Introduction

Section
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
Page
7.1

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be able to stop, let alone want to stop.

How far have we got in this great march of transformation of the globe from natural world with humans within it, to human world with remnants of Nature at its margins?

(From Hooke, R. L., et.al. 20121)

This is not as easily answered as it may seem. A detailed paper by Hooke, et al.1  – i1052-5173-22-12-4.pdf (geosociety.org) – tries to sum up various estimates thus:

Assessments of the percentage of ice-free land affected by human action vary from 20% to 100%. Humans appropriate 20% to 40% of Earth’s potential net primary biological production (Haberl et al., 2007; Imhoff et al., 2004; Vitousek et al., 1986). Nearly 24% of Earth’s surface area likely experienced decline in ecosystem function and productivity between 1981 and 2003 (Bai et al., 2008). As of 1995, ~43% of Earth’s surface area had experienced human-induced degradation (Daily, 1995). Ellis and Ramankutty (2008) concluded that more than 75% of Earth’s ice-free land area could no longer be considered wild. Of Earth’s ice-free land area, 83% is likely directly influenced by human beings (Sanderson et al., 2002). Our pollutants affect plant and animal physiology worldwide (McKibben, 1989, e.g., p. 38, 58).”

They went on to conclude that approximately 54% of the ice-free portion of the globe had been directly modified by humans and the remainder was variously affected.

The fine paper by Bradshaw, et. al.2, already referred to often in T10 (e.g. see Section 1.1.7), attempts to measure ‘damaged/lost’ ecosystems versus ‘intact’ ecosystems in their Figure 1, which I will repeat here:

(Bradshaw, et.al. 20212)

 

Clearly, results vary, from the grossly altered/lost, e.g. wetlands, to the largely intact seagrass meadows, but using the top bar – ‘Earth’s Surface’ – as the primary guide, and summarising the remainder, as well as Hooke’s estimates, a good rule of thumb would seem to be:

  • 75% lost or significantly affected.
  • 25% remaining/intact

According to the Living Planet Report3, this is what we’ve converted the ~75% (their estimate is %72%) to, and what comprises the remaining ‘minimal human use’ areas:

(WWF. 2020. Living Planet Report)

 

There is perhaps no surprise that most has been converted to grazing, logging and cropping.

The impact of this change has been charted in the section ‘State of the Environment’ and elsewhere in T10, and will be elaborated on in the next webpage – 7.2 – but it is worth re-iterating that in the last 46 years alone this gross ecosystem decline has reduced vertebrate abundance by 68%(ibid.) and that perhaps only 1%4 of vertebrates on earth now are wild animals!

(WWF. 2020. Living Planet Report)

 

(Population Matters. 2021. Weight Vertebrate Land Animals)

 

What has caused this drastic decline in wild animals and their habitat? Again, this will be elaborated in webpage 7.2, but the situation for Europe and Central Asia is a good representation of the causes worldwide:

(WWF. 2020. Living Planet Report)

By far the greatest impact (burgundy) – 57.9%, is from land and sea use change, i.e. habitat loss and degradation (e.g. clearing, draining, etc…), then comes species overexploitation (e.g. hunting and fishing; orange) – 19.7%, then invasive species and disease (yellow) – 10.9%, pollution (purple) – 7.5%, and climate change (red) – 4%.

Really, you couldn’t have a clearer or starker picture of what is happening to the natural world, and why, but no, you wouldn’t think so by listening to the media or the average person, or indeed more-recent ‘environment’ graduates: habitat is barely mentioned, ditto hunting and fishing, nor invasive species! How can we be so perverse?

I think that it is precisely because it is so clear, because the bulldozers and the chainsaws and the burning and the automatic rifles are so stark, such ‘stark reality’, that we can’t fudge, can’t cry ‘sustainable development’, or ‘technology’, or ‘decoupling’, or ‘multiple use’ or ‘human ingenuity’, that we turn away. This is the dark side of the Growth God and we can’t magic it away through our cleverness, as we feel we can with pollution and climate change. As the bulldozers level the Brigalow Scrub in central Queensland in Australia, and the ranchers saw and burn and graze the majestic Amazon, we turn away.

To assist this evasion, the New Right practises what magicians call misdirection: they serve up ever more shiny, consumptive baubles of growth and demand that we ‘look here, look over here’, and there is the new tandem stove in the giant, faux industrial kitchen, and the new leaf blower, and the new take away food. The advertisements get louder and louder and more and more frequent, and urgings from politicians and media alike get more and more shrill, and we must go faster and faster, and really, who has time for ‘out there’ where the animals live, and what’s it to do with us anyway.

The New Left assists equally well by practising anthropocentrism on an obsessive scale and envelops the natural world in a cloak of guilt and persecution of the less-well-off. The natural world must be brought to account for not delivering riches and equality for all, and those who seek to care for it must be anti-humans, racists, or class elites. Worse, still, than their apparent ‘immorality’ at caring for Nature is their delusional elitism in believing that there is such a thing as Nature at all, anything other than the human and his/her wants, needs and creations. Not so much the Growth God of the New Right, but the Human God denied its destiny and hegemony by the heretical belief that there may be something worthwhile on this earth as well as, and with, us.

(Left: Nicholas, C./Survival International. 2013. Logging road being pushed into Sarawak rainforest. Right: Bell, C./African Geographic. 2015. Poaching for ivory tusks. Habitat destruction and the killing of wild animals is at the heart of environmental concerns, but is too stark a reality and too ‘distant’ to be genuinely confronted and addressed, and instead is marginalised and demonised by the Right, Left, and even fashionable environmentalists, alike).

 

1 Hooke, R., Martin-Duque, J., Pedrazza, J. 2012. Land Transformation by Humans: A Review. GSA Today, Dec., vol. 22, no. 12.

2 Bradshaw, C., et. al. (17 authors). 2021. Understanding the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future. Frontiers in Conservation Science. January 13th.

3 WWF. 2020. Living Planet Report 2020 – bending the curve of biodiversity loss. WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

4 Smil, V. 2011. Harvesting the Biosphere.: The Human Impact. Population and Development Review, 37 (4), Dec.

Explore Other Natural Habitat and Species

7.1 Introduction

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be able to stop, let alone want to stop. How far ...

7.2 State of Habitat

The Worldwide Fund for Nature’s exceptional ‘Living Planet Report 2020’1, Fig. 19 – reproduced below, attempts to show the global distribution of highly modified, largely natural, and in-between habitats. The dark green areas approximat...

7.3 Threats: Land Clearing and Direct Habitat Loss

This is the big one. As pointed out in 7.1 and 7.2 it accounts for over half of all population declines (see Figure 5, webpage 7.2) of native species and is as obvious as it is crude. We burn, chop, bulldoze, log, graze, and drain remaining habita...

7.4 Threats: Species Overexploitation

After land clearing and direct habitat loss, the next biggest threat for native species is overexploitation. It accounts for approximately 24% of declines1 (see webpage 7.2, figures 4 and 5) and can be as simple and direct as overhuntin...

7.5 Threats: Invasive Species and Diseases

Again, strangely, an unfashionable topic for modern environmentalism, but nonetheless, third on the list of threats to the natural world, with an average score across regions of 13%  (to recap: #1 is habitat loss at 50% and #2 is exploitation of s...

7.6 Threats: Fire

Running across and through almost all threats to habitat is fire. Whether indirectly, through clearing, draining and ‘opening up’ of the bush, and as a result of climate change, or directly, through the deliberate lighting of fires, we are seeing ...

7.7 Threats: Erasing Nature from the Mind

I am going to help you here before you make a terrible faux pas and condemn yourself as a “morally repugnant”  ‘conservationist’, or worse, an old-fashioned ‘preservationist’. You cannot see this picture of the Peruvian Amazon. Look awa...

7.8 Habitat and Species Protection Goals

The most relevant international goals for habitat and species protection for the latest decade, 2010-20, were the so-called ‘Aichi goals’. (‘Aichi’, because the location where the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was signed by 193 signatory n...

7.9 Acting for Habitat and Species

Everything in T10 is designed either to increase the protection of habitat and species, or reduce the pressures on same. As such, actions outlined in each of the 10 sections will – directly or indirectly – make a significant contribution. This sai...

7.10 The Future

Jorgen Randers was one of the authors of the seminal ‘Limits to Growth’ in 19721, as well as the 30-year update published in 20042. In 2012 he published ‘2052 – A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years’3. It woul...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...