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Statistics on environment, green living and sustainability

Other sites make articles out of numbers, here is the backward approach: we take numbers out of articles and collect them. We will provide the link (or in general source information) for each figure. Although we try to select somewhat trustworthy sources, this may look like "cribbing from the internet like a Fox News intern" (expression stolen from Kieran Suckling, liked it, sorry :)). Please don't blame us for inaccuracy; we are just hunters and gatherers here! :) little blue heron, everglades hoverfly on red daisy mum large grasshopper, indiana lichen on tree, south carolina



Loosely grouped into the following sections:



On species and their extinction

Our site's main concern and reason why we started ysmad.com. To put this in relation to other concerns (like global warming, pollution etc.): species extinction is considered the environmental issue exceeding sustainability by the highest percentage (see e.g. magazine "Scientific American" April 2010, article "Boundaries for a healthy planet").


"A conservative estimate of the current extinction rate indicates that about 27,000 species a year are being lost."

[National Wildlife Federation according to "Web of Creation" ]

This by the way we took as the basis of our counter on the homepage - as an average number after comparison with other sources. It seems to be taken from Edward Wilson, "The diversity of Life". Note there is a high uncertainty in this number. But where is your threshhold what rate is no longer acceptable? A hundred species a year? A thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand? One?


"Every day, an estimated 100 plant and animal species are lost to deforestation"

[National Wildlife Federation according to "Web of Creation" ]

Every day! Only to deforestation. Holy! :-(
This by the way is no contradiction to the previous claim - it's just an a little less conservative estimate. If you look up the '27,000' in Wilson's book (at the end of chapter 12), also this is only specific to deforestation, with "cautious parameters, selected in a biased manner to draw a maximally optimistic conclusion".


"Every year, 13 million hectares of tropical forest - an area the size of Illinois - disappear in smoke and as lumber. (...) Thousands of species disappear forever."

[Movie "Home", Yann Arthus-Bertrand, 2009 ]


"35% of all freshwater species [are] gone"

[Conservation International clip "Fresh Water: The Essence of Life" ]


"(...) on average one-third of Earth's habitats have been damaged by humans - with, for example, 85% of seas and oceans and more than 70% of Mediterranean shrubland affected."

[The Guardian reporting on a study "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)", 05/2010 ]


"50% of all wetlands [are] lost"

[Conservation International clip "Fresh Water: The Essence of Life" ]


"Africa has the highest deforestation rate in the world, and lost 13 million acres (5.3m hectares) of forest each year in the 1990s."

[Site 'missionariesofafrica.org', 07/2009 ]

This page of the 'Missionaries of Africa' we found by an odd chance, but well - another statistic. Note only: we are assuming "highest" here is meant not in relation to total land and/or originally forested area (which would be more expressive i.m.o.), but "highest" as an absolute number.


"Extinction rates are rising by a factor of up to 1,000 above natural rates. Every hour, three species disappear. Every day, up to 150 species are lost. Every year, between 18,000 and 55,000 species become extinct. The cause: human activities."

[Ahmed Djoghlaf, head of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, in a message 5/22/2007 ]


"Overfishing of England's and Wales' fisheries has reached dramatic proportions: within 120 years fish stocks have declined by 94 percent. Scientists believe that in other European waters it does not look better."

[Article about almost emptied British fisheries on "spiegel.de", 5/4/2010 ]


"Since 1950, fishing catches have increased fivefold, from 18 to 100 million metric tons a year. Thousands of factory ships are emptying the oceans. Three-quarters of fishing grounds are exhausted, depleted or in danger of being so. Most large fish have been fished out of existence (...)"

[Movie "Home", Yann Arthus-Bertrand, 2009 ]


"The World Conservation Union (...) said that one in every six land mammals in Europe was under threat of extinction (...)"

[According to a Reuters article "U.N. urges world to slow extinctions", 5/22/07 ]


"More than 2,000 new species of flowering plants are described worldwide each year (...)"

[Smithsonian Magazine 07/2009 (p. 6)]

I read this as "there are much more than 2000 plants (of which 2000 are "flowering plants") newly detected each year". Sounds positive, but compare below to the number of estimated species. The concern is, that at the same time we loose thousands of species - of which a good portion must then be yet unknown to us. In other words: we are still in the process of inventorizing what we've got, but struggle to keep up with the destruction.


"The current global extinction rate of species exceed the supposed natural extinction rate by the factor 100 to 1000."

[German Federal Office of Environmental Protection, 2008 ]


"In 2004 (...) 32.5 percent of amphibian species worldwide were classified as threatened with extinction, compared with 12 percent of reptiles, 23 percent of birds, and 23 percent of mammals."

[E.O. Wilson, The Creation - An Appeal to save Life on Earth]


"(...) experts believe there are around 15 million species. Currently known and described are around 1.8 million, so far around 40,000 species have been examined for their conservation status."

[German Federal Office of Environmental Protection, 2008 ]

These "15 million" appear to be a very vague number - estimates go between a few million to more than 100 million. What can be derived though: we have described only a fraction of all species yet, and a fraction of the fraction we examined for their conservation status. And with all likelyhood (my opinion) we are detecting "new" species at a slower rate than we exterminate them. What a shame for homo "sapiens".


"Between the early 1980s and 2001, between 19 and 35 percent of the world's mangrove forest area was lost. At this rate of loss--about 2 percent each year--mangroves could be extinct in 100 years."

["Science News" referring to IUCN, 7/1/2009 ]


"Caribbean coral reefs are already 80 percent destroyed"

[German Federal Office of Environmental Protection, 2008 ]


"Scientists estimate, that each year around one million sea birds and 100,000 sea mammals get entangled in plastic garbage or get intoxicated with it."

[Spiegel Online 4/14/09 ]


"Annually, 300,000 whales and dolphins die in fishing nets; annually, 100 million sharks die each year as bycatch; annually, 250,000 sea turtles perish as bycatch."

[WWF video "Beifang - Eine mörderische Verschwendung", 03/2009 ]

Mind you, these numbers are only attributed to bycatch.
Many of the species affected are endangered already - e.g. all species of sea turtles! Mostly we read bycatch is estimated to a catch/bycatch ratio of 2:1 overall, but for single species like shrimp it gets as inefficient as 1:4 [sic!]. (You can even find claims for insane shrimp-bycatch-ratios of 1:15! We refused to believe this, hoping it's exaggerated*.)
Additionally to these numbers you can read on WWF-pages, that an estimated 300,000 sea birds die as a consequence of traditional longline-fishing. It's a mess. Truly. Go veggie more often.
* Here the text passage: "Hall et al. (2000) reported that the shrimp trawl fishery generates more by-catch than any known world fishery and presents an average shrimp by-catch ratio of between 1:3 and 1:15 in the tropics."


"Wildlife trafficking is thought to be the third most valuable illicit commerce in the world, after drugs and weapons (...)"

[A report in the Smithsonian magazine December 2009, referring to the U.S. State Department]


"(...) at least 12 million wild animals are poached there [in Brazil] each year."

[A report in the Smithsonian magazine December 2009, referring to Brazil's Institute of Environment and Natural Resources]

The magazine article goes on: "Animals ripped from their habitat suffer, of course. They are smuggled in thermoses and nylon stockings, stuffed into toilet paper tubes, hair curlers and hubcaps. (...) most captured wild animals die before reaching a buyer." Did we mention?: Let life live where it belongs.



On consumption and sustainability

Growth and more growth, driven by consumption and more consumption. "For one thing, this system looks like it's fine. No problem. But the truth is it's a system in crisis. And the reason it is in crisis is that it is a linear system and we live on a finite planet and you can not run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely." (from "story of stuff")


"Chinese experts assume, that 15 to 20 percent of Chinese emissions stem from products, which end on markets outside China, particularly in the US and in Europe."

[Spiegel Online 6/18/09 ]

That is put here, because I hear so many people complaining "the Chinese" pollute the world more and cause much more harm to the environment than our (western) societies. However, it's our products and by this our pollution - as we choose to buy the cheap product over the more expensive, but supposedly environmentally friedlier product of the local manufacturer.


"Americans already consume vastly more paper than any other country - about three times more per person than the average European, and 100 times more than the average person in China."

[The Guardian, 2/26/2009 ]


"In the US alone 6.8 billion metric tons of plastic are produced each year, but only about 450,000 tons are being recycled."

[Spiegel Online 4/14/09 ]


"The U.S. generated approximately 245.7 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2005."

[Planet Earth calendar 2009, 10/23]


"One year's production of plastic bottles in the US consumes as much oil as fueling up 100,000 cars with it."

[Spiegel Online 4/14/09 ]


"Each year the United States consumes 30 billion plastic and 10 billion paper grocery bags, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That translates to about 14 million trees and 12 million barrels of oil."

[The Daily Green, without date (2008 or 2009) ]


"To produce approximately one kilogram tuna meat, up to 20 kilograms of other fish as fodder are needed - and so far they are being rubbed off the ocean floors with huge nets."

[Spiegel Online 10/27/08 ]


"In just four decades, the population of passenger pigeons plunged from hundreds of millions to zero."

[E.O. Wilson, The Creation - An Appeal to save Life on Earth]


"Each year, humans kill more than 100 million sharks worldwide. (...) Shark finning kills 26 to 73 million sharks annually, and the shark carcasses are typically dumped overboard."

[The Daily Green, 7/25/2008 ]

Please read this again. We kill 100 million+ sharks each year, of which roughly 50% are almost completely thrown away as "garbage"; still alive, mutilated.


"[It needs] 5 kilograms of sardines, anchovies or mackerel for 1 kilogram of fish meal (...) meanwhile 25% of the global catch ends up as fodder for fish farms (...)"

[TV program "ZDF.Umwelt", 6/28/2009 ]

In the program these figures are used to explain that farmed fish as currently practiced is not a solution to overfishing, but one of the causes. Another number mentioned: the product/fishmeal ratio to produce salmon is mentioned as 1:4. See also the - sorry, horrendous - quote about tuna meat production above.


"American discard 4 million tons of office paper every year - enough to build a 12-foot high wall of paper from New York to California."

[American Forest & Paper Association, 2004, according to "iD2 communications" ]


"By 2030 the world will consume 47% more oil than it did in 2003."

[Delta Sky Magazine April 2010, page 69]



Effects of current lifestyles

Well, one effect is species extinction, see above. Listed here are more general effects, which again lead to more species extinction. Well, it's not a hard distinction. It's all connected in the end ...


"By the late 1980s (...) about three quarters of the world's original forests had been destroyed, including 50 percent of rain forests in both tropical and temperate regions."

[Edward O. Wilson in a foreword to "The Diversity of Life", 1998]


"The exploitation of Earth costs 4 to 4.5 trillion US dollar per year"

[Article headline on heise.de, referring to the WWF Living Planet Report, 10/29/2008 ]

Reported is, that the human species takes much more from Earth, than it is able to provide. In other words: we are building up debt. See also our blog posting from 9/30/08, "Commonplace on credit payback".


"Our global footprint now exceeds the world's capacity to regenerate by about 30 per cent."

[WWF Living Planet Report 2008 (5MB!) ]


"If our demands on the planet continue at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we will need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles."

[WWF Living Planet Report 2008 (5MB!) ]


"As per the [U.N.'s] FAO's latest figures, a quarter of all wild fisheries are endangered; with current trends, commercial fishing won't be possible any more by 2050."

[German Federal Office of Environmental Protection, 2008 ]


"(...) shrimp aquaculture is responsible for 38% of total mangrove loss and (...) shrimp culture is, by a considerable margin, the greatest single cause of mangrove loss."

[Article "From Wetlands to Wastelands: Impacts of Shrimp Farming", March 2003, referring to "Valiela et al." ]

Is it a good idea to provide shrimps at fast food chains to be munched away like popcorn?! Did we mention?: Eat less shrimps, please.


"Almost 75 percent of the planet's fisheries have been classified as either overfished or depleted altogether. Some shark species, for instance, have been reduced by 99.9 percent due to overfishing in the past hundred years."

[Article "The Cold Hard Truth About Fish" in National Geographic "Adventure" December 2008/January 2009, p. 32]


"(...) the world has effectively lost 19% of the original area of coral reefs; 15% are seriously threatened with loss within the next 10-20 years; and 20% are under threat of loss in 20-40 years."

[Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, Status Report 2008 ]

Should be mentioned, that coral reefs are considered to have a similar ecological value for the aquatic life, as rainforests have for the life on land (if this should be mentioned that separated at all). By percentage, the loss of coral reefs exceeds the loss of rainforests by far.


"[Man lands] 100 million metric tons seafood per year (...) three quarters of all fish stock is on the brink of collapse (...) one third of all fishing is illegal (...)"

[TV program "ZDF.Umwelt", 6/28/2009 ]

Even if you don't know a word German, the footage is worth being seen: pictures of fish being industrially treated like .. say .. construction sand or gravel, instantly grinded down to fish meal, by-catch being dumped over board in streams of fish through presumably designated trawler outlets. It's a mess. Throwaway culture unveiled - however, far away from the supermarket showcases.


"The lives of the Clallam Indians (as well as many tribes of nunhumans) were centered around the 400,000 salmon who came up the river each year [the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington]. Now, about 3,000 fish come up the river annually. The reason? Dams."

[Derrick Jensen in "Endgame, Volume II", page 590 (in my edition)]


"Many river systems approach the fate of those in China, where chiefly because of pollution 80 percent of the 50,000 kilometers of major channels can no longer support fish of any kind."

[E.O. Wilson, The Creation - An Appeal to save Life on Earth]


"1/4 of Earth's species will be headed for extinction by 2050 if the warming trend continues at its current rate. Right now, 10 percent of all known plant species are under threat of extinction."

[Delta Sky Magazine April 2010, page 69]


"As man blows more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, the oceans will soon be significantly more acidic. In 90 years the acid concentration will have doubled."

["ZDF heute journal", 7/19/2010 ]

For effects on sealife and the base of foodchains here just a link to Wikipedia: Ocean acidification, possible impacts



A relatively new development

"Why worry? It worked well for hundreds of years, despite all the other prophets of doom in the past ..." I hear people say. But the fact is, only since a couple of decades we are living unsustainable, and we are accelerating exponentially ...


"In 1960 three-quarters of Guatemala was covered by forest (...). By 1990, about a quarter of the country was forested, and perhaps 2 percent of the original frontier forest survived.

["Strangely like war - The global assault on forests", Derrick Jensen, George Draffan]

This deforestation by the way is not "every country's own decision" as I read in some forums, but mainly exploitation by us (the "rich" nations), mainly through meat consumption. See the respective ysmad green tip.


'The world's wildlife has declined by 27 percent between 1970 and 2005.'

[WWF paper "2010 and Beyond - Rising to the biodiversity challenge", index, table 3. (1.5MB PDF!)]

If we can assume this is only nearly correct, we should all be shocked and naturally start thinking of drastic countermeasure. As a first measure, one would immediately halt any destruction to gain time - but apparently we can't. The economy! The GNP! Growth! Politicians, who one would think are in charge of caring about our current and future conditions of life - not a word. Insane. Insanity indeed.


"The Living Planet Index shows that over the past 35 years alone the Earth's wildlife populations have declined by a third."

[WWF Living Planet Report 2008 (5MB!) ]


"(...) 90 percent of all large fishes have disappeared from the world's oceans in the past half century (...)"

[CNN article on a study published in "Nature", 2003 ]


"In the last century, half of the world's marshes were drained. We know neither their richness nor their role. (...) [Mangroves] were reduced by half during the 20th century."

[Movie "Home", Yann Arthus-Bertrand, 2009 ]


"The Jordan has been a river up to 65 meters wide, until man's intervention in the 1930s (...). Today in some spots it merely reaches up to one's ankles and it is difficult to see water at all. (...) Biodiversity has been cut in half."

[Article about almost emptied British fisheries on "spiegel.de", 5/4/2010 ]


"Argentina has lost nearly 70 percent of its forests in a century."

[Argentina's Environmental Secretariat, Sept. 2009 ]

Today the main reason for this, according to "ZDF Umwelt" (10/4/2009), is the continuing production of genetically modified soya; with Argentia being the number one soy exporter.


"(...) illegal hunting and trade (...) has cut the number of tigers in the wild by 95 percent in just 100 years."

[Delta Sky Magazine April 2010, page 19]

And two more numbers a little above in the same text: "The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 3,200 tigers remain in the wild - compared to 5,000 that exist in captivity in the U.S. alone."


"35 percent of all mangroves have been destroyed within the last 20 years"

[German Federal Office of Environmental Protection, 2008 ]

Now this needs to be read twice. We ruined more than one third of all mangroves, which in their importance can be compared to rainforests on land (my own opinion) - and this within 20 years, i.e. from the late 80s to today. Unfortunately it seems we are faster in ruining than in thinking about what we do (yes, agree, preachy).


"Humanity's demand on the planet has more than doubled over the past 45 years as a result of population growth and increasing individual consumption."

[WWF Living Planet Report 2008 (5MB!) ]

This makes visible (at least to me), that the current situation has not "always been like that" and we cannot just dismiss concerns with a simple "the system's working since hundreds of years and there were always doomsday-prophets in history". Instead, the systematic destruction beyond recovery-rate (i.e. unsustainability) is a very recent development, and the curve very much looks exponential to me, unfortunately. On the other hand, the learning curve and green-living attitudes of humans are also growing - let it turn out that the latter is steeper, please.


"82 million metric tons of fish and seafood had been taken out of the oceans 2003 - four times as much as 50 years ago"

[German Federal Office of Environmental Protection, 2008 ]


"The North Atlantic, for example, holds less than 20 percent of the fish it held in 1900."

[Stephen M. Meyer, "The End of the Wild", 2006]


"Since the latter part of the 20th century (...) We've lost or consumed on the order of 90 percent of creatures such as the tunas, swordfish, marlin, sharks. This depletion doesn't come from feeding starving millions. This is about feeding a highly touted luxury market for things such as shark fin soup and sushi, and even tuna fish sandwiches, salads and shrimp."

[Sylvia Earle in Delta Sky Magazine April 2010, page 65]

Another quote from her in the same article, on selling our natural heritage for dumping prices: "Orange roughy can be 200 years old, and they're selling in my local market for $8.99 a pound in California. It's ridiculous." It's ridiculous.