Global trade has made it easier to buy things, but at what cost? Consumerism has contributed to deforestation, overfishing, and overhunting thousands of miles away. Now, scientists have mapped exactly how major consuming countries threaten endangered species all over the world.
The map: How to read it
In a new study, researchers have created a map (pictured above) showing the species threat hotspots caused by U.S. consumption. The darker the color, the bigger the threat caused by consumerism. The blue color represents marine species, while the magenta represents terrestrial species.
Researchers Daniel Moran and Keiichiro Kanemoto identified 6,803 threatened species. They pinpointed the commodities that directly contributed to various threats affecting those species. Then they traced the implicated commodities to their final consumers in 187 countries using a global trade model.
Here is a close up of Latin America (a), Africa (b), and Asia (c):
Enlargments are shown for hotspots in Latin America driven by U.S. consumption (a). That said, we are far from the only country whose consumerism affects endangered species. Africa is driven by European consumption (b) and Asia driven by Japanese consumption (c).
Such a map is both alarming and useful. At the very least, it can be helpful for finding the most efficient ways to protect critical areas important for biodiversity. Other than that, it’s pretty depressing.
How consumerism works: Why is it affecting all these species?
Now, you might be wondering exactly how what you buy affects species thousands of miles away from you. You might think it’s simply impossible.
However, the problem is, it’s not.
For example, lets say you just recently bought a new tee-shirt yesterday. That tee-shirt probably contributed to this map. How? Well, that tee-shirt you just bought might have came from an industrial area that had been carved out of a high-value habitat in Malaysia. Or maybe the material used to make it was grown in fields where a tropical rain forest once stood.
In other words, unless items are sourced sustainably, they all contribute to this map.
What you can do: Sustainable shopping
Thankfully, there is a solution. Here’s some simple steps you can take to help:
- Buy in bulk: Large, “family size” containers require less packaging per pound than small “single serving” packages. Plus you generally save money!
- Buy durable products made from good quality. This way you won’t have to replace them!
- Look for items with little to no packaging. Extra packaging just creates more unneeded waste.
- Buy reusable products: Disposable products generate more waste than reusable products. Look for reusable camera, razors, lunch bags, cloth diapers, cloth napkins and towels, rechargeable batteries, and reusable water bottles.
- Reuse containers and bags, no mater their material. For example, glass and plastic containers make great storage containers for leftovers and hardware. You can also use cloth, plastic, or paper bags when you shop, just keep a stash in your car so you’ll always be prepared.
- Buy products or packages made from recycled materials. Some examples include writing paper, toliet tissue, and paper towels.
- Look for organic, non-GMO, and fair-trade labels. But don’t limit that to just food. Buy organic beauty products and clothes too!