Living Planet Report: No more waiting for the cavalry

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No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, least of all me. I’m an optimist – I wouldn’t have picked a career in conservation if I thought it was a hopeless cause.

But, as editor-in-chief of the 2014 edition of the Living Planet Report, I have to level with you. The news isn’t good.

WWF Living Planet Report 2014 Cover

Ever hopeful, I thought this might be the year when the data from the Zoological Society of London showed that we had slowed (if not halted) species decline. Fingers crossed, the Global Footprint Network was going to say that humanity is correcting course and coming closer to living within planetary boundaries. Alas, no.

This year’s Living Planet Index shows its sharpest decline since WWF started issuing the Living Planet Report 16 years ago, and the Ecological Footprint continues to increase. As Marco Lambertini, the Director General of WWF International, says in his foreword, the report “is not for the faint-hearted”.

I had day-dreamed about producing a report with solid scientific data recording a reversal in the trends of the global “state of the planet” indicators, and any or all of the others featured in this year’s report – global atmospheric CO2 concentrations, water scarcity, forest cover and marine fish stocks, for example. Instead, they’re all also going in the wrong direction.

Things are getting worse for the planet, not better. And making matters even more alarming: the data about climate change suggest the task of turning the trends is only going to become more difficult in the years ahead. This means I am guilty of the “doom and gloom” messaging environmentalists are so often accused of… or am I?

If you read only the One Planet Solutions chapter of the Living Planet Report, you might feel downright cheery. This is where we highlight the individuals, communities, organizations, businesses and governments that are turning the tide on the negative trends presented in earlier chapters.

One Planet Perspective

These trend-setting, positive stories show WWF’s “One Planet Perspective” in action. We can preserve natural capital, produce better, consume more wisely, redirect financial flows and share resources more fairly. The fact is, we already have the knowledge and resources to live sustainably within the Earth’s capacity. We just haven’t mobilized them yet.

The problem, as I see it, is that too many people are waiting “for the cavalry to come”. What they don’t seem to realize is that the “cavalry” isn’t conservationists or politicians or CEOs. We – ourselves, all of us – are the only people capable of rescuing humanity from our self-induced peril. The cavalry is here; we just haven’t started fighting.

There are, however, scouts showing us the way. These are the folks creating One Planet Solutions, and they are the reason I can remain optimistic about the next edition of the Living Planet Report. Maybe in 2016 I’ll be the bearer of good news: The cavalry has arrived.

Richard McLellan is Director, Footprint at WWF International


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