Living Planet Report: Earth In Serious Trouble
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EARTH 'WILL EXPIRE BY 2050'
By Mark Townsend and Jason Burke
Sunday, July 7, 2002
Earth's population will be forced to colonise two planets within 50 years if
natural resources continue to be exploited at the current rate, according to
a report out this week.
A study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), to be released on Tuesday, warns
that the human race is plundering the planet at a pace that outstrips its
capacity to support life.
In a damning condemnation of Western society's high consumption levels, it
adds that the extra planets (the equivalent size of Earth) will be required
by the year 2050 as existing resources are exhausted.
The report, based on scientific data from across the world, reveals that
more than a third of the natural world has been destroyed by humans over the
past three decades.
Using the image of the need for mankind to colonise space as a stark
illustration of the problems facing Earth, the report warns that either
consumption rates are dramatically and rapidly lowered or the planet will no
longer be able to sustain its growing population.
Experts say that seas will become emptied of fish while forests -- which
absorb carbon dioxide emissions -- are completely destroyed and freshwater
supplies become scarce and polluted.
The report offers a vivid warning that either people curb their extravagant
lifestyles or risk leaving the onus on scientists to locate another planet
that can sustain human life. Since this is unlikely to happen, the only
option is to cut consumption now.
Systematic overexploitation of the planet's oceans has meant the North
Atlantic's cod stocks have collapsed from an estimated spawning stock of
264,000 tonnes in 1970 to under 60,000 in 1995.
The study will also reveal a sharp fall in the planet's ecosystems between
1970 and 2002 with the Earth's forest cover shrinking by about 12 per cent,
the ocean's biodiversity by a third and freshwater ecosystems in the region
of 55 per cent.
The Living Planet report uses an index to illustrate the shocking level of
deterioration in the world's forests as well as marine and freshwater
ecosystems. Using 1970 as a baseline year and giving it a value of 100, the
index has dropped to a new low of around 65 in the space of a single
It is not just humans who are at risk. Scientists, who examined data for 350
kinds of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish, also found the numbers of many
species have more than halved.
Martin Jenkins, senior adviser for the World Conservation Monitoring Centre
in Cambridge, which helped compile the report, said: 'It seems things are
getting worse faster than possibly ever before. Never has one single species
had such an overwhelming influence. We are entering uncharted territory.'
Figures from the centre reveal that black rhino numbers have fallen from
65,000 in 1970 to around 3,100 now. Numbers of African elephants have fallen
from around 1.2 million in 1980 to just over half a million while the
population of tigers has fallen by 95 per cent during the past century.
The UK's birdsong population has also seen a drastic fall with the corn
bunting population declining by 92 per cent between 1970 and 2000, the tree
sparrow by 90 per cent and the spotted flycatcher by 70 per cent.
Experts, however, say it is difficult to ascertain how many species have
vanished for ever because a species has to disappear for 50 years before it
can be declared extinct.
Attention is now focused on next month's Earth Summit in Johannesburg, the
most important environmental negotiations for a decade.
However, the talks remain bedevilled with claims that no agreements will be
reached and that US President George W. Bush will fail to attend.
Matthew Spencer, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said: 'There will have to be
concessions from the richer nations to the poorer ones or there will be
The preparatory conference for the summit, held in Bali last month, was
marred by disputes between developed nations and poorer states and
non-governmental organisations (NGOs), despite efforts by British
politicians to broker compromises on key issues.
America, which sent 300 delegates to the conference, is accused of blocking
many of the key initiatives on energy use, biodiversity and corporate
The WWF report shames the US for placing the greatest pressure on the
environment. It found the average US resident consumes almost double the
resources as that of a UK citizen and more than 24 times that of some
Based on factors such as a nation's consumption of grain, fish, wood and
fresh water along with its emissions of carbon dioxide from industry and
cars, the report provides an ecological 'footprint' for each country by
showing how much land is required to support each resident.
America's consumption 'footprint' is 12.2 hectares per head of population
compared to the UK's 6.29ha while Western Europe as a whole stands at
6.28ha. In Ethiopia the figure is 2ha, falling to just half a hectare for
Burundi, the country that consumes least resources.
The report, which will be unveiled in Geneva, warns that the wasteful
lifestyles of the rich nations are mainly responsible for the exploitation
and depletion of natural wealth. Human consumption has doubled over the last
30 years and continues to accelerate by 1.5 per cent a year.
Now WWF wants world leaders to use its findings to agree on specific actions
to curb the population's impact on the planet.
A spokesman for WWF UK, said: 'If all the people consumed natural resources
at the same rate as the average US and UK citizen we would require at least
two extra planets like Earth.'
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