Over the past two centuries the Earth’s human population has doubled, and doubled again, and nearly doubled yet again, increasing from 1 billion to more than 7.6 billion people today.1 Species extinctions and die-offs of wild animals and plants are unfortunately keeping pace. Over the past 50 years, as human populations have doubled, wildlife populations have plummeted by half.2
Humans have an enormous influence on wildlife and the environment. Only one-fifth of ice-free land on the planet has very low human impacts.3 Agriculture and grazing, fossil fuel use, logging, urban sprawl, climate change and the introduction of invasive species have fragmented habitat and transformed landscapes across the globe. In the United States, reckless extraction, production and consumption have an outsized impact on the planet. If everyone in the world lived the way Americans do today, it would take five Earths to sustain us.4
In order to understand how people in the United States perceive their impact on wildlife and the environment, the Center for Biological Diversity conducted a nationally representative online survey in the winter of 2019. Researchers, academics and activists acknowledge population growth and consumption affect the environment, but few social scientists have studied what the general public thinks of these subjects. This research fills that knowledge gap.
Key Survey Findings
The survey’s key findings are broken down into four topics: population, family planning, climate change and consumption.
Population Key Findings
Family Planning Key Findings
Climate Change Key Findings
Consumption Key Findings
The best solutions to address population pressure are those that advance human rights, like education for all, voluntary family planning, universal access to contraception and reproductive healthcare — including abortion.
It’s also necessary to address consumption by focusing upstream on reuse and waste prevention and building a just, sustainable economy that supports shorter supply chains, local jobs and resilient, equitable communities. Sustainability is not just about having enough resources for human beings but about sharing the planet and creating a livable future for all creatures and organisms that share and constitute our ecosystems.
2. Scott, J.M. 2008. Threats to Biological Diversity: Global, Continental, Local. U.S. Geological Survey, Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife, Research Unit, University of Idaho. https://scholar.law.colorado.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=water-resources-and-transformation-of-American-West
3. Jacobson, A.P., Riggio, J., M. Tait, A. et al. 2019. Global areas of low human impact (‘Low Impact Areas’) and fragmentation of the natural world. Sci Rep 9, 14179. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-50558-6
4. Global Footprint Network. 2020. Country Trends: North America. http://data.footprintnetwork.org/?_ga=2.10602418.728955779.1599258986-871759858.1599258986#/countryTrends?type=earth&cn=2004
5. Public Policy Polling. 2013. National Survey Results for Center for Biological Diversity. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/pdfs/NationalSurveyResults2-2.pdf