The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) just released the tenth biennial edition of the Living Planet report which found that between hunting, habitat destruction, environmental degradation and climate change, the worldwide population of animals including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish has dramatically dropped by an astronomical 52% since 1970.
While many researchers have stated we are in the 6th mass extinction in Earth’s history and in a sense the process can be seen as natural, it is also very important to note that we are contributing to this process. In fact, many researchers believe the extinction we are currently in is happening much faster than the previous ones and it is likely we are the cause.
“We are using nature’s gifts as if we had more than just one Earth at our disposal.” We are taking more from our ecosystems and natural processes than can can be replenished; because of this we are putting our future –and our children’s future in jeopardy.
With statistics like these it is definitely difficult to feel positive about what the future has in store, but it is because we ourselves have caused the problem that we can find the solution.
The report sheds light on the main threats to animal populations. The top 3 threats are habitat loss and degradation, exploitation through hunting and fishing (which includes intentionally for food or sport, or accidentally such as by-catch) and climate change.
The report states “Humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.5 Earth’s to provide the ecological goods and services we use each year.”
But Wait, Aren’t We Forgetting Something?
What I find extremely interesting is that there is no direct mention of the astronomical environmental toll that animal agriculture is having on the environment and how it is directly related to the drastic decline in animal species. Sure, animal agriculture would fall under the categories of “Habitat Degradation/Change” and “Exploitation,” but there is absolutely no direct mention of animal agriculture. In fact, I did not find the words “animal agriculture” anywhere in the entire 180 page report.
This is extremely maddening to me because:
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all of transportation combined. (Cars, trucks, planes, boats -you name it.) (1)
- Livestock and their byproducts (waste, gas) account for AT LEAST 32 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. (2)
- Methane (largely caused by the raising of livestock) is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2. (3)
- The meat and dairy industries combined use nearly 1/3 (29%) of all the fresh water in the world today. (4)
- Livestock covers 45% of the Earth’s total land. (5)
- Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction. (6) (7) (8)
- The leading causes of rainforest destruction are livestock and feed crops. (9)
- 1-2 acres or rainforest are cleared every second! (10)
- 110 plant, animal and insect species are lost every single day due to rainforest destruction. (11)
So, considering all of these factors mentioned above you would think that the living planet report would be going into A LOT more detail about the devastating effects that animal agriculture is having on our environment. In fact, it should be the number one issue that is mentioned in relation to the extinction of so many of the wildlife species on Earth, but again, the words “animal agriculture” are nowhere to be found on the report. WHY?
In regards to the oceanic kingdom and the extinction of species there, over-fishing, exploitation and by-catch are mentioned in the report, but there are no statistics to be found. When the statistics are avoided I believe that it makes it harder for us to understand the tangible extent of what we are truly doing to our planet. Here are some alarming statistics about what we are doing to our oceans:
- 90 Million tons are pulled from our oceans each year (12)
- For every 1 pound of fish caught, an average of 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill (13)
- As much as 40% (63 billion pounds) of the fish caught globally every year are discarded. (14)
What Can We Do?
The fate of the future of our planet lies in our hands. We can recycle, take shorter showers, drive hybrid or electric cars, reduce our waste etc. These will all make a small difference. But, the one thing that we can all do that will make the biggest impact and that is in our control as individuals right now is to drastically cut down, or eliminate altogether, our consumption of animals, animal products and seafood.
I know, this is a very difficult thing to do and sometimes we are unsure of whether or not this can be a healthy option for us. As of late, there has been an overwhelming amount of information coming out about potential positive health effects that can be obtained through adopting a Vegan diet. You can check out some of that information here, here and here.
Much of the research used for this article was compiled by the filmmakers of the new documentary that is coming out on November 6, 2014 called “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.” If you would like to know more and help spread the work about this extremely pressing issue, please watch this documentary and help spread the word! You can also look into attending or hosting a screening in your hometown. To find out more about that, you can do so here.
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