Human population a major factor in habitat loss and biodiversity decline

20 May 2024


On the eve of the International Day for Biodiversity (IDB), Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) calls on governments, including our own, to  acknowledge that human population numbers and growth are primary causes of  habitat loss and, in turn, biodiversity decline.

WWF’s 2022 Living Planet Report revealed the world had seen an average 69% drop in mammal, bird, fish, reptile, and amphibian populations since 1970. Much of the loss was caused by habitat destruction.

SPA national president Peter Strachan says in the 52 years from 1970 to 2022 the global population more than doubled from 3.7 to nearly eight billion people. There are now 8.1 billion people.

“It is no coincidence”, says Mr Strachan, “that as the human population has grown, the population of nearly all other species, save the domesticated species we breed, has diminished.

“The ever-growing human population needs to be housed and provided with all manner of infrastructure. This requires the disturbance and destruction of forests and other habitat.

“People need to be fed. As populations grow, more land is used for agriculture to grow crops and support livestock.

“People also hunt and fish, practices sometimes necessary for human survival but, taken to excess, can drive species to extinction.

“To these direct population-induced pressures we can add the indirect: the extraction of resources such as fossil fuels for energy that despoil the landscape and leave trails of pollutants and waste.

“As people travel and import and export goods, they  transport invasive species, often by accident, but occasionally deliberately. Australians know only too well the enormous impact that introduced fauna (rabbits, feral pigs, feral cats, foxes, buffalo, horses and cane-toads) and numerous introduced flora is having on native species.

“Finally, we think of zoonotic diseases as travelling from animals to humans but it also works the other way – many animals catch diseases from contact with humans, such as swine flu, human norovirus, dengue, COVID-19, scabies and tuberculosis.”

Mr Strachan says that hyper-consumption is all too often held up as the main culprit for habitat loss and environmental decline.

“Indeed, unnecessary consumption should share the blame. But we cannot ignore the environmental pressures of providing even the most basic needs of vast human populations.

“In 2022 there were 712 million people living in extreme poverty. These people must have their basic needs met. They must be fed and housed adequately and that will require encroachment on natural habitat.

“Humans are not in balance with Nature. We have to stabilise and then reduce global human population numbers until that balance is restored.”

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