Saving the world’s wildlife: Starting at a city near you
Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on October 07, 2014
He hath eaten me out of house and home (Shakespeare, Henry IV Part II).
The recent Living Planet report by WWF and the London Zoological Society paints a grim picture: Humanity has consumed more than half the planet’s wildlife populations in just the last 40 years.
Humanity’s appetite is voracious, our impact on the planet well past sustainable boundaries. But the Living Planet report’s message is not all gloom and doom. What do the cities of Toronto, Riyadh, Chicago, Beijing and Tokyo have in common? They can all impact the world’s wildlife and biodiversity more than the national averages of their countries.
Cities and urbanization are two sides of a coin. On one side of the coin, loss of wildlife and climate change is mainly a by-product of urbanization. Cities generate the wealth that then allows people to buy things like blue fin tuna, ivory, fur, turtles and rhino horns. City residents are also responsible for the lion’s share of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (more than half the impact to global wildlife is attributed to GHG emissions in the Living Planet report).
On the other side of the coin, if you want to save the world’s wildlife the best place to start is in cities. Dollar-for-dollar, person-for-person, city residents, when living well, have less impact on the planet than their rural counterparts. Per capita they require significantly less infrastructure and have a substantially smaller ecological footprint. City dwellers largely shape what people buy and how it’s caught, grown, cut or dug-up. Cities drive public policy and pay for most of what governments do. Out in the countryside those trees being cut, oil being extracted and animals being trapped and fished are almost all going to customers in cities – and those customers are expressing more and more concern about how the stuff they buy is procured.
Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, for example, has a comprehensive management plan that serves as a model for how to resolve the tensions between ‘meddlesome’ city-folk; companies and their shareholders wanting access to natural resources; First Nations concerns; and local communities ‘needing to make a living’. A durable solution now exists. Look for more constructive compromising like this.
Saving the planet’s wildlife is a cooperative exercise. Shareholders, voters, taxpayers and customers in cities are the most influential stakeholder. Keep looking for ‘dolphin safe’ logos on tuna, buy fair trade coffee, eat fewer products with palm oil and do not buy pets that are wild in origin. Saving the planet starts with us.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish1
‘From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!’
That one blue fish cost a million plus2, that one blue fish and all the fuss.
In cities here and cities there, you’d think by now we’d be aware.
That we’d take some care for what is rare. But here’s another to make you stare:
Soup can come with a shark’s fin; yes so strange a fin that’s mixed right in3.
So much money is being spent, just how far can we go, and to what extent?
‘Say! What a lot of fish there are.’ Yet there they go near and far.
Tuna, sharks and even rhinos too; all sold in a city near you.
Save a fish, save a tiger, save an elephant or two. Here’s what a kid could do
Shout ‘Oh Mr. Mayor in that great big chair, is your city doing its fair share?’
Presidents, queens and kings. Treaties, talks and other hopeful things.
Hunters, fishers, angry warring foes, and even NGOs.
From here to there, all of them can save that fish, and can keep it from the dish,
But none of them, yes it’s, true, Mr. Mayor none of them, as well as you.
From there to here, from here to there, boys and girls are everywhere
Please save our fish; it’s a simple wish. One fish, two fish, few fish, blue fish.
 Poem adapted from Dr. Suess, 1960.
 On January 5, 2013 one 222 Kg Bluefin tuna sold for $1.76 million in Tokyo. Bluefin tuna stocks worldwide are down 96.4% from historical abundance levels. More than half the world’s Bluefin tuna catch is sold in Japan.
 More than 70 million sharks are killed annually for their fins. The Government of China has stopped serving shark fin soup at all State banquets. Many cities have banned the sale of shark fin soup. Several local restaurant owners successfully challenged a legal ban in Toronto. The City is now appealing the case.
Many sub-species of rhinoceros and tigers are already extinct. More are expected to follow in the next few decades. Their decline is attributed to habitat loss (often for the benefit of urban customers) and slaughter for medicinal and aphrodisiac supplies – sold mostly in Middle Eastern and East Asian stores.
Mayors are powerful partners in efforts to reduce over-consumption of seafood and endangered wildlife products such as tiger and rhinoceros parts – more than 80% of these products are sold in cities; likely the larger the city in a region the greater the relative sales, e.g. Tokyo, Beijing, Riyadh. However as highlighted in the legal challenge against the City of Toronto, the issue is complex. Jurisdictions are not always clear. Mayors need allies, moral suasion, and sustained support for a ‘child’s perspective’. Restaurants in Toronto serving shark fin soup may win their court case but won’t likely win in the court of public opinion – the protesting children out front may very well use a Dr. Seuss fish to convey their wish.
Filed under: Sustainability 101