New York: Examining shifting of fish stocks due to warming oceans, a new study suggests that these biophysical changes are also reallocating global wealth in unpredictable, and potentially destabilising, ways.
“We don’t know how this will unfold, but we do know there will be price effects,” said study lead author Eli Fenichel, assistant professor at Yale University in New Haven, US.
“It’s as inevitable as the movement of these fish species,” Fenichel noted.
The study appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change.
For the study, the researchers used fish migration data collected by study co-author Malin Pinsky, assistant professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
“We tend to think of climate change as just a problem of physics and biology,” Pinsky said.
“But people react to climate change as well, and at the moment we do not have a good understanding for the impacts of human behaviour on natural resources affected by climate change,” Pinsky noted.
To illustrate their case, the researchers modelled potential outcomes in two fictitious fishing communities (Northport and Southport) in the face of climate-driven shifts in fish populations.
Southport’s fish stocks decline as the climate changes while Northport’s stock increases – it is a scenario that reflects changes anticipated in areas such as the mid-Atlantic and the waters off New England in the eastern US.
According to their analysis, if fish quantities increase in a northern community, for instance, it will likely cause a devaluation of that resource locally, particularly if that community is not equipped to manage the resource efficiently.
“If the northern community is not a particularly good steward or manager, they are going to place a low value on that windfall they just inherited,” Fenichel said.
“So the aggregate could go down,” Fenichel noted.
“To be clear, the ‘gainers’ here are clearly better off,” he said.
“They are just not more better off than the losers are worse off. The losers are losing much more than the gainers are gaining. And when that happens, it’s not an efficient reallocation of wealth,” Fenichel noted.
The analysis suggests that policy discussions around climate change should address how the physical changes will affect wealth reallocation, rather than allowing nature to redistribute this wealth in an unpredictable, “willy-nilly” manner.
“It also points to a greater need for the physical sciences and social sciences to be done in a coordinated fashion,” Fenichel said.