Connecting the dots between declining wildlife and human misery

Justin Brashares explores the social and cultural impacts of declining wildlife populations around the world, from fish to carnivores.

Justin Brashares has documented how the decline of the world’s fisheries has led to a rise in child slave labor, while the decline of carnivores in Africa forces farmers to pull their children from school to fend off baboon raids on their fields.

The social consequences of our exploitation of Earth’s resources are evident if you just connect the dots. Brashares, a UC Berkeley ecologist and wildlife biologist and professor of environmental science, policy and management, does just that, focusing on how economic and political systems affect the environment and how the changing environment, in turn, impacts culture.

The rise of forced labor in the fishing industry, for example, results from the increased effort needed to locate vanishing fish stocks, with no increased money for wages. Surprisingly, Brashares found that police action is likely to be less effective in controlling human trafficking in fisheries than simply working to maintain sustainable fisheries, which are the prime source of animal protein for much of humanity.

In a talk last May at Cal Future Forum, Brashares discussed his efforts to discover how biodiversity loss and social conflict affect human health, and propose empirically based, interdisciplinary strategies for biodiversity conservation.

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