The U.N. maintains, and most humans agree, that “Nature is essential for human existence and good quality of life,” and that “Most of nature’s contributions to people are not fully replaceable, and some are irreplaceable.” However, human intervention in the natural processes of our planet, namely pollution and deforestation, fly flat in the face of these assumptions.
In May 2019, the U.N. released an exhaustive report detailing threats to our planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Weighing in at a whopping 1,500 pages, even the abstract title is substantial. The 40-page synopsis is called, “Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.”
For readers who lost their way a dozen words in, here’s a more digestible sound bite: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
A group of teenagers have translated the U.N.’s report into protest, claiming humans have only 12 years to right their collective environmental wrongs before we are doomed forever. Their ultimatum sets the end of the world a little earlier than some scientists are comfortable with, but the gist of their point remains true: climate change, pollution, extinction, food shortages, and perhaps every other apocalyptic archetype is strangling our earth.
So, for the sake of brevity, here is a synopsis of seven major points the U.N.’s report makes on our world’s environmental health, along with ways we can alter our future, before it’s too late.
7. Nature, biodiversity and ecosystem functions are deteriorating worldwide
Over the past 50 years, the world has seen little improvement in the treatment and quality of freshwater and saltwater. Resilience to hazards and extreme events has also decreased, leaving many biomes a disaster away from being wiped off the planet.
More disturbing are outright decreases in habitat creation and maintenance, and our capacity for pollination and seed dispersal. The world’s various ecosystems aren’t just getting more contaminated, they are being choked to death, with little room to heal.
6. Zoonotic diseases are on the rise
Zoonotic diseases, those passed from animals to humans, are significant threats to human health, accounting for approximately 17 per cent of all infectious diseases and causing an estimated 700,000 deaths globally every year.
This isn’t a new story. Like the Irish potato famine saw crops wither and die because a lack of diversity, as our planet’s biodiversity and ecosystem functions fall apart, disease spreads much quicker between animals, as well. Emerging infectious diseases in wildlife, domestic animals, plants or people are being exacerbated by human activities like deforestation and habitat fragmentation.
Meanwhile, the overuse of antibiotics is driving rapid evolution of antibiotic resistance in many bacterial pathogens.
5. Marine ecosystems are at great risk
Only 3 percent of the earth’s oceans are free from human pressure. And that share is decreasing.
We’ve been losing more than 10 percent of our seagrass meadows every decade since 1970. Live coral has dropped nearly 50 percent in the past 150 years, the decline dramatically accelerating over the past 2-3 decades due to increased water temperature and ocean acidification.
These coastal marine ecosystems are among the most productive systems globally, and their loss and deterioration reduces their ability to protect shorelines, and the people and species that live there, from storms, as well as their ability to provide sustainable livelihoods.
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.