Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

31 Jan 2021

Bad road ahead

Posted by Michael Keating

As if we don’t have enough bad news these days, a group of international scientists is warning that most people don’t understand how serious biodiversity decline has become. “The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.” They go on to say, “Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals.” Because the loss of biodiversity takes place over years, people don’t see its gravity and keep putting off action to stop it.

The sober warning comes in an article, Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future, in Frontiers in Conservation Science, an online journal on conservation management. It documents the huge changes humans have made to life on earth. We have altered about 70 percent of Earth’s land surface; the ocean’s large predatory fish are two-thirds gone; coral reefs have lost half their living mass. Humans and our livestock account for about 95 per cent of land animals on the planet by weight. The world’s wild populations of birds, mammals, fishes, reptiles, and amphibians have declined by an average of nearly 70 percent in just the last 50 years. “With such a rapid, catastrophic loss of biodiversity, the ecosystem services it provides have also declined. These include reduced carbon sequestration, reduced pollination, soil degradation, poorer water and air quality, more frequent and intense flooding and fires, and compromised human health.” With the steady increase in human population and consumption, the trends are worsening.

Polar bears at risk.
Credit: Dan Bolton

The 17 prominent academics and experts from the United States, Mexico and Australia call their report a “cold shower” to wake people up in time to head off disaster. They admit this will not be easy, given that many people still enjoy the status quo. The authors say we need fundamental changes to global capitalism, including the abolition of perpetual economic growth as it now exists. “These choices will necessarily entail difficult conversations about population growth and the necessity of dwindling but more equitable standards of living.”

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