New Database Links Human Activities to Impacts on Earth

New Database Links Human Activities to Impacts on Earth

There is plenty of data showing how humans are literally transforming the planet, from rising seas to increasing temperatures to land reshaped by raising livestock. Now, that information is compiled in the Human Impacts Database, which compiles scientific papers, government reports, and other official sources to “quantify the impact humans have on the planet.” On the site, you can see everything from the percentage of fish caught at unsustainable levels (about 35%) to the global loss of glacier mass.

As study coauthor Rob Phillips, a physicist with Caltech and the Chan-Zuckerberg BioHub, told WIRED: “It seemed to us that a couple of key narratives emerged, and in a way they linked the story. One of them is: What do we eat? And another one is: Where do we get our water? And then the last one is about power. If you follow those three threads, it’s a huge, huge part of the story.”

NOAA: In 2021, the United States experienced record-smashing 20 weather or climate disasters that each resulted in at least $1 billion in damages (January 24, 2022).

WFP: These are the warning signs of a global food shortage, July 11, 2022.

Across the world, three-quarters of all agricultural land is used to raise animals or the crops to feed them. (Source: Meat Atlas 2021/OECD, FAO.)

NOAA Fisheries: US Fisheries Face Climate Challenges, April 25, 2022.

Why This Matters

Data is key to understanding the root of problems and generating solutions. Having data related to the human impact on the planet in a single platform can help researchers and climate advocates move their work forward. Recent studies highlight the need for that work to advance, including a UN report published that found humans have altered 70% of land on Earth, primarily through agriculture, and a University of Queensland study that found only 15.5% of the world’s coastal regions remain intact.

NASA: Climate Spiral, March 15, 2022.

UN: "Global hunger levels are at a new high" | UN Chief at the Global Food Security Call to Action, May 18, 2022.

CNBC: Will The US Face A Food Shortage?, April 20, 2022.

DW: Our drinking water | Is the world drying up?, March 20, 2022.

One Bright Spot

While most of the database details how fossil fuel burning, intensive agriculture, and other human impacts have harmed the planet, both solar and wind power generation are rapidly rising. Thanks to the cost of both technologies going down, the data from 2019 shows the world climbing toward .45 terawatts (TW) of wind generation and .22 TW of solar generation production -- and crossing the threshold of 2 TW total of renewable energy.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to BBC World News about the heatwaves, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

CNBC: “We are in an epic transition from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy” | John Doerr, June 27, 2022.

WW0: Creating Jobs While Decarbonizing the US Economy, June 28, 2022.