Loose language from WWF

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I've been reading the 2018 Living Planet Index, something best read in daylight.  I was alerted to it by a headline and link in Climate Action.  The headline was: 60% of wildlife has been wiped out by humans since 1970, WWF finds

I thought to myself: "That can't be true", and of course it isn't.

My first thought was cavalier sub-editing at Climate Action, but WWF seems just as culpable.  Compare these quotes from the report:

Page 6

"The astonishing decline in wildlife populations shown by the latest Living Planet Index – a 60% fall in just over 40 years – is a grim reminder and perhaps the ultimate indicator of the pressure we exert on the planet."

Page 9

"The latest index shows an overall decline of 60% in population sizes between 1970 and 2014."

Page 13

"The Living Planet Index has recorded an overall decline of 60% in species population sizes between 1970 and 2014."

Page 90

"The latest index shows an overall decline of 60% in population sizes between 1970 and 2014."


So far, so consistent, although I did wonder about the phrase population sizes as this is quite different from the wildlife that Climate Action used.  It was only on page 92 that all was revealed:

"Average abundance of 16,704 populations representing 4,005 species monitored across the globe declined by 60%."

"The global index, calculated using available data for all species and regions, shows an overall decline of 60% in the population sizes of vertebrates between 1970 and 2014."


So, here we have it.  The 60% doesn't apply to all wildlife, or all species on the planet.  It applies only to the specific populations of a relatively small number of species that WWF has been monitoring over the years – and these were (understandably from WWF's point of view) all vertebrates.  I could not find an explanation of this methodology in the report, but maybe I missed it.

This is bad enough, of course, though not yet as catastrophic as was reported.  The Guardian, meanwhile: wrote: "Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation" which isn't true either ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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