While scientists are still debating what killed the dinosaurs, the results are in on what is currently fuelling the decline of animal and plant species: overexploitation and agriculture.
In a study published in the journal Nature this week, researchers examined over 8,000 species on the Red List of Threatened Species to determine which factors are endangering them. Two “Big Killers” stood out: overexploitation (i.e., killing and culling more of a species than can regrow) and agriculture.
Animals are being exploited excessively for food, for trade (exotic pet trade, ivory trade), or for entertainment (hunting).
At the same time, around three quarters of all agricultural land is used for livestock farming. Take the Amazon region, an area rich in species: around 90% of rainforest destruction there is due to feeding or raising livestock. Of course this will lead to species demise.
However, we’re not just wreaking havoc on land, but in the oceans, too. Since the onset of industrialised fishing in the 1950s, we have reduced the number of predator species like tuna, swordfish, sharks, cod, and halibut down to merely 10%. In fact, over 90% of all fish stocks are not safe from us and might be gone by mid-century.
Animal agriculture is also contributing to climate change, another biodiversity “killer” identified in the recent study. The scientists offer the heart-rending example of the hooded seals: over the past few decades, their numbers have dropped by 90% in the Arctic due to melting sea ice, which would normally be their resting and breeding grounds.
So how can we stop this? One of the most powerful things we can do is leaving animals off our plates. Let’s preserve the richness of life on Earth. We’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Find out more about the detrimental effect animal agriculture has on the environment with our Planet on a Plate guide.
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