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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

'A Market to Save Whales?'

What do you think about this proposal?:

A Market to Save Whales?, by Timothy Taylor: The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, which is still in effect. However, the moratorium has effectively allowed "scientific" whaling (mainly Japan), "subsistence" whaling (various aboriginal groups), and limited commercial whaling (mainly by Norway and Iceland). The total number of whales caught has doubled since the 1990s to about 2,000 per year, which is a pace that many biologists consider to be unsustainably high. After watching the moratorium approach struggle and fail over the last quarter-century, it's time to think about alternatives. In the Spring 2013 edition of Issues in Science and Technology, Ben A. Minteer and Leah R. Gerber discuss the possibility of "Buying Whales to Save Them."

What Minteer and Gerber have in mind is that the International Whaling Commission or some similar body would set a quota for the number of whales that could be taken, based on estimates of sustainable catch from biologists. These quotas would be marketable; in particular, environmentalist groups could purchase the right to take a whale--but then not do so. ...

As you might expect, this kind of proposals is controversial. Many environmentalists feel that putting a value on whales is unethical, a betrayal of the underlying values involved. Other environmentalists, especially those with an economic turn of mind, note that if those who would be catching whales sell their quota to those who do not wish to catch whales, both parties can be benefit from the exchange--and the result may be that fewer whales are killed. Much of Minteer and Gerber's article is a consideration of these issues. ...

My own sense, trained as I am into economic ways of thinking, is that if ethics are to be meaningful, they need to engage with pragmatic realities. The moratorium on commercial whaling is not, in fact, protecting a biologically sufficient number of whales. The arguments that whales should not be hunted, whatever their merits, have not been winning where it counts--that is, as measured by the size of the whale population. Arguments about the ethics whaling have even not brought us to a biologically sustainable situation, much less to the far more stringent limits on whaling that many environmentalists would prefer. In that situation, real-world ethical behavior calls for looking at alternatives.

Here's a similar proposal to save rhinos: Scientists Call for Legal Trade in Rhino Horn. Not sure it would work, but in my view it would be worth trying.

    Posted by on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 12:00 PM in Economics, Environment | Permalink  Comments (27)



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