By David Robinson (June 3, 2022)
Of course, we’re responsible.
We know that human activity is the primary reason plant and animal species become threatened and endangered. The well-known causes include overfishing, pesticide usage, plastic pollution, habitat loss, illegal trade, and the impact of climate change.
The Endangered Species Act and the commitment of conservation activists and other supporters have resulted in numerous success stories of species recovery. But there is still much more to do.
While many focus solely on preserving North American species and their vulnerable habitats, we also have a global responsibility. A recent study is a stark reminder that we need to be more aware of how our actions make a difference in other countries.
The poaching/slaughter of elephants and illegal ivory trade incidents are well documented. The latest study (published in Scientific Reports) highlighted other instances of destructive human actions. For example, the extraction of raw materials from the western lowland gorillas’ habitat is a key cause of its decline. The wood of African trees is used to manufacture goods in China for sale in the United States and elsewhere.
Also, the U.S. consumption of tobacco, coffee, and tea has “required” excess logging and deforestation in Honduras, endangering the streamside frog.
The study emphasized that people’s consumption habits in 188 countries ultimately endanger more than 5,000 threatened and near-threatened terrestrial species of amphibians, mammals, and birds on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. The U.S., Japan, France, Germany, and the U.K. are among the countries that generate the greatest demand for products contributing to the decline of endangered species abroad.
“We do need to ask whether some of that relative success (protecting species in specific areas) came at the expense of our creating impacts elsewhere,” said Juha Siikamaki, study co-author and IUCN chief economist. “And is it sufficient that we only focus on what’s happening in our country if our consumption, in the end, is driving impact elsewhere? We should think about our responsibility in a broader way.”
In addition to doing everything possible to protect our North American species, we must be sure that our “consumption footprint” isn’t endangering other countries’ species. Look for products labeled as “not made from materials taken from a habitat that is home to a specific species.” Do some basic research to find alternatives for food and other essential items if their usage is considered harmful to an animal or its habitat. Even those minor actions can make a difference.