The Stuff You Buy Is Destroying Animals Around the World

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There are certain products that everyone knows are directly destructive to wildlife. As such, most people and countries around the world generally try to avoid them. Using ivory for trinkets causes elephant slaughter; eating shark fins—you guessed it—is not good for sharks. But those are easy to give up, because a.) we don’t need any of them, and b.) they very blatantly come from certain wild animals.

Much of the things we use in daily life, however, from iPhones, to jeans, to Ikea furniture, also have negative impacts on endangered wildlife around the globe. But how can you tell? In an attempt to answer that question, scientists from Norway and Japan used a global trade model to trace consumer demands around the world to threats on endangered wildlife. They’ve created a series of maps based on their findings that show the threat “hotspots” around the world and what countries are endangering them. The rationale is that if you know where in the supply chain you’re doing the most damage, you can take steps to alleviate it. Their findings are published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

This map shows the species threat hotspots caused by US consumption. The darker the color, the greater the threat caused by the consumption. The magenta color represents terrestrial species, while the blue represents marine species. Image: Moran, D. & Kanemoto, K. Identifying species threat hotspots from global supply chains. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1, 0023 (2017)

The researchers calculated the consumer threats to 6,803 species of endangered and threatened species around the world as defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International—both authorities on endangered flora and fauna. From this, they tied the threat zones to a consumer product in another country. For example, soy used in meals in the US may have been grown in a swath of cut down rainforest in Brazil. The Amazon is the most biodiverse place on Earth, so that swath of rainforest likely displaced multitudes of endangered animals. Or maybe your t-shirt was made in a textile mill in Indonesia—that exists where a forest full of Sumatran orangutans once stood.

Threats to wildlife in Southeast Asia linked to US consumption. Image: Moran, D. & Kanemoto, K. Identifying species threat hotspots from global supply chains. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1, 0023 (2017)

While the United States is certainly not the only consumer on Earth, it’s definitely one of the biggest. It also has the externalizes many of the costs of production, meaning other countries’ environments and people foot the bill. Based upon the authors’ maps, US consumption of food and goods threatens species throughout Central and Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, Mexico, Central America, and even Southern Canada and Southern Europe.

Unfortunately, there are certain materials and goods that our modern society has come to rely on that we can’t function properly without. For example, a smartphone, as excessive as it may be in the grand scheme of things, is necessary for many jobs. There are also many people that don’t have the monetary luxury of being able to pick all sustainably sourced goods. But what this information does is provide governments and businesses with the knowledge necessary to act on alleviating the pressures if they choose to do so (or are pressured by their public).

Species threat hotspots in Latin America driven by US consumption (a); in Africa driven by European consumption (b); and in Asia driven by Japanese consumption (c). Image: Moran, D. & Kanemoto, K. Identifying species threat hotspots from global supply chains. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 1, 0023 (2017)

Companies or governments “could use these maps to find out where their environmental impact hotspots are, and make changes,” said Co-author of the study Daniel Moran, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in a public statement. “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,” he said.

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