“Sustainable” is a term applied to everything from toilet paper to buildings to community development plans. It's a buzz word that's used, and often overused, by industry, media and even the environmental community to oversimplify complex problems. Polls have shown that people aren't sure whether it means healthy or natural or something entirely different. But no matter what the sustainability conversation is about one thing is almost always missing: impacts on other species.
Whether people are talking about “sustainable agriculture” or “sustainable development,” the discussion is typically limited to whether there are enough resources for human beings — enough food to feed ourselves or enough space for the lifestyles we want. The Center for Biological Diversity believes that sustainability has to be about more than just what we can take from the environment and from other species. It has to be about sharing the planet and creating a livable future for all of us inhabiting the Earth.
That's why in 2013 the Center expanded our population program to encompass overconsumption and sustainability. These issues are intricately tied to the impact of human population growth on endangered species and the health of our planet. With more than 7 billion people living here — and another 227,000 added every day — our demands for land, water, food and fossil fuels, paired with our immense amounts of waste and pollution, are driving climate changes and pushing other species to extinction.
The Center is bringing animals, plants and the health of our planet back into the sustainability conversation. We're taking on the systems in the United States (primarily the livestock and energy industries) that cause the most environmental damage and asking people to “choose wild” — to live in a way that allows wildlife and wild lands to thrive. Together we can stop the rampant overconsumption that threatens the future of other species as well as our own.
The U.S. is the third-most populated country in the world, and our population grows by another person every 15 seconds. That's why, in 2009, the Center started a campaign to curb runaway population growth as part of our mission to save imperiled species. But compounding the problem is the fact that the United States is responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, consumption and waste. If everyone in the world lived the way Americans do today, it would take more than four Earths to sustain the planet.
Population and sustainability are part of the same equation, adding up to the single-largest threat to biodiversity: human impact. If we all reduce our environmental footprint without addressing human population growth, our sheer numbers will continue to push other species out. If we slow population growth without getting rampant overconsumption under control, the planet will continue to be stripped of the resources needed by other species — and us — to thrive.
Rather than continuing to debate whether population growth or overconsumption is more to blame for today's environmental challenges, we need to address both. Polar bears, panthers, sea turtles and thousands of other species being pushed to the brink of extinction every day depend on it.
Check out this infographic to learn more about consumption around the globe.
Every day, we make choices in our lives that affect the environment, the climate and wildlife. From what we eat to how many children we decide to have, there's a lot we can do to “choose wild” and reduce our environmental footprint to leave more room for wild animals and plants. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
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Contact: Stephanie Feldstein
Photo Credits: Banner photo courtesy Anja Jonsson/Flickr; Rearview mirror courtesy Alaskan Dude/Flickr; Local tomatoes courtesy Le Grande Farmer's Market/Flickr.