09 May 2009

Truly sobering

About the disappearance of large fishes from the Caribbean coral reef, scientist John Bruno commented:
Seeing evidence of this ecological and economic travesty played out across the entire Caribbean is truly sobering... 'Sobering' Decline Of Caribbean's Big Fish, Fisheries: Overfishing Deemed Most Likely Cause, ScienceDaily, 6 May
With a rising human population, the article goes on to say, and the increasing demand for ocean-derived protein, Given that about half the world's populations live near coastlines and that the world population is growing, demands for ocean-derived protein will continue to increase, prospects look bleak. One scientists warns that:
meeting such demands while retaining healthy coral reefs may require multiple strategies, including implementation of marine reserves, finding alternative sources of protein, and increased efforts to implement family-planning strategies in densely populated areas.
The difficulty, and this is one that is common to many social and environmental problems, is that we are not very good at multiple strategies. We have handed responsibility for meeting this sort of challenge to a highly centralised body: that is, government. Any single large institution finds it almost impossible to conceive of the diverse, adaptive approaches necessary to meet our most urgent challenges, still less to implement them. Traditional societies evolved their own forms of property rights, their own taboos and disciplines, for dealing with the problems that are now given over to government bodies. So climate change, for instance, is something that will be dealt with by a top-down, one-size-fits-all, policy of controlling emissions of greenhouse gases - or rather, those that were identified in the 1990s as greenhouse gases. Such a policy is incapable of adapting to changed circumstances or our rapidly expanding knowledge of scientific relationships.

A Social Policy Bond regime would be different. It would recognise the necessity for high-level centralised decision-making about the planet's needs, but it would have the effect of devolving the ways of achieving them to smaller bodies, who would have incentives to try different solutions and, unlike typical government organizations, terminate their failures and concentrate on their successes. Applied to the Caribbean reef fish ecology, a bond regime would no doubt try the multiple strategies mentioned above, and probably several more. Under the current system, there is, I fear, little reason to be optimistic.

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