Nothing induces data fatigue more profoundly than the bitstream of doomsaying numbers the industrial-climate-change-complex throws our way every minute of every day.
Is the earth warming by .05 per cent a year, or is the gradient closer to a catastrophic two per cent? Has our planet’s oceans acidified by fractional parts per million over the past century, or have they already become largely uninhabitable for great swathes of marine life? Will the Gulf Stream, which keeps our maritime weather moderate, suddenly grind to a halt and, as a paradoxical consequence of global warming, usher a new ice age into northern climes?
So many questions; so many glazed-over eyes.
But one statistic this week – shone like a headlight into the eyes of the last deer on Earth – stopped me dead in my tracks.
According to the latest World Wild Fund for Nature’s Living Planet index, this third rock from the sun has lost more than half of its native animals since 1970.
That doesn’t mean cats, dogs and other domesticated creatures, including those we husband for food. It’s the fauna that, decreasingly, live in our rivers, seas, forests, mountains, and on our plains, plateaus and islands.
The report’s ‘key findings’ read like a shopping list for the grim reaper.
“Populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined by 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010. Humanity’s demand on the planet is more than 50 per cent larger than what nature can renew. We are currently using the equivalent of 1.5 planets to support our activities – if everyone on Earth lived as the average Canadian does, we’d need 3.7 planets to support our demand.”
What’s more, “research cited in the report found that climate change is already responsible for the possible extinction of species. Canada has the 11th largest per capita Ecological Footprint of the 130 countries included, behind: Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Belgium, Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore, the United States of America, Bahrain, and Sweden.”
The WWF stipulates that, to generate its dire conclusions, it deployed a new methodology – which it says “aims to be more representative of global biodiversity” – for this year’s iteration of its biennial study. But if that’s true, then the data is even more troubling for its enhanced credibility.
Says a CNN story out of London this week: “The decline in animals living in rivers, lakes and wetlands is the worst – 76 per cent of freshwater wildlife disappeared in just 40 years. Marine species and animals living on land suffered a 39 per cent decline in their populations. Animals living in the tropics are the worst hit by what WWF calls ‘the biggest recorded threats to our planet’s wildlife’ as 63 per cent of wildlife living in the tropics has vanished. Central and South America show the most dramatic regional decline, with a fall of 83 per cent.”
All of which tends to support the miserable proposition of a growing number of environmental biologists and zoologists that the planet is in the throws of a major extinction event, the sixth in its four-billion-year history.
The difference, this time around, is that it has been engineered almost entirely by human, industrial activity.
And still, the agents of organized rapacity in our own species will argue that all we need do is adapt to changing global conditions. We’ll lose a few birds, whales and rhinos. But isn’t that worth preserving our various standards of living and qualities of life? Or shall we all just recede into time and chuck our smart phones into the already plastic-clogged oceans?
It’s always an “either-or” conundrum with these folks.
What it isn’t (yet should be) is an economic opportunity to embrace.
Utter madness is magically thinking that our fossil-fuel technologies are durable beyond their abilities to bridge our efforts to reinvent our energy and manufacturing processes as demonstrably, provably sustainable – both commercially and environmentally.
The window through which we have to do this is just barely open. The WWF research strongly suggests that it’s closing faster than any of us had expected.
The data may be fatiguing, but it is, with each minute of each day that passes, becoming frighteningly clear.
Either we remake the world that created us, or we destroy it, and, with it, ourselves.