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Living (But Dying) Planet Report 2016

November 2, 2016

I’m just starting to dig into this detailed and compelling analysis of how humanity is affecting the planet, where the status quo will lead, and the magnitude of change required to slow or reverse the damage we are doing. It’s sobering reading, but worth the time and effort because you can’t absorb all the science without coming to the conclusion that you need to change the way you live–that we all need to change the way we live–and fast. And, to me, that is a key point. We are far too complacent, and far too willing to make some changes but not the big changes needed.

Here are some of the key themes and conclusions:

Under the current trajectory, the future of many living organisms in the Anthropocene is uncertain; in fact several indicators give cause for alarm. The Living Planet Index, which measures biodiversity abundance levels based on 14,152 monitored populations of 3,706 vertebrate species, shows a persistent downward trend. On average, monitored species population abundance declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012. Monitored species are increasingly affected by pressures from unsustainable agriculture, fisheries, mining and other human activities that contribute to habitat loss and degradation, overexploitation, climate change and pollution. In a business-as-usual scenario, this downward trend in species populations continues into the future. United Nations targets that aim to halt the loss of biodiversity are designed to be achieved by 2020; but by then species populations may have declined on average by 67 per cent over the last half-century…..

Another way to look at the relationships between our behaviour and the Earth’s carrying capacity is through Ecological Footprint calculations. The Ecological Footprint represents the human demand on the planet’s ability to provide renewable resources and ecological services. Humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.6 Earths to provide the goods and services we use each year. Furthermore, the per capita Ecological Footprint of highincome nations dwarfs that of low- and middle-income countries (Global Footprint Network, 2016). Consumption patterns in highincome countries result in disproportional demands on Earth’s renewable resources, often at the expense of people and nature elsewhere in the world. If current trends continue, unsustainable consumption and production patterns will likely expand along with human population and economic growth.

The growth of the Ecological Footprint, the violation of Planetary Boundaries and increasing pressure on biodiversity are rooted in systemic failures inherent to the current systems of production, consumption, finance and governance. The behaviours that lead to these patterns are largely determined by the way consumerist societies are organized, and fixed in place through the underlying rules and structures such as values, social norms, laws and policies that govern everyday choices (e.g. Steinberg, 2015). Structural elements of these systems such as the use of gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of well-being, the pursuit of infinite economic growth on a finite planet, the prevalence of shortterm gain over long-term continuity in many business and political models, and the externalization of ecological and social costs in the current economic system encourage unsustainable choices by individuals, businesses and governments. The impacts of these choices are often felt well beyond the national and regional borders in which the choices originate. This is why the links between drivers, deeper causes and global phenomena like biodiversity loss can often be difficult to grasp.

I’d urge you to read the and study the whole thing. It tells the most important story there is.

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