Five Drivers of
the Ecological Crisis

Land and ocean exploitation

Human activity is pushing one million species of plants and animals towards extinction as a consequence of the natural habitats of land converted into agricultural and urban use and in the harvesting of materials such as minerals from the ocean floor;.

IPBES describes this driver as ‘The conversion of land cover (e.g. deforestation or mining), changes in the management of the ecosystem or agro-ecosystem (e.g. through the intensification of agricultural management or forest harvesting) or changes in the spatial configuration of the landscape (e.g. fragmentation of habitats)’ .


This includes pollutants  from chemicals and waste  (from excessive and unregulated consumption of economic growth), has significant direct effects on freshwater and marine habitats. Plant and insect populations are dwindling as a result of the persistent usage of highly dangerous, non-selective insecticides. Within terrestrial biomes, nitrogen deposition through fossil fuels and fertiliser use has been found to impede decomposition and slow microbial growth, with a number of implications for terrestrial biodiversity. 

Plastics, including microplastics, are now ubiquitous in our natural environment. They are becoming part of the Earth’s fossil record and a marker of the Anthropocene, our current geological era. They have even given their name to a new marine microbial habitat called the “plastisphere”. Microplastics can enter the human body through inhalation and absorption and accumulate in organs. (UNEP). 

The impact of discarded plastics in the oceans has devastating consequences for marine and seabird species- wherein the latter: ‘ frequently ingest plastic which can have lethal and sublethal impacts caused by chemical contamination and physical damage or blockages(Nature Communications).

Invasive Alien Species

The global economy and its supply chains that resource those societies that participate in unsustainable consumption, have facilitated the introduction of alien species beyond their natural boundaries. (Ref.UNEP), Invasive Alien Species pose  major global threats to nature, economies, food security and human health.(IPBES).

Climate breakdown

 CO2 remains in the atmosphere for many decades. Methane is more potent but has a shorter life-span of about 10 years. Nitrous oxide (from natural sources and agriculture) is the third most important gas.’  According to the IPCC:  ‘For 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health, the report shows.

‘But it is not just about temperature. Climate change is bringing multiple different changes in different regions – which will all increase with further warming. These include changes to wetness and dryness, to winds, snow and ice, coastal areas and oceans.’

Direct exploitation of natural resources

This is as a consequence of extractivist, over-consumption of natural capital;  The Earth’s natural resources are vital to the survival and development of the human population. However, these resources are limited by the Earth’s capability to renew them. Freshwater, forests and harvesting products are renewable, provided that exploitation does not exceed regeneration. Fossil fuels and metal ores are non-renewable. Although many effects of overexploitation are felt locally, the growing interdependence of nations, and international trade in natural resources, make their demand and sustainable management a global issue. (European Environment Agency)