Our planet is 4.5 billion years old and to its eyes, humans appeared mere seconds ago. We are now more than 7.7 billion people, equaling to 0.01% of all life on Earth.
It is no surprise that our human activities have been changing nature, now more than ever. Since the Industrial Revolution, our economy had tremendous growth and helped millions of people to rise from poverty. Yet, we had to exploit every single resource we could find. As a result, we are compromising forests, soils, oceans, water bodies, air quality, and the whole planet’s biodiversity.
Our demands to meet the needs of our modern life is reaching the Earth’s capacity to restore itself. We’ve been doing this by taking more than the Earth can regenerate. Studies showed that on the first day of August 2018, we consumed more natural resources than the planet could provide us the whole year.
At this moment, we are using natural resources 1.7 times faster than ever, which means we are consuming 1.7 Earths.
How Far Did We Go?
Over 450 scientists and diplomats have compiled hundreds of studies to understand how humans are affecting the planet’s health. It is now known that our human activities have already caused the loss of 83% of wild animals (hunted for food or pleasure), 80% of marine animals, 50% of plants and 15% of fish (fish population is 12 times greater than humans). A million species are facing the risk of extinction and natural ecosystems have lost half of their area.
Even small animals such as insects are facing extinction and in some areas, their populations have already collapsed. Insects are crucial to plant pollination and their loss means we may have to fight for food. Economically speaking, the decline in insects population alone has already put up to $577 billions of crops’ production at risk globally.
We have turned 3/4 of all land into farm concrete-made fields. We have changed 2/3 of the oceans’ environment by shipping routes, fish farms, underwater mines, and pollution. 3/4 of rivers and lakes are altered to support millions of animal farms and crops cultivation.
We are capable of having a massive negative impact in any ecosystem we touch.
But we forget we belong to an ecosystem as well.
What’s the Cost of Human Civilization?
Humans’ greed transformed and depleted the habitats of more than 500,000 species. Many are on their way to disappear in the next decades. Fishing and agriculture are the first leaders that started this global decline. We’ve been producing large quantities of food since the 1970s, helping the world population and economy to grow exponentially. However, there are consequences to our overproduction. The meat industry alone, for instance, is responsible for using around 25% of the world’s land and for emitting over 18% of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Wetlands are considered the most extensive habitat loss as they have been drained since 1700. This strongly affected the quality of the water we drink. Our oceans are also incredibly changed since we started using them as our backyard. Plastic waste, sewage, industrial and agriculture chemicals are only some of the poisons we’ve been making the oceans swallow. Only 3% of the ocean waters are clean from our human activities. The fishing industry has massive activity in more than half the world’s oceans, threatening to extinct about 1/3 of fish populations.
Climate change is knocking at our door after several years of warnings, and we still don’t show significant signs on slowing down our carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Recently this year and for the first time, the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere exceeded 415 parts per million (ppm). The recommended amount is 350 ppm. Even if we follow the Paris agreement, our past actions will still bring profound consequences to most species, including ours.
What we’ve been doing since our ancestors started walking on two legs has resulted in the start of what science considers the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. It’s hard to imagine that we have put our planet in a position where it’s hard to recover.
Where Can We Go From Here?
Our species has thrived thanks to our ability to find new ways of taking advantage of Earth and its natural resources. This is what made us the dominant species.
Now, there’s no such thing as untouched nature – we have always transformed the environment, even back in those times when we were hunting and making drawings on the walls. We don’t mean to harm the environment. We do it to survive. Some people say this is what makes us people. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the best we can to protect our planet.
The best we can do now is to shift the economy’s mentality, invest in green infrastructure, make clean energy available to everyone, address population growth, control unbalanced levels of global food and energy consumption, apply new laws that commit to protect the environment and change our consumerism behavior. Small adjustments won’t be enough. We must understand this is the last decade of warnings and last calls about how we should treat our planet. After that, it will be too late to make any changes.
The next generations may never forgive us for what we’ve caused to nature and this is the moment where we need to act. Right now. This is what we truly need to do if we want to thrive.
What we’re taking away from Earth are not only beautiful landscapes, plants or animals – it’s our life support system. Even if it’s in our human nature to take whatever we can to survive, the truth is the destruction we’re causing now is so much higher than ever before in humans’ history. It is a fact that our ancestors started this by having destructive behaviors such as hunting, leading a few species to extinction. However, they didn’t know or fully understand what kind of consequences their actions could bring.
We Do Know Better.
“Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt