The planet is set to expire in the year 2050 due to the over-consumption of natural resources, with the United States being the worst offender, according to a report released Tuesday.
In its "Living Planet 2002" study, the World Wildlife Fund contends that the human race will no longer be able to sustain itself on this planet in 50 years, followed by a drop in standards of living and human development beginning in 2030.
"Unless we ensure the health of those ecosystems, we will never be able to guarantee an acceptable standard of living for much of the world's population," said Dr. Claude Martin, director general for WWF International.
"We do not know exactly what the result will be of runing this massive overdraft with the earth," said Jonathan Loh, author of the report. "What is clear though is that it would be better to control our own destiny, rather than to leave it up to chance."
WWF officials said the report is meant to set off alarm bells against rapid resource depletion and has been released purposefully in time for the August World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Not everyone is buying into the "chicken little" hysteria.
"At the end of the day I don't think WWF credibility is much different from the World Wrestling Federation," said Jerry Taylor, director of the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Department for the Cato Institute, alluding to WWF's recent success in a lawsuit against the wrestling organization that forced a name change to World Wrestling Entertainment to avoid confusion.
"I think someone needs to start drug testing employees of the World Wildlife Fund," he added.
"It's the 'chicken little syndrome' that we are all going to die unless we mend our evil ways," said Myron Ebell, a global warming and environmental analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The "Living Planet" study finds that humans are "currently running a huge deficit with the Earth," using over 20 percent more natural resources each year than can be regenerated, and that by 2050, humans will consume between 180 percent and 220 percent of the the Earth's biological capacity.
The international organization contends that such rapid depletion has already resulted in extended periods of drought and famine in underdeveloped, poor countries, and will continue to add to extreme weather patterns and natural disasters if consumption, which includes deforestation, fish depopulation and energy, is not curbed on a wide-scale basis.
In addition, the study said the decline in the freshwater species on the earth has been the most dramatic, falling 54 percent on average in the populations of 195 species living in rivers and wetland ecosystems. Marine species, also under threat, have declined 35 percent among 217 species. Forest species populations fell 15 percent among 282 species.
Pro-environment officials like David Cherry, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the numbers are frightening and the race to industrialize the Third World creates a challenge, but he expressed concern that the WWF's putting a date on the Earth's inability to sustain itself gives detractors too much ammunition to attack their goals.
Ebell said that despite the WWF's claims, other studies are widely available that indicate that not only is agricultural production higher than ever, air and water in developed regions are cleaner and energy sources are more abundant. He and other critics contend the group's methods for species decline is also questionable.
Ebell acknowledged that in the poorer areas of the world, such as the Amazon basin, forests are being depleted faster, but overall the loss is not as devastating as the WFF and supporters contend. And, he added, the panic-stricken don't take into account "human ingenuity."
"Our only limit to natural resources is human ingenuity," he said. "For a while human beings had to use wood for energy and now we use coal and tomorrow we will use something else. If you agreed that the only place to find energy was in whale oil … well, yes, this would be conceived as a crisis, I suppose."