Joni Mitchell and the Dying Planet Report

In 1970, Joni Mitchell recorded "Big Yellow Taxi" which went:

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot

With a pink hotel, a boutique

And a swinging hot spot

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got till it's gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees

And put 'em in a tree museum

And they charged the people

A dollar and a half to see 'em

She already foreshadowed in a song what was going to be the greatest tragedy of human victory over nature. From 1970 to 2014, we have had 60% decline in the number of species – proofs of not just life but its living possibilities! At that rate, we do not have another 40 years before we would have driven all species to extinction. Oh, but then, maybe there would be a distinct species left – the human – who would still be saying in an interview in 2054, in his or her boardroom and against the eerie silence of the extinction of all other species, "Oh, but the fundamentals are still sound." What could be more fundamental to life – all of it – than nature?

That is why I cringe whenever I hear someone say in meetings and forums, or in the news about economics or business, that despite any setback, the "fundamentals remain sound." Nature provides the living stage, material, and processes to all of our claimed human activity. And she, the provider of this estimated $125 trillion per year grant, is going bankrupt. Once that is clear to you, you will also see that no economics is exempted from the state of the planet. No job, no family, no economic or social status is exempted from the state of the planet. Anybody who says they are exempted ought to rethink what planet they live in or mourn the radical shrinkage of his or her mind for failing to understand connections vital to his or her own existence.

The Living Planet Report is a report card on the health of the planet produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) every two years, for the past 24 years. This time, though, I think it should be called a Dying Planet Report to be faithful to the stats. What else do you call it if it reveals to us that the extinction rate of all other kinds of life on Earth, save the humans, is 100 to 1000 times the rate if humans had not been around? The loss in the tropics, like ours, is especially alarming, with decline at over 80% since 1970. As I write this, my science calendar goes off to remind me that January 5 is National Bird Day. We now have more chickens on the planet than all the other birds combined because we sequester what were once wild spaces to breed what has become staple in human diet!

Joni Mitchell, in that same song I mentioned at the beginning of this column, warned:

Hey farmer farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees

But now, the report also paints a goodbye picture of the bees – the greatest pollinators that provide the crucial links to our food chain – leaving us, together with other pollinators!

The report also revealed that only one quarter of the planet is not impacted by human activity, and that this is going to shrink to 10% by 2050. And to this, I am sure the common reaction of businesses and the tourism industry is to find where these spots are that make up that quarter and put up several of what Joni Mitchell called "pink hotel and boutique" – a place that guests are raring to book and take photos with so they can post on Instagram. We have pathetically reduced our living planet to a backdrop for our social media posts.

But WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini said the humans who are living now are "the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and our impact on it. We may be the last that can take action to reverse this trend. From now until 2020 will be a decisive moment in history."

"Decisionmakers at every level need to make the right political, financial, and consumer choices to achieve the vision that humanity and nature thrive in harmony on our only planet," he also said.

To me, this is the only "living" aspect of the report. It points to you and me. Until we reverse the planet-wide decline in the varieties of life, and until we stop the rise in the planet's temperature, no one should be allowed to say "the fundamentals are sound" in any economist's soundbyte, state of the nation/union addresses, board rooms, neighborhood associations, family meetings, or even friend huddles.

WWF-Philippines President Joel Palma shared with me a story about his neighbors – an elderly couple who have been selling hot pandesal all their lives that they were able to send their children to college because of it. One time, the couple asked Joel if plastic pollution was really that bad. Joel explained to them how serious it was, and that the Philippines is a major plastic polluter in the world. After that, Joel saw the couple telling their customers that they will sell their pandesal only to those who will bring their own recyclable containers. This elderly couple selling pandesal is doing something now.

We come from nature and not unto it. You do not even have to be scientific to realize that. It is not cute for people to say "Oh, I failed biology" or "I am not a nature person" (as if there was ever a human operating outside nature) when being asked to reckon with a dying planet. Not only does your intelligence become suspect, but you also become complicit in the death of a planet. Just know that you have parents who are not Martians. They came from parents who were earthlings, who lived because the planet birthed them and sustained them. That is how fundamental nature is. And it is dying. How does that sound to you?

There is a deadline before the dying trend becomes irreversible, and the deadline's only 12 years from now. The reversal has to begin today. What will you do? –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, "Science Solitaire" and "Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire." You can reach her at