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US consumprtion effects on threats to biodiversity
US consumprtion effects on threats to biodiversity

While it is clear that global trade play a major role as a driver of destruction of biodiversity there is no way “consumers” in the US or other developed economies can be expected to take responsibility for the effect on biodiversity of their consumption. It is a tall order even for the companies trading or the retailers selling the products. Citizens should rather take responsibility by a general reduction in consumption, by favoring local goods exchange and relationships and by opposing policies that further drive international trade.

New research published in Nature links trade to biodiversity hotspots. The production of goods for export often involves logging, mining, fishing, farming or other activities that can damage natural habitats. To figure out where the drive for these goods is coming from, researchers traced the production of goods in one country to consumers in another.  The video gives some insights in this.

I believe the research is very helpful in illuminating the increasing interdependence in the globalized economy.

The researchers write in the paper Identifying species threat hotspots from global supply chains:“Locating biodiversity threat hotspots driven by consumption of goods and services can help to connect conservationists, consumers, companies and governments in order to better target conservation actions.” And they recommend: “to initiate direct collaborations between producers and consumers to mitigate biodiversity impacts at those places”

I beg to differ from that conclusion. Their own research show how incredibly complex all these linkages are. The map showing the effect US consumption has on biodiversity in all parts of the world (darker areas indicate areas of threat hotspots driven by US consumption) makes it clear that there is no way “consumers” in the US can be expected to take responsibility or act upon all this. It is a tall order even for the companies trading or the retailers selling the products.

The example in the film from Spain makes this clear. Apparently the habitat of the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) is threatened by dams. Those dams are built for agriculture irrigation and one of the crops grown is olives, which is processed into oil exported to the United States. So, are consumer expected not to buy Spanish olive oil? But what about the effects of Italian olive oil, or avocado oil from Mexico? And what about Swedish paper pulp from mono-culture forest production which harms biodiversity and reindeer herding etc. etc. etc. In addition to biodiversity threats there are effects on green house gases, the nitrogen cycle, child labour, the rights of indigenous people. The global impacts are simply overwhelming. In addition, the research also shows that two-thirds of the impacts on the hotspots are driven by domestic factors. Of course, for a few symbolic cases one can have consumer driven actions or boycotts, but in most cases it is irrelevant as a strategy.

Consumers, or rather citizens, can take responsibility by a general reduction in consumption, by favoring local goods exchange and by opposing policies that further drive international trade. Meanwhile, protection of biodiversity must primarily be dealt with by domestic processes and international treaties and conventions. Global policies to reduce inequality between nations and within nations will also counter the fact that a foreign power can exert pressures on local nature resources.

Read more about this and other aspects of international trade in agriculture commodities Trade in food: It’s the competition, stupid  and Food: from commodity to commons.

Gunnar Rundgren has worked in organic farming for more than thirty years. He established the Torfolk farm together with Kari Örjavik, and he is the author of Garden Earth – From Hunter and Gatherer to Global Capitalism and Thereafter.

Originally published by Garden Earth

  • K SHESHU BABU

    The restrictions on consumption and exchange of commodities by Commons without destroying environment can help in marching towards sustainable goals as set by UN. The interdependence of biodiversity on human beings and environment sustainable has been analysed by the scientific scholars and environmentalists with wide ranging experimental. The findings must be followed by civil society.