The Earth has existed for more than four billion years and has sustained life for three billion. Human beings have existed for just 200,000 years, yet our impact on the planet is so great that scientists around the world are calling for our period in the Earth’s history to be named ‘the Anthropocene‘ – the age of humans. The changes we are now making have exacted a heavy toll on the natural world around us, and now threaten the planet’s ability to provide for us all.
Today, the force with the greatest effect on our planet is us. The pressure of 7.6 billion people is squeezing the life out of our planet.
Nature is on the Run
The ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’
- Species are becoming extinct 100 times faster than they would without human impacts.
- Populations of wild animals have more than halved since 1970, while the human population has doubled.
- Only five times before in our planet’s history have so many species and so much biodiversity been lost so quickly. The fifth was when the dinosaurs were wiped out. That is why scientists and conservationists call what is happening now the ‘sixth mass extinction’. In a report published in July 2017, some went further to describe the loss of biodiversity today as ‘biological annihilation’.
Download the factsheet
Anthropocene air, water and weather
- Because of industry, agriculture and fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide in the air is at its highest level for millions of years. At the same time, disruption of other chemical cycles is turning seas and rivers into dead zones.
- Climate change is already affecting the world around us. 2016 was the hottest year since modern records began. Global warming is causing glaciers to melt, sea levels to rise, species to go extinct and severe weather events such as floods, droughts and hurricanes to increase.
More Humans, More Impact
Two hundred years ago, there were less than a billion people on Earth. Today, there are 7.6bn and our population is still growing. According to the United Nations, unless we take action there is likely to be 30% more of us by 2050 and 11 billion people by 2100. The UN’s worst projections show 16bn on planet Earth in 2100, competing for its resources with one another and every other species.
People need land, food, water and shelter. More than that, we all have a right to decent lives, with comfort, security and things which give us pleasure. That means that every one of us places demands upon our planet—the very demands that have caused the changes that threaten us and the natural world we depend on.
We can and must ease the pressure on our world. Those that already have far more than others must demand less from it. As individuals and communities, we can take action such as buying less, reusing and recycling more, moving towards a plant-based diet and ensuring what we do use and consume is as sustainable as possible.
As long as our numbers are growing, however, the value of every action we take risks being cancelled out by the demands and needs of new people joining the population. Only when our numbers are in balance with what the world can provide can we stop using up the planet we live on.
Saving the World
Unsustainable global population growth is not inevitable. United Nations projections show that if we start taking action now, we can end it and actually start bringing our numbers down to a sustainable level within the next few decades. What we need to do is not difficult.
- Empower women worldwide with the freedom to choose
their family size— through education, social change and
- Give people the help they need to lift themselves out of
- Ensure everyone can access and use modern family planning.
- Challenge beliefs and social norms which encourage large
families and oppose contraception.
- Encourage people to have smaller families wherever they have
the choice to.
Join the Campaign
Our situation is grave but we can take action. That action will not be taken unless people understand the need for it. Population Matters is calling on organisations which educate the public about the natural world to step up to the challenge of informing people about the current crisis and what we can do to end it.
We are contacting museums, zoos, conservation organisations, media organisations and many other institutions to ask them to provide clear, accurate and prominent information about the state of the natural world in the Anthropocene era.
We began our campaign by contacting the world-famous Natural History Museum in London and are in dialogue with the museum at the moment. We have submitted a petition to the museum which is now closed but you can still help the campaign by contacting the director of the NHM at:
Sir Michael Dixon, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Rd, London SW7 5BD or via their online contact form.
You can also contact museums and other organisations in your area to ask them to provide more information about human impacts and population. You can send a link to our briefing with your email, or order a hard copy free from our shop to send with a letter.