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Slow death of our living planet


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In times of austerity, environmental issues have to wrestle their way onto the national agenda by any means possible. Protests and marches are tried and tested tactics, but sometimes it takes a mind-blowing statistic to get people to sit up and take note.

The latest edition of WWF’s Living Planet Report contains some truly jaw-dropping stats, but the one that sticks out – and has been seized upon by the media – is that wildlife populations worldwide have declined by an average of 52% since 1970. Just take a moment to reflect on that fact. In less than two generations the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish on earth has dropped by more than half.

There are many reasons for our abuse of nature’s gifts but at its heart is a continued focus on the economic aspect of development at the expense of the social and environmental elements. In practice this means more weight is given to exploiting fossil fuels for energy provision and clearing habitats to make way for human land use rather than investing in renewables and preserving biodiversity.

As always, where ecosystem damage is concerned, the food system’s footprint is everywhere. Across the globe, forests are being cleared to free up land to grow cash crops, many of which are fed to animals rather than humans. Agriculture is putting a huge strain on water with global freshwater demand projected to exceed current supply by more than 40% by 2030. Food production also accounts for around 30% of energy consumption and rising energy costs drive rising food prices.

In light of these challenges, we need to look more closely at what we eat, how it is produced and how it is distributed. We also need to challenge the dominant narrative that we have to intensify food production in order to feed a growing world population. We already produce more than enough food to feed the world, however much of it wasted and the remainder is so unevenly distributed that more than a billion people are overweight or obese whilst almost a billion more suffer from hunger.

The Living Planet Report states that continually attempting to increase food production by using more water, more land and more energy is unsustainable. It is right. We cannot keep fighting against the restrictions imposed by nature. We need to make the system work better for all species, not just a human elite.


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