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People walk along a street against wind beside a demolition site on a hazy day in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, Feb. 28, 2013. Beijing’s environmental authorities said on Thursday air quality in Beijing and nearby regions hit dangerous levels, Xinhua News Agency reported. (CHINA DAILY/REUTERS)
People walk along a street against wind beside a demolition site on a hazy day in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, Feb. 28, 2013. Beijing’s environmental authorities said on Thursday air quality in Beijing and nearby regions hit dangerous levels, Xinhua News Agency reported. (CHINA DAILY/REUTERS)

How is the earth faring on World Environment Day? Add to ...

On the United Nations World Environment Day, Dawn Walton presents a compendium of statistics about the state of the planet – from the trash problems of Canadians to how Venice is sinking.

What fuels the planet?

Non-renewable fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas – account for 87 per cent of world demand for energy consumption, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy released last year. Renewable resources, such as wind, solar and geothermal power, account for just 2.1 per cent of the world’s energy demand.

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Who is the world leader in wind power?

China, where the Global Wind Energy Council’s annual report released last month counted more than 74 gigawatts of installed wind power capacity for 2012. That represents almost 27 per cent of the world’s share and is enough to bring electricity to more than 29 million homes.

(Canada, by comparison, had installed 6.2 gigawatts – one gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts – by the end of last year, which represents about 2 per cent of world capacity.)

Over all, wind power was generated in 79 countries and 24 of those had more than 1,000 megawatts installed.

What is the world’s human population?

More than 7 billion, according to the Population Reference Bureau in 2012, with 82 per cent living in less developed countries. China was the world leader in population last year as home to 1.35 billion people, but it was followed closely by India with 1.26 billion. (Canada, by comparison, most recently counted 35,056,064 people as of January, according to Statistics Canada.)

By 2050, India is projected to become the most populous nation in the world.

What about feeding everyone?

Agricultural production needs to be substantially increased – by 60 per cent – in the next four decades to meet the growing demand for food, according to the agricultural outlook for 2012-2021 published by the OECD and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The bad news: There will be a 5-per-cent increase (or 69 million hectares) in total arable land by 2050, the report notes, and 25 per cent of agricultural land is already “highly degraded.”

The good news: We can do better. The UN estimated that in 2011, one-third of food produced for human consumption was wasted. That’s about 1.2-to-2 billion tonnes annually, and in Canada, it amounts to about $27-billion worth of food never making it to our bellies, according to the Value Chain Management Centre in Guelph, Ont.

How many other living things are there?

Scientists have catalogued about 1.2 million species, but that’s not even close to how many other organisms share Earth, according to a recent study published in the journal PLoS Biology. Researchers figure 91 per cent of those in the ocean haven’t been identified, while 86 per cent of species above water haven’t been counted. We may share the planet with around 8.7 million other types of species – although the estimates vary wildly – and the vast majority are animals, according to scientists.

Don’t expect them all to be counted – at least not in our lifetimes. Experts figure it would take 1,200 years, 303,000 taxonomists and $364-billion (U.S.) to complete the catalogue.

How many species are endangered?

According to the World Conservation Union’s 2012 Red List of Threatened Species, 20,219 species are considered “threatened” of the 65,518 that have been assessed.

The Swiss-based organization detailed 84 species in Canada deemed threatened, which includes 35 kinds of fish, 16 varieties of birds, 11 types of mammals and five species of reptiles, among others. Among those in trouble in Canada, where considerable conservation efforts are under way, are the whooping crane, greater sage-grouse and Vancouver Island marmot.

How quickly are humans dying off?

Births are outpacing deaths, according to the Population Reference Bureau, which counted 267 births every minute last year compared with 107 deaths per minute.

What is the state of the world’s forests?

About 31 per cent of the world’s land surface – about 4 billion hectares – is forested, according to a 2012 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. An estimated 1.8 billion hectares of woodlands has vanished through deforestation over the past 5,000 years, tracking population growth.

Canada, by comparison, has 397.3 million hectares of forest, which is about half of the country’s land surface and almost 10 per cent of the world’s woodland cover, according the Natural Resources Canada. Ottawa pegged deforestation in 2010 at 45,000 hectares, with annual rates decreasing over the past two decades.

Who’s to blame for climate change?

Humans, according to 97 to 98 per cent of 1,372 of the world’s most active climate researchers, whose findings were reviewed by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States in 2010.

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