The human race is just 0.01% of all life on our planet but a study finds our tiny, infinitesimal presence has been responsible for eradicating most other living things. The results can be jarring:
farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.
...The destruction of wild habitat for farming, logging and development has resulted in the start of what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in the Earth’s four billion year history. About half the Earth’s animals are thought to have been lost in the last 50 years.
But comparison of the new estimates with those for the time before humans became farmers and the industrial revolution began reveal the full extent of the huge decline. Just one-sixth of wild mammals, from mice to elephants, remain, surprising even the scientists. In the oceans, three centuries of whaling has left just a fifth of marine mammals in the oceans.What does this mean? To me, it corroborates what I've been arguing for years, namely that climate change, existential as it is, is not the disease but just one symptom of a greater and far more dangerous problem that has a variety of urgent symptoms including overpopulation and rapacious overconsumption of our planet's finite resources. That means the only viable solution lies in shrinking humanity's ecological footprint and all of our economic activity safely within the limits of our global environment.
Here's the thing. It's hard to imagine how we, as a species, will ever again live in sustainable harmony with our ecosystem, our biosphere, Spaceship Earth. There are some difficult facts we have to face and they're brutal. One of them is that mankind hasn't lived within the boundaries of our global ecology since the early 70s when our population hit 3 billion.
We're now at 7.5 billion heading, according to the UN, for 10 billion by 2050. Over the course of the last half-century we have also changed as individuals. We live longer now and, on a per capita basis, our individual consumption which defines our per capita footprint, has increased substantially. Humanity has become the "triple threat" to its own survival and that of every other species as well.
We are now so far into "overshoot" that we would need 1.7 planet Earths to meet human consumption. That multiple is increasing fairly rapidly, year upon year.
The other, even more problematic aspect of overshoot, is that the worse it becomes the more rapidly it degrades the planet's ecological carrying capacity. In the early 70s the planet could support a population of 3 billion. In the meantime we've degraded Earth's systems and resources. The latest research I've come across suggests that, today, our planet might be able to sustain a maximum of 2 billion people, far less than the combined population of China and India.
So, our challenge is to decarbonize our societies and economies, virtually overnight; slash our per capita and overall consumption by more than half, probably much more; and get our overall numbers well below 2 billion and in short order.
How do we tell people they're going to have to make do with about a third as much stuff as they've come to enjoy and expect? How do we tell them to surrender their gas guzzlers? How do we convince them that vacations are now stay-cations? Even if we were somehow brilliant enough to do all of those things, how are we going to trim the roster by almost three out of four people currently on Earth? How do we orchestrate this mass die-off? Who decides who gets a ticket on the lifeboat and who doesn't?
When I see humpback whales cavorting in the Salish Sea or mega pods of white sided dolphins in our harbours, I'm looking at creatures that have fled en masse from an unsustainable world. They're the harbingers of what is coming our way and not in the distant future either.
Meanwhile we have a prime minister whose overarching priority is to pimp high-carbon, toxin-laden bitumen onto the world energy market. Brilliant.