10/29/2014 03:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Zombies in the Mirror: The Scary Truth About Where We're Headed

This is the time of year for confronting one of life's biggest questions: What scares you? For me, it's not any of the creatures you'll find decorating porches and haunted houses this week. What I fear is the number 7 billion - that's how many people are currently on the planet. Even scarier: 12 billion. That's how many of us there could be by the end of the century. There's never been a large vertebrate animal that's grown as much, as quickly or with such devastating consequences as humans...and we're not done yet.

Like a mega horde of zombies, we've taken over the world, and we're not leaving much room for snakes, spiders, bats or other wild creatures to survive.


Except it's not just us - it's us and our livestock. Meat production is responsible for more environmental destruction than any other single industry. It's responsible for enormous amounts of habitat loss, pollution, water use and greenhouse gas emissions. Add that to our sheer numbers and it's no wonder wildlife are going extinct at a pace that's at least 1,000 times the natural background rate.

Like most horror movies, this story has a ray of hope. But we're going to have to fight for our Hollywood ending.

We already know that conservation efforts work - without them, wildlife would have moved 20 percent faster toward extinction over the past 40 years. So does addressing population growth by expanding human rights, education and access to family planning and reproductive health care. Fertility rates have dropped in the past 50 years, but we still have work to do to ensure that everyone on the planet has access to the information and tools they need to choose if, when and how many children they'd like to have - including here in the United States, where more than half of all pregnancies are unintended.

And since we're not zombies (yet), we don't require a diet of flesh. Meat consumption rates have started to drop in the U.S., thanks to the growing popularity of Meatless Mondays and other flexitarian eating trends. Yet Americans still eat more meat than almost anyone else in the world, so we need to continue slashing our meat consumption while there's still a chance for wildlife.

With all the news about population, extinction and climate change, it can feel pretty apocalyptic out there. But we can still choose not to be zombies. Let's opt for a less scary future by living more sustainably, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, eating less meat, supporting smaller families and protecting wildlife.

Learn more about the "Meatstinction monster" and the scary truth about human population and wildlife extinction.