Adding Up Our Impacts | WWF-Canada
© Tim Stewart / WWF-Canada

Adding Up Our Impacts

Why do we need to understand how human impacts on the environment add up?

In nature, most species and ecosystems aren't facing just a single threat: they're dealing with two or three or more all at once. Take the example of eelgrass.

This crucial habitat for young salmon is under pressure from rising ocean temperatures and changing ocean acidity. That alone might not be disastrous. However, combine it with pollution and coastal development, and the total might be enough to push eelgrass past its ecological tipping point.

If we're going to manage our natural resources sustainably, we have to look at how all those threats add up: something scientists call the "cumulative impact." And sometimes, one plus one equals far more than two.

That's why it's critical to consider the big picture. Drawing on the best scientific data and local knowledge, we can get a clearer idea of how human activities are affecting particular species and ecosystems — and how we can adjust those activities to give nature a fighting chance.


What WWF is doing

Assessing cumulative impact involves crunching a lot of data. At WWF, we're synthesizing field and lab research, developing computer models and working with stakeholders to understand all the different ways that humans are using a particular ecosystem. By feeding that information into planning discussions, we're encouraging a more holistic approach to managing Canada's lands and waters.

Photo: Eelgrass mapping & monitoring © Denise LAPRAIRIE

For example, we're compiling information from a wide range of sources to assess how the combination of climate change, fishing, shipping and industrial development is affecting marine life on Canada's Pacific coast — information that can inform crucial marine management decisions. Further inland, our freshwater experts are developing a framework and methodology for measuring the health of Canadian lakes and rivers.

And internationally, our Living Planet Report (links to WWF International) compiles thousands of pieces of data to produce country-by-country ecological footprints and a "Living Planet Index" that tracks global trends in biodiversity.





When you’re shopping for paper or wood products, look for the FSC logo to ensure you’re making the best possible choice for our forests.

In the mood for seafood? Choose products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council to support more responsible fishing and fish farming.

Calculate your personal footprint (links to WWF International) and then check out WWF’s Living Planet Report (links to WWF International) to see how your footprint compares to the average Canadian footprint and others across the world.