“The massive growth in the human population through the 20th century has had more impact on biodiversity than any other single factor.” –Sir David King, science advisor to the UK government.
We all know that the population is expanding. However how often is it that we really think about the effects? How many times have we even seen the effects with our own eyes?
It can be a tough subject to pinpoint exactly, but one of the ways we can begin to do that is through investigating one of the ways that human population growth affects the planet most visibly: through the plant’s biodiversity, and through the lives of species other than our own. In fact, the growth of the human species is the main factor in the mass animal extinctions that we have experienced over the recent years.
Today, our population is over 7 billion. Before we had gotten to the 6 billion mark, humans alone were already using over 40 percent of the global NPP number. NPP is the term used to describe the process of species utilizing the sun’s energy for the sustaining of life. What’s interesting (and alarming) to note about this is the fact that humans have been on this earth for far less time than the majority of the earth’s species. In fact, we are a relatively young group – while our ancestors lived as many as 6 million years ago, the modern form of the human as we know it today has only been in existence for around 200,000 years. The oldest animal fossil to date, on the other hand, is around 560 million years old.
Thus, human population growth arguably affects other species even more than it does our down. Humans share the earth’s resources with countless other species (the majority of which also most likely haven’t even been discovered yet!). A primary issue that lies in this is the fact that as humans, we don’t exactly seem to know how to share very well at all. Rapid growth of the human population has resulted in the increase of human need for earth’s natural resources – food, water, the materials for shelter, etc. Because of this, we are increasingly cutting into resources that other species must use in order to survive. We have hindered, or even ended the lives, of numerous species. Today, 99% of the species still remaining on this planet are at risk because of human activity alone.
For example, exploitation and habitat loss through human activity has resulted in the loss of approximately 93% of the world’s tigers. Today, there could be as few as 3,000 tigers left on the planet.
5 species of rhinos have recently gone extinct because of humans, as well. According to Huffington Post, the west African black rhino (the most recent species of rhino to go extinct) was officially declared extinct because of habitat loss, as well as an increase in poaching for rhino horns.
The passenger pigeon one made up as much as 40 percent of the world’s bird population. Today, there are no passenger pigeons left.
According to the Discovery Channel, as of 2014 humans have directly caused 322 animal extinctions over the past 500 years alone. All of this has occurred while, simultaneously, the human population has grown exponentially.
It’s easy to wonder how the numbers have grown to be so extreme on both ends of the spectrum. The truth is, it’s an inverse relationship – as human population, demands, the need for resources goes up the number of species and their quality of life goes down. And we were the ones to take it to the extreme measures that we see today.
The existence of species other than our own is crucial for the health of the planet – and that seems like an obvious statement.
So what is it then that we’ve done? Do we truly need all of the resources that we are continuing to exploit? Or do we just have a lack of willpower that we can’t seem to get over?