January 7, 2017

You may be Driving Species Extinct

You may be Driving Species Extinct

Forests are often felled or burned down to make way for plantations. Yet those same plantations service demand that we ourselves might be generating. Photo Credit: Gemini Research News

When we think of who is responsible for the depletion of natural resources and the impending extinction of rare species like tigers, we tend to think it’s someone else: poachers, loggers, greedy business folk. But what if we, too, are personally responsible in our own way? According to a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, we indeed are.

Many people in the developed and developing world are consuming natural resources so rapaciously, albeit unwittingly, that their consumption habits are causing rapid habitat losses for numerous species of wildlife in places like Sabah and Sarawak. In Borneo, for instance, oil palm cultivators continue to fell large tracts of forest to create new plantations simply because there’s plenty of need from consumers for the products (everything from sweets to detergents) that use palm oil. Stop or scale back much of that consumer need, and you can stop or scale back much of the deforestation, the argument goes.

“Identifying hotspots of species threat has been a successful approach for setting conservation priorities,” write the authors of the study, Daniel Moran from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Keiichiro Kanemoto from Japan’s Shinshu University. “One important challenge in conservation is that, in many hotspots, export industries continue to drive overexploitation,” they stress. “Conservation measures must consider not just the point of impact, but also the consumer demand that ultimately drives resource use.”

Moran and Kanemoto have devised a method for pinpointing those severe threats to the 6,803 vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered species worldwide that are driven by global market forces. “Understanding [these] market forces and using effective spatial targeting are key to efficient protection,” they note. To do so, the experts have mapped those threats on several “threat maps.”

Those maps, along with more understanding what we can do to reduce unsustainable our consumption habits, can help us preserve biodiversity around the planet. “Connecting observations of environmental problems to economic activity, that is the innovation here,” Moran said. “Once you connect the environmental impact to a supply chain, then many people along the supply chain, not only producers, can participate in cleaning up that supply chain.”

That simple insight is worth repeating: you may well be part of the supply chain and thus indirectly contributing to the loss of habitat for myriad endangered species. What you can do, of course, is adopt more sustainable consumption habits. If more and more people do that, there will be less and less demand on producers to continue ravaging existing wildlife habitats so as to extract new resources from them.    


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