WASHINGTON, DC - Following this week's news that the population of the United States has now exceeded 300 million, a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) details the strain on the world's natural resources and the declining numbers of the animal species that depend on them, and offers solutions to reverse downward trends in both these areas.
WWF's Living Planet Report 2006, which explores the overall impact of humankind on the planet, reports that the world's natural ecosystems are being degraded at a rate unprecedented in human history. The report confirms that humanity is using the planet's resources faster than they can be renewed and that populations of vertebrate species have declined by about one third since 1970.
"The bottomline of this report could not be more clear - for twenty years we've lived our lives in a way that far exceeds the carrying capacity of the Earth," said Carter S. Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. "The choices we make today will shape the possibilities for the generations which follow us. The fact that live we live beyond our means in our use of natural resources will surely limit opportunities for future generations that follow."
The United States, a key consumer nation, is at the forefront in what the report terms resource "overshoot" -- or using far more resources than the planet can sustain. However, the United States also has available some of the more effective opportunities to stem natural resource loss and reverse overconsumptive trends. For example, the nation's environmental footprint or impact can be substantially lightened by reducing carbon dioxide emissions which threaten global climate. The United States is also in a position to promote greater sustainability in fisheries, forestry, agriculture, and other sectors, and to stem biodiversity loss by protecting vital habitats. The Living Planet Report 2006, being released globally today from Beijing, China, is comprised of data indices which indicate the Earth's well-being.
The first, the Living Planet Index, measures biodiversity, based on trends in more than 3600 populations of 1300 vertebrate species around the world. In all, data for 695 terrestrial, 344 freshwater and 274 marine species were analyzed. Terrestrial species declined by 31 per cent, freshwater species by 28 per cent, and marine species by 27 per cent.
The second index, the Ecological Footprint, as calculated by the Oakland-based research organization Global Footprint Network, measures humanity's demand on the biosphere. Humanity's footprint has more than tripled between 1961 and 2003. This report shows that humanity's ecological footprint exceeded biocapacity by 25 per cent in 2003. In the previous Living Planet Report 2004 (based on data to 2001), this figure was 21 per cent. The carbon dioxide footprint, from the use of fossil fuels, was the fastest growing component of the global footprint, increasing more than nine fold from 1961 to 2003. The United States ranks number two in the report's category of countries with populations of over a million people with the largest ecological footprint, measured in global hectares per person. China comes in mid-way in world rankings, at number 69, but its growing economy and rapid development mean it has a key role in keeping the world on the path to sustainability.
"The most precious resources in the 21st century will be natural resources, particularly in a finite world with rapidly growing populations and consumption," said Roberts. "Every day we make decisions about where to invest our money, what kind of policies we demand from our political system and how we live our lives. These decisions will determine our resource demand into the future, and whether or not there will be natural resources to meet it."
The Living Planet Report 2006 is the sixth in a series of Living Planet publications. The report can be downloaded at www.panda.org/livingplanet.