If you thought climate change was the main cause of biodiversity and species loss…

Think again.

It turns out agriculture and overuse are far more imminent risks.

A new study from the science journal Nature shows that of all 8,688 threatened or near-threatened species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List:

  • 72% are being overexploited by logging, hunting, fishing or gathering species from the wild—activities that are taking place at rates that can’t be compensated for by reproduction or regrowth.
  • 62% are at risk from agricultural activity and expansion: livestock farming, crop farming, timber plantations and aquaculture;
  • 19% are currently affected by anthropogenic climate change,the consequences of which include increased storms, flooding, extreme temperatures, drought and sea-level rise.

The most immediate threats to wildlife, then, arise not from climate change (as the media tends to suggest), but from overexploitation and the conversion of wildlife habitat into agricultural land.

The fact is, these are age-old threats that are exacerbated by our ever-growing human numbers.

The Sumatran rhinoceros is a critically endangered species threatened mainly by poaching.There are thought to be only five substantial populations left in the wild. Image credit: W. Alan Baker/Flickr [CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons]
The message is clear. Even the scientists who conducted the study explicitly state:

Addressing overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis…and must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda.

So how do we address these and the many other threats posed to wildlife—including climate change—to ensure these species remain a part of our future and the future of our children?

The study authors recommend conservation tools and policies that would go some way toward alleviating the harm caused by overexploitation and ensuring the survival of these ecosystems—the very ecosystems that will help ameliorate the challenges presented by impending climate change.

But among these approaches there’s no mention of the importance of pro-actively raising awareness of global overpopulation. Nor is reference given to the value to women and girls, notably in developing countries where environmental degradation is greatest, of providing access to family planning and contraception services to prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce family size.

The study’s proposals don’t include advocating for the rights of girls to go to school, where they would be more likely to learn the causes of environmental degradation and the means to fight it.

These omissions reflect the taboo surrounding human overpopulation, which impedes any discussion of implementing ethical and effective ways to slow and eventually reverse human population growth.

But you can help.

By discussing with friends and neighbours the effect of human overpopulation growth on biodiversity, and by writing your MP to advocate for government to become more actively involved internationally in the promotion of family planning as an integral and significant component of Canada’s external assistance programs.

Family planning is a seminal first step to addressing the rights of women and girls to control their own bodies and futures, and the best means to combat the root causes of global biodiversity and species loss.

If you feel this is important, share your thoughts with your communities. Have a discussion and raise awareness. It’s all connected, and time’s not on our side.


Study highlights and commentary

Guardian article on study findings

About the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Population Institute Canada (PIC) is the voice of Canadians concerned with global overpopulation and its negative human and environmental consequences.
-Madeline Weld, Ph.D.
President, Population Institute Canada


PIC is the voice of Canadians concerned with overpopulation and its negative human and environmental impact. Founded in 1992, it campaigns to increase support for reproductive health and education and for universal, voluntary access to family planning, which the UN notes “…could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology available to the human race.”

Fact: Continued global population growth, together with overconsumption, is incompatible with a healthy, sustainable future for humanity and our planet.
Patrons: Sir David Attenborough; Robert Bateman; Margaret Catley-Carlson; Drs. Paul & Anne Ehrlich; Robert Fowler; Dr. William Rees; Dr. David Schindler; Ronald Wright. See Patron bios.


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