Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Changes in Our Global Footprint

Credit: mumindurmaz35/Adobe

Credit: mumindurmaz35/Adobe

By William Laurance and James Watson

Our impacts on the Earth are slowing down relative to population and economic growth.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The environmental footprint of humanity is truly massive. Indeed, over our planet’s 4.5 billion-year history – at least two-thirds of which has sustained life – no other species has ever come close to us in terms of consuming so much of the world’s energy, resources and land area.

That’s a scary thought, especially as we contemplate the environmental consequences of having up to 12 billion people on Earth by the end of this century. Thankfully there is some good news as the pace of expansion of the human footprint appears to be slowing down, at least relative to our burgeoning population and global economic growth. But this comes at a cost, as the places that humans are expanding into are last large expanses of wilderness areas left on the planet.

These are key conclusions of two related studies recently published in Nature Communications and Current Biology that were undertaken by a diverse research team of Australian, North American and European scientists. In this research, we attempted to estimate how much the global human footprint had expanded during the past two decades and what the implications are for the environment. Our results are clearly alarming, but with glimpses of a silver lining behind the darkening clouds.

Our Growing Global Footprint

For starters we estimated that, by the mid-1990s, humans had significantly altered 77%...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.