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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.

Weren’t we trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Governments and industry say they are trying to curb emissions, but according to the World Meteorological Organization, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2011.

The culprits are: carbon dioxide (now 140 per cent of the preindustrial level), methane (now 259 per cent of the preindustrial level) and nitrous oxide (now 120 per cent of the preindustrial level).

Canada, according to various government, industry and non-governmental organization sources, accounts for about 2 per cent of the world’s emissions.

Is it getting hot in here?

The global average temperature has gone up by 0.6 C during the 20th century, according to the World Meteorological Organization, which also noted that 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record – and on every continent – since people began monitoring the mercury in 1850.

How much sea ice has melted?

Arctic sea ice spanned 7 to 9 million square kilometres when it was measured in the summer season up until the 1960s, but according to the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by the end of summer last year, it had shrunk to a record low since satellite record-keeping began, of 3.41 million square kilometres.

Is Venice sinking?

Yes, according to scientists, and the city isn’t going to get a break as global sea levels continue to rise. According to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, sea levels were on average about 20 centimetres higher between 2001 and 2010 than they were in 1880. Water levels are rising at about 3.2 millimetres per year, which is double the 20th-century trend. And, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as the 21st century chugs along, sea levels are projected to swell by another 28 to 58 centimetres compared with those measured at the end of the 20th century.

What does climate change mean for my indulgences?

Traditional wine country in France, Italy, California and Chile could face production drops of up to 85 per cent by 2050, according to a study published last month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. On the other hand, a warmer climate could make northern regions hospitable to vineyards. Warmer weather could also cripple the ski and snowboard industry, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. A study published in the journal Tourism Management said of the 103 ski resorts in the U.S. northeast, more than half could be in trouble.

What is the most polluted city?

Nyala, Sudan, according to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators for 2013, which counted 200 micrograms per cubic metre as measured by the concentration of fine suspended particulate of fewer than 10 microns in diameter. Matter that tiny can burrow into the respiratory tract and cause serious negative health consequences.

In second and third place: Maroua, Cameroon, and Dhaka, Bangladesh.

But there is some good news: Air pollution has dropped around the world over the last 20 years to 41 micrograms per cubic metre from 78 micrograms. And in Canada, counts average 15 micrograms per cubic metre.

Who are the most prolific garbage producers?

Canadians toss more trash per capita than any other country in the developed world, according to the Conference Board of Canada, which issued its environmental report card earlier this year – 777 kilograms of municipal waste per capita for 2008 (the latest statistics available), which was above the average of 578 kg per capita among 17 peer countries.

Canadians also use nearly twice the average amount of freshwater of the other countries – only the United States uses more – and are the largest users of energy in the developed world, the report noted.

How many cars and trucks are there?

There were 1.069 billion cars, trucks and buses in operation worldwide in 2011, according to WardsAuto, the U.S.-based data gathering house on the global auto industry.

Canada accounts for 21.3 million of those vehicles.

In its annual collection of government-reported registration and historical vehicle-population trends, WardsAuto counted more than one billion vehicles for the first time in 2010, and the number is expected to keep growing.

According to a 2011 forecast by the International Transport Forum, an OECD intergovernmental think tank, the global vehicle population could reach 2.5 billion by 2050.

How many bicycles?

In 2011, there were an estimated 938,294,671 bicycles rolling around the planet, according to Jay Townley, bike industry analyst with the U.S.-based Gluskin Townley Group. The life of a bicycle is typically 10 years as it stays in the market and is ridden, he added.

China’s annual market consumption – defined as sales by manufacturers, brands and importers to retailers – for 2011 is 27.3 million bikes, according his firm’s estimates.

Canada, meanwhile, had annual market consumption in 2011 of 1.4 million bikes.

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