Humans Have Killed off Half the World’s Animals since 1970

One of hundreds of polar bears dying due to global warming. (Paul Nicklen National Geographic)

One of hundreds of polar bears drowning due to global warming. (Paul Nicklen National Geographic)

This article Christopher Ingraham, and appeared on September 30, 2014 in the Washington Post. Christopher Ingraham is a data journalist focusing primarily on issues of politics, policy and economics. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.

This is only the third time in nearly four years that I have felt so compelled by a story I’ve read involving fellow beings who just so happened to have the misfortune of not being our particular species. Its disturbing, tragic and infuriating to say the least but it does feel somewhat empowering to at least share it with others and encourage further sharing.

The new Living Planet Index report from the World Wildlife Fund opens with a jaw-dropping statistic: we’ve killed roughly half of the world’s non-human vertebrate animal population since 1970.

The main culprits? Exploitation (i.e., overfishing and overhunting), and habitat degradation.


The WWF data show that the species declines vary by habitat and geographic area.

Tropical areas saw greater declines, while temperate regions – like North America – saw lesser drops.

Habitat-wise, land and saltwater species saw declines of roughly 39 percent.

But freshwater animals – frogs, fish, salamanders and the like – saw a considerably sharper 76 percent drop.

Frogs are among the species which are permanently vanishing from existence. (Flickr user Andreas Kay, cc license)

Frogs are among the species which are permanently vanishing from existence. (Flickr user Andreas Kay, cc license)

Habitat fragmentation and pollution (think algae blooms) were the main killers of freshwater species.

The declines are almost exclusively caused by humans’ ever-increasing footprint on planet earth.

“Humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.5 Earths to provide the ecological goods and services we use each year,” according to the report.

The only reason we’re able to run above max capacity – for now – is that we’re stripping away resources faster than we can replenish them.

Carbon consumption – the burning of fossil fuels – represents a huge and growing chunk of the demand we put on the earth.

“In 1961, carbon was 36 per cent of our total footprint, but by 2010 (the year for which the most complete dataset is available), it comprised 53 per cent.”


At the country level, China is now the leading drain on the earth’s resources. China accounts for nearly 20 percent of the overall demand, with the U.S. a distant second at 13.7 percent.

There are compelling reasons why we should consider the fate of the world’s non-human species an urgent issue.

For starters, many are economically valuable in their own right. Bees, for instance, are crucial to agriculture in the U.S.

We’re also set to add another 2.4 billion humans to the world’s population by 2050.

Those people are all going to need water to drink, places to live and food to eat.

Many of them will be born in poorer, more rural regions of the world, regions where people are more dependent on the land and its resources to survive.

Drought is starving coyotes which are increasingly leaving their remote areas searching for food among the humans.

Drought is starving coyotes which are increasingly leaving their remote areas searching for food among the humans.

Closer to home, we’re already starting to see the effects of water shortages out West.

Smarter water use will lead to less freshwater habitat degradation, which in turn will hopefully lead to a slowing of the decreases in freshwater species populations.

In short, you may be inclined to see species loss as a problem worth addressing on its own merits.

Or, you may prefer to consider it as a symptom of larger environmental problems that are already starting to affect our lifestyles and our pocketbooks.

Regardless, the WWF report presents a compelling case that it’s something we should be paying closer attention to.

Categories: Animals

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4 replies »

  1. This is shocking to see.. Thanks for sharing it… Good to see that it was in the WASHINGTON POST>.. gives it extra credence for the naysayers…. But how careless and barbaric we humans are….

    • Thanks for writing Christopher. It’s so disturbing to the core and we’re probably the most aware and least offensive and guilty generation, having the knowledge we do. But this represents decades of arrogant human supremacy thinking.

  2. Great story Carl but very frightening. We need all species of animals in all forms. They all serve a purpose in life and they deserve a good life. Most people just don’t care and that is what is the most frightening
    Peter l Pavlovic

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