Visualizing the World’s $1 Trillion Black Market


According to this infographic released today by, the world’s shadow economy rivals the legitimate one. It may seem hard to believe, but about half of the planet’s workers are thought to be involved in illicit activities, and that number could swell to 2/3 by 2020.

Drugs are a big part of the problem, of course, as are traditional criminal activities like stolen goods, intellectual property theft and sex slaves.

But some of the items now on the black market also have direct implications for the health of the environment, from smuggled animal parts (causing a crisis for wildlife in Africa) to bogus pharmaceuticals, which can end up poisoning people and our water supply.

The drug war is destabilizing Mexico and resulting in tens of thousands of deaths around the world, and it has its own problems with environmental degradation, from cleared forests for crops to spraying of toxic chemicals. Confronting the enormous problem will require solutions on many fronts.

Where there’s demand it’s tough to completely cut off supply.


1. Tragic Video of Black Market Wildlife

2. Kingpin Wildlife Trafficker Jailed

Brian Clark Howard is a writer and editor with He was formerly an editor at The Daily Green and E/The Environmental Magazine and has contributed to many publications, including,,,, Yahoo!, MSN and elsewhere. His latest book, with Kevin Shea, is Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.

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