Top 25 Nature Conservation Facts of 2022
Nature provides us with countless services, supplying us with fresh water, clean air, food, medicine, energy and above all, life itself. Ecosystem services contribute an estimated $125 trillion to $140 trillion a year to the world’s economy — nearly 7 times the GDP of the U.S.1 But ultimately, natural resources are so fundamental to our lives that we could never express their value in dollars.
And yet, every six seconds, the world loses a soccer field size of primary rainforest.2 Every minute, the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean.3 Every day, dozens of species go extinct.4
We benefit constantly from the services that nature offers us. But as a species, we are failing to preserve the exact thing we are so dependent on. Keep reading to learn more about the state of nature conservation today, reflecting the most recent trends in deforestation, wildlife preservation, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
Forests are primarily cleared for cattle ranching, farming and logging. However, the destruction of forests accelerates climate change, fragments delicate ecosystems, erodes soil and disrupts lives all around the world.5
- Globally, 1.25 billion people depend on forests for food, water, shelter and fuel.6
- The global rate of deforestation between 2015 and 2020 was 10 million hectares a year, a decrease from 16 million hectares a year in the 1990s.7
- Despite a downward trend in deforestation in the 2010s, 941 square kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon were deforested in the first quarter of 2022, a record 64% increase compared to the same period in 2021.8
- Scientists predict that the Amazon Rainforest may soon reach a tipping point, permanently reducing rainfall and forest composition. This would intensify global warming by releasing 90 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while decimating the forest’s native populations and biodiversity.9
- The Amazon Rainforest’s tipping point is estimated to be somewhere between 20-25% of rainforest lost, and we are approaching 20% of forest cover in the Amazon lost.9
It’s impossible to know exactly how many species exist or have gone extinct. However, experts estimate that the rate of extinction is between 1,000 and 10,000 times greater than it would be without humans.10
- Between 1970 and 2020, populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians decreased by an average of 68%. At-risk populations can experience even more rapid declines.11
- In an analysis of 27,600 terrestrial vertebrate species (like mammals, birds and reptiles), scientists discovered that 32% were experiencing population decline.12
- In a sample of 177 mammal species, all 177 had lost at least 30% of their geographic range.13
- In the past 100 years, anywhere from 200 to 500 terrestrial vertebrate species have gone extinct.14 This is at least 100 times greater than the natural rate of extinction.14
- 40.7% of amphibian species are endangered or at risk of becoming endangered.15
- 21.1% of reptiles are considered to be vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Scientists believe that over half of all turtles and crocodiles will be considered at risk in the coming years.15
- Reports suggest that insect abundance is decreasing at a rate of 1%-2% annually, leading to losses in some terrestrial regions of more than 10% each decade.16 These declines are especially concerning because of insects’ importance in supporting food chains, pollinating plants and healthy soil.17
Threats to Marine Life
The ocean is an incredibly important resource for humans, producing more than half of the world’s oxygen and absorbing 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere.18 However, human activities are threatening complex ocean ecosystems.
- At least 800 marine species are threatened by debris in the ocean — mostly plastic — that causes suffocation and starvation when ingested by species like sea turtles.19
- A third of all marine animals could go extinct in the next 300 years if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.20
- Luckily, if greenhouse gas emissions are slashed and efforts are taken to restore ecosystems, the rate of marine extinctions can decline by 70%.20
- Since the 1950s, half of all living corals have died.21
- 99% of coral reefs will die within 10 years if drastic measures to reduce carbon emissions are not taken.22
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
When humans burn fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil to generate power, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. High levels of greenhouse gases like CO2 in the atmosphere have been linked to extreme weather events and record temperatures that are already altering the landscape of our planet.23
- In 2021, global carbon dioxide emissions reached their highest level ever.24
- Nature provides us with some very important carbon sinks. Tropical forests absorb 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, and globally, forests remove up to 30% of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans.25
- Oceans, land plants and trees absorb about 50% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by humans.26
- Most greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation.27 Although 80% of overall energy production worldwide comes from fossil fuels, renewable sources like solar and wind energy now account for 29% of our electricity.28
Even low levels of air pollution have been found to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, asthma, respiratory infections and premature death.29 Although legislation like the Clean Air Act has helped restrict sources of air pollution in the U.S., more Americans are exposed to unhealthy or hazardous air quality conditions than ever before.30
- More than 137 million people in the U.S. live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.30
- People of color are 61% more likely than their white counterparts to live in a county with poor air quality.30
- 97.3% of the world’s population is exposed to an unsafe amount of air pollution (as defined by the World Health Organization’s safe exposure guidelines of under 5 micrograms of airborne particulates per square meter).31
- Air pollution decreases the global average life expectancy by more than two years compared to a world that meets the World Health Organization’s guidelines for safe particulate pollution exposure.31
Although we have made some progress to slow the rate of emissions and deforestation, we have a long way to go. Rising sea levels, unsafe air and water, extreme weather events and global mass extinctions are all quickly becoming a reality. We must take action to ensure that we leave a cleaner world for future generations.
However, we need rapid, systemic changes if we are going to see progress.
Conservation efforts continue to face challenges in the government and the Supreme Court, despite clear evidence that a cleaner world will save lives, fight injustice and vastly improve human health. But all is not lost. The U.S. House recently passed a new wildlife conservation fund, the Biden administration launched a new conservation program and scientists are rapidly developing innovative clean energy and carbon capturing technology. We have to keep working so that we survive.
1 https://www.eib.org/en/podcasts/climate-podcast-biodiversity 2 https://www.conservation.org/stories/11-deforestation-facts-you-need-to-know 3 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/every-minute-one-garbage-truck-of-plastic-is-dumped-into-our-oceans/ 4 https://now.tufts.edu/2019/05/21/extinction-crisis 5 https://pachamama.org/effects-of-deforestation#:~:text=The%20loss%20of%20trees%20and,of%20problems%20for%20indigenous%20people 6 https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation 7 1 https://www.eib.org/en/podcasts/climate-podcast-biodiversity 2 https://www.conservation.org/stories/11-deforestation-facts-you-need-to-know 3 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/every-minute-one-garbage-truck-of-plastic-is-dumped-into-our-oceans/ 4 https://now.tufts.edu/2019/05/21/extinction-crisis 5 https://pachamama.org/effects-of-deforestation 6 https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation 7 https://www.fao.org/state-of-forests/en/ 8 https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/news/amazon-deforestation-alerts-record-312km%C2%B2-for-march-2022-and-hit-highest-quarterly-rate/ 9 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666049021000244 10 https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/biodiversity/biodiversity/ 11 https://livingplanet.panda.org/en-us/ 12 https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2020/losing-ground/ 13 https://www.gpi.org/news/ripple-glass-recycles-over-1b-pounds-each-year 14 https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1922686117 15 https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2022/april/more-than-fifth-reptiles-threatened-with-extinction.html 16 https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2023989118 17 https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2022/02/24/1082752634/the-insect-crisis-oliver-milman 18 https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/why-care-about-ocean.html 19 https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/09/24/plastic-pollution-affects-sea-life-throughout-the-ocean 20 https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abe9039 21 https://www.cell.com/one-earth/fulltext/S2590-3322(21)00474-7 22 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/02/coral-reefs-extinct-global-warming-new-study 23 https://www.epa.gov/climatechange-science/causes-climate-change 24 https://www.iea.org/news/global-co2-emissions-rebounded-to-their-highest-level-in-history-in-2021 25 https://www.nasa.gov/jpl/nasa-finds-good-news-on-forests-and-carbon-dioxide 26 https://sos.noaa.gov/catalog/datasets/ocean-atmosphere-co2-exchange/ 27 https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions 28 https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/raising-ambition/renewable-energy 29 https://www.pca.state.mn.us/air/air-quality-and-you-health-effects-air-pollution 30 https://www.lung.org/research/sota/key-findings 31 https://aqli.epic.uchicago.edu/news/most-of-the-world-breathes-unsafe-air-taking-more-than-2-years-off-global-life-expectancy/