A global change of attitudes and immediate action may save the Earth – Living Planet Report

The World Wide Fund for Nature – formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund – has recently published its 2016 Living Planet Report, centred around the idea that we have moved from the Holocene to the Anthropocene epoch, and that mankind needs to make major and immediate changes in order to survive in this new era.

The study emphasises that the rapid climate change, the acidification of the oceans and the significant reduction of biodiversity jeopardise not only the survival of animal and plant species, but also the survival of mankind, as the Earth’s capacity to sustain the modern, globalised world is decreasing. Mankind is facing a clear challenge: we need to learn how to keep our activities beyond the natural boundaries of our plant, and how to preserve and restore the flexibility of ecosystems.

The Living Planet Index (LPI) measures biodiversity by gathering population data of various vertebrate species and calculating an average change in abundance over time. The indicator is based on the study of 14,152 populations of 3706 vertebrate species worldwide. The index demonstrates a change whose main causes, according to science, fall in the following categories:

  • Degradation and destruction of habitats
  • Excessive exploitation of species
  • Environmental pollution
  • Invasive species and diseases
  • Climate change

Of those, the hazard that is threatening the most populations is the degradation and destruction of habitats, which can be a problem for freshwater, sea and land species as well.

It is a characteristic of natural capital that its self-sustaining operation is eroded by the increased activity of mankind at a much faster rate than at which it is able to recover. Ecosystems, that is to say natural capital supplies our food, our freshwater, clean air, energy, the raw materials for our medicines as well as opportunities for recreation. In addition, the control and purification of water and air, climate conditions, the pollination of plants, the distribution of seeds and the regulation of pests and diseases are also all dependent on healthy and high-diversity natural systems. With the present attitudes and environmentally damaging activities of mankind, ecosystems are at the risk of continuous exhaustion and destruction. The increases in consumption are demonstrated in this graph of freshwater use, showing the water consumption of OECD and BRICS countries, and the rest of the world, over the last hundred years.

The link between the development of humanity and the limits of tolerance of the environment can be clearly seen during history: for many centuries, we experienced the local impacts of the damage our species has been doing to the environment. Today, however, the exploitation of nature has reached the global level, and as a result of our non-sustainable lifestyles has jeopardised the entire planet: we have overexploited its resources and stopping that process requires a global solution and change of attitude. The study calls this the one planet view: going beyond the local management of local problems, it is the need to understand the impact of human activity on the environmental condition of the planet, and to make our decisions so as to be sustainable by the resources of our single planet.

The Living Planet Report presents the individual components of the ecological footprint of consumption as well as their trends, i.e. it demonstrates how much arable land, pasture, fishing area, forest land and built up areas we used in the given years, along with the corresponding carbon footprints. The latter is equal to the area of vegetation required for binding the carbon dioxide produced by our energy consumption. It is quite clear from the chart that the total ecological footprint of global human consumption is rising continuously and steeply. But the figure also shows that when the developed world suffered economic crises, the growth of the ecological footprint usually came to a halt. This implies that the conscious transformation of our habits of consumption can be expected to have a positive effect on the global ecological footprint.

The Living Planet Report emphasises that the present lifestyle of humanity is not sustainable, and it is damaging our plant to an extent that will certainly lead to its destruction. We need immediate, holistic changes in order to ensure that our planet is capable of sustaining the basic conditions of our lives in the long term. The areas of change, and its holistic character is justified by the fact that we only have this single planet, on which we must join forces to ensure living conditions that are worthy of humanity. In the long term, too.

The Living Planet Report is available at the WWF website.