Biggest threat to biodiversity is not climate change: it’s agriculture, fishing, and hunting

[ This article makes the point that other factors are far more to blame for biodiversity loss than climage change. And with “peak everything“, especially peak oil, but also peak coal, and peak natural gas — greenhouse gas emissions will start to go down several percent a year somewhere from now to 2025.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”]

Harvey, C. August 10, 2016. ‘Let’s get some perspective’: Researchers say species face bigger threats than climate change. Washington Post.


Tackling climate change is the challenge of the century. But when it comes to endangered wildlife, scientists are arguing that we’ve got more pressing matters to worry about. A new comment just out today in the journal Nature contends that practices like hunting, fishing and agriculture are still the biggest threats to biodiversity on Earth — and we need to be careful not to let our concern about climate change overshadow our efforts to address them.  

The group analyzed the threats facing more than 8,000 species on the IUCN’s Red List, a list of threatened animals, plants and other organisms all over the world. The IUCN classifies these organisms according to how severe their possibility of extinction is — categories include “critically endangered,” “endangered,” “vulnerable” and “near threatened.” Organisms facing the lowest possible risk of extinction are classified “least concern.”  Altogether, the Red List includes assessments for more than 80,000 different species.

After analyzing the threat information for these species, the authors found that exploitation and agriculture are the biggest drivers of declines in biodiversity. Of the threatened or near-threatened species they included, 72% faced challenges from hunting, fishing, and other practices that take organisms) and 62% were being threatened by the expansion of agriculture. The authors noted that climate change was affecting just 19% of threatened or near-threatened species.  

In the comment, the authors suggest there’s an increasing tendency to focus on climate change when discussing the challenges faced by biodiversity.

“When thinking about climate change, it became obvious to me that we’ve got to sort out the current problems first,” said James Watson, an associate professor at the University of Queensland, director of science and research at the Wildlife Conservation Society and one of the comment’s authors. “Climate change is going to be a problem, but it’s not the greatest problem now.”

Funding for conservation efforts is limited, Watson said, and a lot of it is currently being poured into the fight against “novel threats,” such as climate change or emerging diseases. While he feels these threats are important, he also suggested that there’s been less funding going back into the fight against the “old foes” — exploitation and agricultural development.

But there’s a chance to get things back on track coming up next month, the authors have noted. In September, the IUCN World Conservation Congress is scheduled to convene in Hawaii to discuss future priorities for global conservation efforts. Watson said he hopes the Congress would take the opportunity to identify the areas of greatest immediate concern and focus less on “the new kid in town, which is climate change.”

“If you solve threats like agricultural expansion in bad places, if you solve overexploitation, that is the best way to solve the climate change problem as well,” he said. “You give ecosystems a chance, you make them more resilient to climate change.”

For the time being, he said, the biggest priorities should include establishing more protected areas and creating better incentives for more sustainable land use, hunting and fishing.

“Climate change is very important, there’s no doubt about it, but let’s get some perspective on what’s threatening biodiversity now,” Watson said. “If we do that, then we’re going to give biodiversity a chance in the long term when the climate does rapidly change.”


Jacobs, A. April 30, 2017. China’s Appetite Pushes Fisheries to the Brink. New York Times.


Overfishing is depleting oceans across the globe, with 90% of the world’s fisheries fully exploited or facing collapse, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. From Russian king crab fishermen in the west Bering Sea to Mexican ships that poach red snapper off the coast of Florida, unsustainable fishing practices threaten the well-being of millions of people in the developing world who depend on the sea for income and food, experts say.

Having depleted the seas close to home, Chinese fishermen are sailing farther to exploit the waters of other countries, their journeys often subsidized by a government.

“Having depleted the seas close to home, Chinese fishermen are sailing farther to exploit the waters of other countries, their journeys often subsidized by a government more concerned with domestic unemployment and food security than the health of the world’s oceans and the countries that depend on them.”

“China’s distant water fishing fleet has grown to nearly 2,600 vessels (the United States has fewer than one-tenth as many), with 400 boats coming into service between 2014 and 2016 alone. Most of the Chinese ships are so large that they scoop up as many fish in one week as Senegalese boats catch in a year, costing West-African economies $2 billion a year, according to a new study published by the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. ”

“Many of the Chinese boat owners rely on government money to build vessels and fuel their journeys to Senegal, a month long trip from crowded ports in China. Over all, government subsidies to the fishing industry reached nearly $22 billion between 2011 and 2015, nearly triple the amount spent during the previous four years, according to Zhang Hongzhou, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.”

Increasingly, China’s growing armada of distant-water fishing vessels is heading to the waters of West Africa, drawn by corruption and weak enforcement by local governments. West Africa, experts say, now provides the vast majority of the fish caught by China’s distant-water fleet. And by some estimates, as many as two-thirds of those boats engage in fishing that contravenes international or national laws.

“The truth is, traditional fishing grounds in Chinese waters exist in name only,” said Mr. Zhang of Nanyang University. “For China’s leaders, ensuring a steady supply of aquatic products is not just about good economics but social stability and political legitimacy.”

For Beijing, the nation’s fleet of fishing vessels has helped assert its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. In Hainan Province, the government encourages boat owners to fish in and around the Spratlys, the archipelago claimed by the Philippines, and the Paracel Islands, which Vietnam considers its own.

Across the Philippine province of Palawan, the impact is reflected in the rows of idled outriggers and the clouds of smoke drifting across freshly denuded hillsides.  Unable to live off the sea, desperate fishermen have been burning protected coastal jungle to make way for rice fields. But heavy rain often washes away the topsoil, environmentalists say, rendering the steep land useless.

For Senegal, which stretches along the Atlantic for more than 300 miles, the ocean is the economic lifeblood and a part of the national identity. Seafood is the main export, and fishing-related industries employ nearly 20 percent of the work force, according to the World Bank.

Despite declining fish stocks, unrelenting drought linked to climate change has driven millions of rural Senegalese to the coast, increasing the nation’s dependence on the sea.  With two-thirds of the population under 18, the strain has helped fuel the surge of young Senegalese trying to reach Europe. “Foreigners complain about Africa migrants coming to their countries, but they have no problem coming to our waters and stealing all our fish,” said Moustapha Balde, 22, whose teenage cousin drowned after his boat sank in the Mediterranean.


This entry was posted in Biodiversity Loss, Fisheries and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.