Bees: The Latest Casualty Of Western Economics?

There’s been a lot of recent buzz on the decline of bee species, and on Tuesday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services extended protection to the rusty patch bumble bee. The government blamed species endangerment on habitat degradation, and fingers point to mankind.

Over the last few decades, humanity has been pegged as a catalyst for ecological destruction, and evidence is mounting.

In a recent study, researchers Daniel Moran and Keiichiro Kanemoto highlighted the pervasive threat of human activity — specifically economic practices — on the world’s shrinking scale of biodiversity.

Their report traced consumer products along trade routes to determine threats dealt against endemic species.

Image Credit: Daniel Moran and Keiichiro Kanemoto. Darker areas indicate threat hotspots driven by U.S. consumption.

Although the study encompassed multiple countries and economic systems, the final report emphasized the impact of U.S. consumption habits. Results exposed prominent threats on marine life in southeast Asia and on terrestrial species across southern Europe, central Asia and other North American nations.

This information in the hands of advocacy groups or policymakers could inspire new approaches to environmental regulation and American trade.

Globalization: A Threat From All Angles

The findings of Moran and Kanemoto corroborate other studies on the effects of global trade networks. Danger, they illustrate, isn’t always imposed by ecological neighbors or endemic developments, and species indigenous to underdeveloped nations are not necessarily safe from the distant activities of highly industrial countries.

According to a 2012 Nature report, “Consumers in developed countries cause threats to species through their demand of commodities that are ultimately produced in developing countries.”

The article acknowledged U.S. imports as the greatest threat to global biodiversity. Japan had the second highest impact, and five European nations followed — each posing fewer than half the threats issued by the United States.

“Historically, low-impact intrusion into species habitats arose from local demands for food, fuel and living space. However, in today’s increasingly globalized economy, international trade chains accelerate habitat degradation far removed from the place of consumption,” the scientists reported.

The study attributed 30 percent of global species threats to international trade, and it linked 25,000 threatened animal species to more than 15,000 products manufactured in 187 countries.

Coffee, tea, sugar, textiles and fish had the broadest geographical reach — but the complete list was extensive.

To demonstrate the scope of impact, researchers from the University of Maryland reported that 33 percent of land used by the United States for consumption purposes exists outside national borders. For Japan and the European Union, international land use comprises a respective 92 percent and 50-plus percent of their total land use.

These figures in themselves say little about ecological consequence, but most land is used for production of non-agricultural commodities, and the environmental effects of industry are well known.

Modernization And The Human Ecological Footprint

Threats are not new to the modern age, but a correlation exists between the acceleration of human innovation and rates of species extinction.

Scientists contend that rates have risen between 100 and 1,000 times since human beings emerged on the historical scene. About 1,000 animals have gone extinct in the last 500 years due to habitat destruction, and certain species will not see the end of the century.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which maintains a Red List of global plants and animals, general human activity has threatened 3,798 of total critically endangered species (72.9 percent), 5,997 endangered species (77.1 percent), 36 species extinct in the wild (52.9 percent), 6,672 vulnerable species (59 percent) and 4,332 near-threatened species (75.5 percent).

Of those figures, a majority are attributable to commerce. Industrial processes prompted by product demand have threatened thousands of species.

Not including climate change, activity inherent to commercial processes has imperiled 2,414 critically endangered species (46.3 percent), 4,111 endangered species (52.8 percent), 4,477 vulnerable species (39.6 percent), 3,118 near-threatened species (54.4 percent) and 10 species extinct in the wild (14.7 percent).

The rusty patch bumble bee is in good — if sparse — company.

Conservation Responses And Effects On The Market

But measures have been taken to reduce the human footprint — and they don’t necessarily affect the alleged threat of commerce.

In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a policy to mitigate domestic environmental effects of development “while allowing economic activities to continue.”

Some cases, though, require exclusive existence of species or industry.

China recently cracked down on ivory trade, which will provide respite to the dwindling elephant population while diminishing the ivory market.

Throughout former President Barack Obama’s tenure, he placed industrial restrictions on 548 million acres of habitat.

Despite these precedents and the research linking threats to commerce, some conservationists fear a loss of biodiversity under the Trump administration. The nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency is known for denying human environmental impact, so future regulation may favor economic prosperity over preservationism.

If environmental regulations loosen under President Donald Trump, industries could be granted greater freedom for production processes. The opportunity to produce commodities at lower costs could boost profits and enhance market values.

Posted In: beesbumble beeDaniel MoranEPAKeiichiro KanemotoNaturerusty patch bumble beeU.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceUnion for Conservation of Nature and Natural ResourcesEducationTop StoriesMarketsGeneral