Are we eating our way towards mass extinction?

60% of Earth's wildlife has been wiped out in just 50 years, WWF reports.

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LAST UPDATED: 17 January 2019

We are currently witnessing wildlife loss at a rate seen only during mass extinctions. If this trend continues, the survival of countless species is under threat ... including our own.

Why is wildlife disappearing?

In short, we're doing it. By what we're putting on our plates.

According to a 2018 WWF report, the greatest threats to wildlife are exploitation — hunting, poaching and (this is a big one) fishing animals to extinction — and loss of habitat, with climate change and pollution also being significant factors. The biggest cause of habitat loss is land clearing, primarily to graze cattle and grow crops to feed farmed animals. Currently, almost one-third of the Earth’s surface is used for these purposes alone, with more forest land bulldozed every year.

How did this happen? Since the 1800s, the world's population has grown so rapidly that it's known by scientists as 'The Great Acceleration'. And in the last 50 years the demand for resources has reached such a level that it is interfering profoundly with the atmosphere, oceans, ice sheets, land and biodiversity (plant and animal life).

Scientists have warned that at current fishing rates, fish populations could collapse by 2048.

Prior to this population explosion, the Earth's resources were able to replenish more quickly than humans were using them. But the Earth can no longer keep up with us. And it's the way we're eating and producing food that is the biggest culprit of all. We need to change the way we eat ... and fast. (Read enough? Get started eating plant-based food today.)

What's at risk?

Biodiversity is not just important because plants and animals are nice to look at. (Though if you're a nature lover, you'll know that this is reason enough.) Nature, and the ecosystems of plants and animals that work within it, is literally what's keeping us alive. In one way or another, everything humanity needs to survive and thrive is provided by nature — food, water, oxygen ... even medicine.

Many of the plant foods we eat rely on pollination from birds, bees and other insects. Clearing land to feed farmed animals is a huge threat to bees and other pollinators, as they are rapidly losing natural areas for foraging and nesting. Many plant-derived ingredients used in medical treatments also rely on pollination. The extinction of bees and other pollinating animals would pose a huge threat to our survival.

WWF estimates that more than 75% of the leading global food crops benefit from pollination. Some of these crops are key sources of human nutrition.

Rainforests, sometimes referred to as the 'lungs of the Earth', absorb carbon dioxide, and breathe out oxygen. And yet we're cutting them down at a rapid rate, destroying the homes of countless animals and the Earth's capacity to generate oxygen. Almost 80% of former Amazon forests are now used for grazing cattle for meat.

Along with the physical benefits, research increasingly shows that being in nature improves our psychological wellbeing. And it has irreplaceable social, cultural, spiritual and religious significance.

There's no denying it — we need nature. And the way we eat and produce food is pushing wild plant and animal life ever closer to the brink of extinction.

It's not too late ...

If we act now, we can still turn things around. Eating plant-based foods is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to use our Earth's resources more responsibly, and to protect wildlife in the process. With a growing population, using the resources we have effectively is increasingly important. On average, it takes around 6 kg of plant protein to create just 1 kg of animal protein. If we instead used the crops feeding farmed animals to feed humans, we could feed an additional 4 billion people. Plant-based food also uses less water, and generates less greenhouse gases. And it's delicious!

100+ plant-based recipes

Plant-based recipes »

It's no surprise that, according to a GlobalData report, around 70% of the population globally are reducing their meat consumption or eating entirely plant-based. And it's never been easier. More and more restaurants are adding plant-based meals to their menus, and supermarkets are rapidly embracing plant-based products. Find out how you can be part of the movement for a more sustainable future with a free vegetarian starter kit and 100+ plant-based recipes.

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We are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and the enormous impact we have on it. We may also be the last that can act to reverse this trend.WWF, Living Planet Report 2018

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