Humanity’s Dishonorable Legacy: Killing Off Endangered Species

Humanity’s Legacy: Killing Off Endangered Species

Endangered species are at our mercy. And according to recent research, essentially every purchase we make, particularly in the food and fiber industries—“green” or not—is killing off the world’s most magnificent creatures.

“The cup of joe that helped you get through the morning, the must-have chair purchased at that trendy furniture store and the palm oil that’s key to a favorite family recipe all have elements ripped from the habitat of a threatened or endangered animal somewhere in the world,” reports the Washington Post.

The Post points to new research published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, which shows that habitats around the world are in jeopardy because of commerce and climate change happening as a result of increased industry. More than 15,000 industries and products consumed in 187 countries are endangering animals including the world’s large cats, monkeys, and elephants.

Shrinking habitats are largely to blame—land taken away from animals to produce consumer goods or support the industries vital to our consumptive habits have put more than 6,500 species in danger of extinction. But disease and lack of food are taking tolls as well as invasive species, warming oceans, and toxic air, water, and food supplies.

The researchers looked at global supply-chain databases and their imprint on corresponding habitats of endangered species (listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and BirdLife International), areas the researchers out of Japan and Norway call threatened biodiversity hot spots.

“Biodiversity hot spots is a well studied topic, and it is known that the last reserves of biodiversity are harbored in a small number of places,” lead researcher Daniel Moran of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology told the Post. “Economic pressure, even at the margin and in small increments, exerts pressure at these places. Almost any human pressure at the places, unless very well managed, will have a big impact on species there.”

“Logging in Brazil to create products that wind up in the United States, for example, cuts down trees used by red-face spider monkeys. Fishery trade and gold mined and bound for Japan affects mangroves off Papua New Guinea that are home to diverse plant species and an endangered sea cow,” reports the Post. “A hydroelectric dam that traps water to irrigate agriculture, including trees that produce palm oil exported to other parts of Europe and the United States, threatens the Iberian lynx.”

While more than 180 countries were identified as contributing to the problem, the issue is mostly driven by U.S. and European consumer product demands, which not only affect land animals, insects, and flora, but also marine ecosystems as well.

The study also notes wildlife habitats are being condensed—animals forced to share habitats in unprecedented ways because of the impact of industry.

“For threats driven by U.S. consumption, the 5 percent most intensively affected land area covers 23.6 percent of its total impact on species,” the study noted, “and at sea the 5 percent most intensively impacted marine area affects 60.7 percent of threatened species habitats.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.