Scientists strongly believe that the planet may be in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and unlike other times in the past, this could be largely anthropogenic.
The theme of this year’s Earth Day (April 22) was protecting the planet’s species diversity. The theme is a pertinent one, considering nearly half of 177 mammal species surveyed in a study by three researchers, from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Stanford University, saw their distribution fall by more than 80% between 1900 and 2015. Scientists strongly believe that the planet may be in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and unlike other times in the past, this could be largely anthropogenic. Indeed, as per WWF’s Living Planet Index that categorises the causes of decline of wildlife population, 37% of the wildlife population lost in the last 40 years can be attributed to exploitation by humans, 31% to habitat degradation, 13% to complete habitat loss and 7% to climate change. Current extinction, a paper published in Science says, is 1,000 times higher than what would have been if there were no people—a Duke University study estimates that while nearly a 1,000 species are lost every year due to anthropogenic reasons, less than one species a year was lost annually 200,000 years ago, before modern humans evolved. At the same time, another study estimates that, at the rate of average global consumption today, we need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain human life, while at the level of consumption in the US, we would need four planets. The worst offenders in the consumption & climate change problem, meanwhile, obstinately refuse to change course.
While rich nations have been stepping up conservation efforts, this is at the expense of the developing world—the developing world now undertakes production to cater for not only domestic needs, but also for exports, with an ever-growing ecological footprint. Indeed, between 1990 and 2008, a third of all the products of indiscriminate deforestation, viz. timber, beef and soya, were exported from developing nations to the EU. While China, Japan, and the US continue to over-exploit marine resources, West Asian nations, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE have the world’s worst per capita ecological footprint—seventeen of the 21 nations that beat the world average in terms of ecological damage caused, are rich nations. The problem is exacerbated by the non-action on the climate change front. The Climate Action Tracker, which analyses individual countries’ (those for which data is available) likelihood of meeting a lower-than-1.5oC-warming future, says the US’s and Russia’s efforts are ‘critically insufficient’. This means that if all governments were at a level similar to that of the two countries—both of which are fossil-fuel rich nations—a 4oC-plus warming is inevitable. While Canada and China are making “highly insufficient” efforts, the EU’s performance is “insufficient”. Indeed, only India, Ethiopia and the Philippines are making efforts compatible with a 2oC rise, while Morocco is the only nation in the world that is on a 1.5oC compatible pathway. So, Earth Day, unfortunately, is little other than tokenism if nations switch off their destructive ways just for a day every year.