Dr Melanie Flynn

“Humans must now take meaningful action before it really is too late.”

Wildlife crime expert Dr Melanie Flynn comments on the WWF’s Living Planet Report that confirms that “exploding human consumption” has caused a huge drop in global wildlife populations.

“The latest Living Planet Report published yesterday by WWF sounds like a horror story fit for Halloween.  As the BBC quote, the report claims “the earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions”, with the headline figure of (an average) of 60% losses in vertebrate species between 1970 and 2014.

Much of these losses are attributed to human impact, and particularly human consumption, as we continue to over-exploit our environment and – I would argue – do so knowingly.  Major impacts include over-fishing and plastic pollution and current methods of land-hungry agriculture that lead to deforestation and soil degradation, primarily because of livestock grazing and the growing of animal-feed crops.  It is well established that meat production requires more land, energy and water resources than a calorie equivalent plant-based diet and arguments that we need to reduce (or even drop) meat and dairy from our diets are becoming more common, especially in light of other recent reports regarding the urgency with which we need to act to prevent ‘climate change catastrophe’.

However, the Living Planet Report has attracted some criticism in light of the methods used to reach the figure of 60%.  The BBC explains the process used to gather the data on which these reports are based: a mix of “peer-reviewed studies, government statistics and surveys”.  The data are also weighted, as we know much more about some species and locations than others.  This means the estimate could be inaccurate if those we have less information about are following a different pattern and rate of decline.  However, just as the 60% figure could be something of an over-estimation, there is also every chance it is an under-estimate, and for some species that have not been well studied, the situation could be even worse.  They may even be going extinct before we have had chance to discover them!

Whilst more complete information would perhaps allow a more nuanced understanding of the impacts, harms and therefore appropriate local responses, overall it is hard to argue against the idea that we have reached a crisis point in terms of climate change, biodiversity and wildlife loss and as those who are culpable, humans must now take meaningful action before it really is too late.”