental nonprofits, WWF appears, based on this report, to be driven by the mantra of reducing global warming, now called climate change, and the sister mantra of diversity, inclusion and equity. The climate change/DIE agenda is the goal that cannot be questioned with the World Economic Forum, the Davos crowd, a majority of corporations and Western governments occupied by progressives and leftists, committed activists and eco-terrorists, along with others – groups, organizations and individuals committed to the destruction of our current energy system.
In the mania and aggression of these folks to destroy the petroleum industry, they’ve failed to explain how extractive industries for copper and lithium, for example – necessary raw materials for EVs – will not be extremely damaging to the environment, or if there are even sufficient raw materials to drive the change they want. On a planet with 1.4 billion primarily petrol-driven vehicles, the climate change prophets also fail to explain how shifting to EVs, on the short timeline proposed, can occur without major chaos and disruption. And vehicles are just one part of the petroleum-based economy. Other than continually repeating that fossil fuels have to “stay in the ground,” there’s little real discussion on what will power a world of 8 billion or more people.
Yes, we’re in a pickle. But ignoring the elephant in the room – human overpopulation – will only add to decades of failure and not serve the rapidly declining populations of the wildlife we love.
Maria Fotopoulos writes about the connection between overpopulation and biodiversity loss, and from time to time other topics that confound her. On FB @BetheChangeforAnimals