Sunday, January 01, 2012

Whaling cap and trade has the politics of carbon taxes

The politics is that I don't see it happening, or at least not as the primary tool for managing the problem, regardless of the merits.

Unfortunately the paywall means I can't RTFA in Nature, but here's the Washpost and an interesting take by Holly Doremus.  A pure cap/trade, which they're not proposing, would require whaling nations to buy whaling allocations they now steal from the world's common heritage for free, so politics rules that out.  The authors apparently propose allocating parts of the harvest for free to whaling nations, which raises the question of why anyone else would support it.

The other biological aspect of this issue that I haven't seen discussed stems from my understanding that the current harvest is likely significantly less than what some common whale species can handle.  Of course whalers currently ignore species restrictions and kill whatever whales they can find, but that gets arm-waved (and more could be done if the political will existed).  This proposal could result  in an increased allocation, making it more expensive for whaling opponents to buy out quotas.

I agree with Holly that there are non-economic problems with this proposal, although I disagree with her implication that an economic approach is incapable of addressing non-economic problems.  Just this one.

Holly also picked up on the same parallel I saw to attempts to buy slaves as a way to end slavery.  I wouldn't be as dismissive as she is though.  I suspect buying slaves their freedom was an important method to reduce the number of slaves in states where it was a marginal activity, making it easier for those states to move to abolition. Pennsylvania then moved to a gradual abolition of slavery in 1780, diminishing the economic impact to slaveowners by putting it off into the future.  Economic approaches have their value.