Kevin Grier reports:
Paul Krugman points us to the success story of the rebound of US fish stocks. He then makes an amazing leap to climate change saying, “Fighting climate change isn’t really all that different from saving fisheries; if we ever get around to doing the obvious, it will be easier and more successful than anyone now expects.”
I actually agree with the first part, and the Vox article that Krugman links to makes the point pretty well, just not in the way Paul wants it to be made.
Now the big caveat: Yes, US fisheries seem to be recovering. But that’s not true for much of the rest of the world. And, given that the United States imports around 91 percent of its seafood, this is a pretty crucial caveat.
All told, the best-managed fisheries around the world — the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland — only make up about 16 percent of the global catch, according to a recent paper in Marine Pollution Bulletin by Tony Pitcher and William Cheung of the University of British Columbia.
By contrast, more than 80 percent of the world’s fish are caught in the rest of the world, in places like Asia and Africa — where rules are often less strict. The data here is fairly patchy, but the paper notes that many of these nations are less likely to follow the UN’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and there’s evidence that “serious depletions” may be occurring…
In other words, overfishing, like climate change, is a global problem that the US can’t fix on its own. Our fish stocks are rebounding, and our carbon emissions are falling, but much of the rest of the world is moving in the wrong direction on both issues.
I agree that the rest of the world has environmental policy that is further from optimal than the U.S. But, I don't think this is a good argument for throwing up our hands in frustration and shutting down environmental policy. Economically, the benefits of U.S. climate policy seem to exceed the costs, even without an international agreement and without a zero discount rate*. Politically, the U.S. has an important leadership role. China and India might follow the U.S. down the climate policy road but I doubt if they are going to lead.
Here is an 2005 post from Gloria Helfand on unilateral climate policy. I've written on the benefits of unilateral climate policy in the past but, alas, the Google is failing me this morning.
*Even though grades are turned in I'm time constrained this morning (how many research and review deadlines have I missed?) so I am forgoing a link to a report that I hope backs up this assertion. The key here, I think, is that anything that reduces the U.S. demand for coal is going to be economically efficient (with apologies to all of my friends from eastern KY). Links and counter-points are most welcome in the comments section!