Consumption-Based Conservation Targeting: Linking Biodiversity Loss to Upstream Demand through a Global Wildlife Footprint

Justin Kitzes, Eric Berlow, Erin Conlisk, Karlheinz Erb, Katsunori Iha, Neo Martinez, Erica A. Newman, Christoph Plutzar, Adam B. Smith, John Harte
  • Conservation Letters, November 2016, Wiley
  • DOI: 10.1111/con4.12321

Which is worse for biodiversity, a dollar's-worth of milk or a dollar's-worth of gasoline?

What is it about?

Understanding the effects of consumption on biodiversity is essential to preserving it, but to date we have very little idea of how purchases affect biodiversity in general. Here we address the effects of economic activity on nature. In a sense, we ask the question, which is worse for biodiversity, buying a dollar of milk or a dollar of gasoline (amongst many other commodities)? Answer: it depends on where in the world you but the milk but not so much the gasoline because milk is not traded much internationally and oil is. We illustrate the technique by calculating the number of birds displaced by purchases of each commodity.

Why is it important?

The underlying basis of the world's economic system is the natural world. However, the nature is treated simply as a resource--something to be consumed. To truly protect nature and ensure it's perpetuity, we need ways to "mainstream" biodiversity into economics--that is, ways to allow purchases to reflect the true impact they have on nature. Here we present a step in this direction by calculating the effect of various types of purchases on biodiversity.


Dr. Adam B. Smith
Missouri Botanical Garden

Neither parks nor "endangered species" laws are sufficient to protect biodiversity--we need methods to incorporate the value of biodiversity into the human enterprise. However, doing so is hard. I'm excited that we present a step in this direction and hope that it inspires us to develop "nature-based" accounting.

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