The Living Planet Report 2008, a study published by the WWF, offers the organization's most in-depth study of global ecosystem decline to date. The report combines data from the Living Planet Index (a survey of 1,313 vertebrate species from both land and water habitats around the world), global ecological footprints, and also studies of water resources (we've covered previous editions of the Living Planet Report).
According to Pavan Sukhdev, lead author, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity current studies show that we are losing between 2 and 5 trillion dollars in natural capital per year:
WWF video courtesy of YouTube
On an analytical map indicating which nations are "eco-debtors" (with ecological footprints greater than their biocapacity), a bright red swath cuts across much of the developed world indicating nations in debt. Striking is the comparison between the same map made with 1961 data, and the much redder 2005 version.
Looking at this map, it's hard for me to not wonder about the strain that such uneven resource use will have on international relations as irreplaceable natural capital continues to disappear and the harmful impacts of climate change continue to affect everyone without regard to which populations are more to blame.
But the devastating news must have an upside: the sophisticated analysis allows researchers to determine the world's most pressing problems: excess carbon emissions, the WWF says, remain the most harmful effect that humans have on the planet. And knowing that gives those who want to change the pattern of destruction a place to start:
Using a wedge approach (as pioneered by Pacala and Socolow in 2004) the report illustrates how, for example, moving to clean, efficient energy generation based on current technologies could allow us to meet the projected 2050 demand for energy services with major reductions in associated carbon emissions.