7 Visualisations That Show How We're Destroying Planet Earth

Humans are slowly destroying the planet - and it's predicted we don't have too long to save it, according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). From overpopulation, to over-fishing and even world deforestation - There seems to be an endless list of ways we're slowly crippling the planet.

Below you'll find 7 visualisations showing just how drastically we're changing the planet, and if these don't make you think twice about your affects on the planet, then we're not sure what will.

World Population

In the last 50 years, world population has risen from 3 billion people to 7.7 billion people, with more and more people born every second - It's estimated there will be around 10 billion human beings living on Earth by 2050. This massive explosion in human population has a much bigger impact on the Earth and biodiversity than most people realise. With an increase in population, there's an increase in demand for food, space and raw materials which in turn leads to the destruction of habitats and pollution as a whole.

Did you know that India and China contribute to a combined 36.15% of the world's population? Find out which other countries are contributing to this huge growth in population with this visualisation.

If you look back around 10,000 years, the human population remained low, with no significant increases in population. This was due to the difficulty of finding food, before the beginning of agriculture, small groups of human beings had to cover huge areas of land in search of food. The development of agriculture lead to a sudden increase in population that has exploded in recent times. Human beings are the only known species on the planet that can adapt to and survive in almost all terrestrial environments.

As the human population increases, the yield of food from farming will be expected to increase in order to prevent malnutrition and starvation. The yield of crop plants can be increased by intensive farming methods - application of chemical fertilisers and pesticides etc. However, while these methods will increase yield of crop plants, it can also have adverse affects on the environment.

An increase in population also means an increase in ecological footprint - the area that is required to provide the resources needed to sustain the a person and to remove their waste products. An ecological footprint is used to measure a person's impact on the environment. The average ecological footprint of each person in the world is currently sat at around 2.3 hectares of land - for comparison, this is equal to roughly 2.5 football pitches. Currently, there are only 1.7 hectares of land available to each person, meaning many people are living unsustainable lives. The only way for people to live a sustainable life is for either the world population to decrease, or each person make smaller demands on the environment.

Main Points:

  • India and China alone contribute to a combined 36.15% of the world's population
  • In the last 50 years, the world population has increased by over 100%. From 3 billion people to 7.7 billion people.
  • The Earth's population is expected to jump to around 10 billion before 2050.
  • People's ecological footprint currently sits at 2.3 hectares of land - In order to be sustainable, this needs to be reduced to 1.7 hectares.

Greenhouse Gases

Naturally occurring greenhouse gases are good for the Earth. Gases in the atmosphere insulate the Earth, preventing the sun's heat from escaping, which in turn allows life to thrive. However, since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased, significantly. Too many greenhouse gases within the atmosphere can prevent more of the sun's heat from escaping, which will then lead to an increase in global average temperatures - otherwise known as "global warming". Global warming describes the rise in the global average temperature of Earth’s air and oceans, and is often highlighted as the most recent example of climate change. This can lead to severe weather extremeties, such as; floods, droughts, extremely hot summers and freezing cold winters.

More and more countries continue to produce massive amounts of greenhouse gases - China and The United States of America are amongst the worst offenders - by burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gases and even petroleum into the atmosphere.

You can see from the visualisation below how quickly greenhouse gases have risen over the last 164 years - especially in the last 20 years.

Main Points:

If these greenhouse gases continue to rise, the following issues are expected;

  • An increase in Earth's average temperature - This could make Earth far too warm for people to survive, and can lead to increases in droughts etc.
  • An influence on the patterns and amounts of rain - Less rain would lead to an inability to water crops, leading to potential famine in areas of the globe.
  • A reduction in ice and snow cover - As ice and snow melts more and more, global sea levels will rise, leading to some countries and areas of land disappearing.
  • A rise in sea levels - If sea levels continue to rise, areas of land will find themselves submerged - St. Kitts and Nevis is an example of this, having lost more than 25% of its land area since 1961.
  • An increase in ocean acidity levels - This increased acidity in the oceans can make it harder for corals to grow, which in turn will destroy habitats for many sea creatures.
  • Shifts in ecosystem characteristics - As temperatures increase, geographical ecosystem changes can be observed. For example, in the arctic, trees are now growing where it had previously been too cold and frozen to do so.
  • Increase threats to human health - An increase in greenhouse gases means that with each breath, you're taking in more and more gases that aren't good for your health.

Number of Cars per Country

The total number of cars (motorised vehicles) worldwide has massively surpassed the 1 billion it reached in 2010, and that figure isn't expected to stop any time soon. Experts believe that by 2030, the total number of motorised vehicles will have surpassed 2 billion. Not only will there be around 2 billion motorised vehicles on the world's roads, but the world population is expected to increase to around 8.6 billion people by 2030.

Imagine a world with almost 9 billion people, and 2 billion vehicles - city roads will become even more congested, with traffic jams in major cities becoming even worse than they are now. The World Health Organisation estimates that around 1.25 million people are currently killed in road traffic accidents per year - more cars, more people... more accidents?

But that's not destroying the planet, right? Well, no, vehicle deaths aren't killing the planet, however the greenhouse gases produced by cars is. With more and more cars being produced across the globe, the greenhouse gases created by cars are increasing too.

Check out this visualisation to see which countries have the most cars per 1000 people.You might be surprised!

Main Points:

  • Total number of cars worldwide expected to hit 2 billion before 2030. Having only hit 1 billion in 2010.
  • 1.25 million people die each year via traffic accidents. This is expected to rise as the number of cars rises.
  • The United States of America has one of the highest number of cars per 1000 people with 837 per 1000 people.
  • China and the United States of America lead the world in motor vehicle production. Between them they produce almost 41% of of global cars produced.

World Meat Production

Many people don't realise, but, meat production is a huge contributor to global greenhouse gases, and the effects it's having on the planet. Not only does live stock release large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide gas, but they also require large amounts of land, water and energy to keep alive. 

According to timeforchange.org, the negative effect of Methane on the environment is 23 times worse than that of CO2. Cows produce, on average, anywhere between 70 - 120 kg of methane per year. With an estimated 1.4 - 1.5 billion cows and bulls, you can see why large scale meat production can be a bad thing.

It's not just the gases produced, but the land required to keep these animals that can have a profound effect on the environment. According to climatenexus.org, in order to sustain the 70 billion animals that are raised annually for human consumption, it requires roughly one third of the planet's land (ice-free land), as well as nearly 16% of all global freshwater, is needed in order to grow livestock.

You can check out which countries are producing the most and least meat with the visualisation below.

Main Points:

  • Cows and bulls produce on average 70 - 120kg of methane per year - This is the equivalent 2,300 kg of CO2 - This amount of CO2 would be generated by burning around 1,000 liters of petrol. Meaning it's the equivalent of driving a car 7,800 miles per year - as a car uses an average of 8L of petrol per 100KM.
  • Raising the animals that are used for human consumption requires almost 33% of ice-free land, along with 16% of global freshwater.
  • Each year, 70 billion animals are raised for human consumption.
  • Methane is 23 times worse for the environment than CO2 is.

Capture Fisheries Production

People from all over the globe depend on the oceans for food and income. As more and more people start to make seafood a part of their diet, our oceans continue to face the threat of depleting this supply we rely on.

In the past, fishing was way more sustainable because fishermen didn't have access to the same technologies we do today. Boats were much smaller than they are now, and often had very limited storage capacities to store fish. Now, radar allowed fishermen to easily locate bigger schools of fish for capture, meaning we're pulling more and more out of the oceans as time progresses.

Fishing is now a multimillion pound industry with well-equipped ships and hi-tech facilities that enable the exploration of new shores and deeper waters than ever before. in order to keep up with the increasing demand for seafood. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) describes over 70 percent of the world’s fisheries as either “fully exploited,” “over exploited” or “significantly depleted.” Such has been the effect of overfishing.

Overfishing can have an drastic effect on marine biodiversity. Aquatic plants and animals each have a role to play when it comes to balancing the ecology of the ocean. In order to thrive, marine creatures require a certain kind of environment and nutrients, for which they may be dependent on other organisms. If overfishing continues it can reduce number of important fish in the food chain, as well as drastically altering or disrupting it. It can also potentially lead to the demise of other sea based life.

See below which countries are most responsible for producing the most fish from capture fisheries:

Main Points:

  • 70% of the world's fisheries are "fully exploited", "over exploited" or "significantly exploited".
  • If overfishing continues it could lead to less marine life but to a collapse in food chains and ecosystems.
  • Technology has allowed fishermen to fish more than ever before.

Plastic Waste Generation

The oceans remains one of the most expansive, unexplored places on planet earth, covering around 70% of the planets surface. Despite making up the majority of our planet, more than 80% of our oceans is unmapped, unobserved and unexplored by human's – Not only have we not yet discovered the majority of the oceans, but we’re already managing to destroy it.

People are being urged to try and eliminate the use of microplastics, as well as aiming to put an end to the excessive and wasteful use of single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, bottles and more. Nearly 80% of all litter in the oceans being made up by plastic.

It’s believed that there are as much as 51 trillion microplastic particles littered in the oceans – This is around 500 times more than there stars in our own galaxy. By 2015, the world had produced 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic — more than one tonne of plastic for every person alive today.

This plastic is destroying ecosystems and killing marine life as it's ingested by fish in the oceans. Not only is it killing the marine life, but a lot of this microplastic finds it's way into our diet as we consume fish that have previously consumed these microplastics.

You can find out below which continent and countries are producing the most waste plastic, most of which tends to end up in the oceans.

Main Points:

  • By 2015, the world had produced 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic - more than 1 tonne per person in the world.
  • It's believed that there are as many as 51 trillion microplastic particles in the oceans.
  • Plastic is making its way onto your plate as more and more fish consume microplastics in the ocean.

World Deforestation

Forests make up a total of 31% of the total land mass of Earth. They're essential in the removal of carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere, in order to make air breathable. They're also responsible in producing the vital oxygen essential for the existence of wildlife and humans.

There are more than 2 billion people around the world that currently rely on forests to provide them with food, shelter, clothing, water, fuel security and even medicines. Around 300 million people (including 60 million indigenous people) rely on the forests as their home. Aside from humans, forests are also home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity – plants and animals are found in forests.

However, forests are slowly disappearing. Statistics shows around half of the world’s tropical forests have been cut down and removed. Each year, somewhere between 6 to 12% of global forests are lost due to deforestation. In the 25 years between 1990 and 2015, almost 129 million hectares of forest were lost - For comparison, that's an area roughly the size of South Africa. Within the last century, Indonesia has lost at least 15.79 million hectares of forests - making it the country with the highest rate of deforestation.

Illegal logging, forest fires, fuelwood harvesting, animal agriculture expansions and overpopulation are to blame for this massive loss of forests.

If deforestation continues we risk a wide range of problems. 70% of the world's plants and animals live in forests, if we continue to destroy forests, we risk losing more and more animal and plant species. It's estimated that 10,000 species go extinct per year.

We also run the risk of increased greenhouse gases. According to a study, tropical forests are responsible for holding over 210 gigatons of carbon dioxide - deforestation however has freed around 15% of these greenhouse gases.

Main Points:

  • Forests make up 31% of the total land mass of Earth - currently.
  • More than 2 billion people rely on trees and forests to provide them with food, shelter, clothing, water and medicine among other things.
  • 300 million people rely on forests as their home.
  • Every year 6-12% of global forests are lost.
  • Within 25 years, more than 129 million hectares of forests have been lost to deforestation.
  • Forests are home to around 70% of earth plants and animals.
  • Around 10,000 species of plants and animals go extinct each year.
  • Tropical forests are responsible for holding over 210 gigatons of CO2 - 15% of which has now been released due to deforestation.
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