Monday, May 5, 2014

Whaling, international law, and the fisherman's problem

The University of Washington Press recently published Kurkpatrick Dorsey's Whales and Nations: Environmental Diplomacy on the High Seas. Relating the book to earlier work by Garrett Hardin on the tragedy of the commons and by Arthur McEvoy on the history of fisheries regulation, William Cronon writes in the foreword:
There is... [a] problem that McEvoy, writing mainly about fisheries in California, did not need to address at length. Wild animals do not honor national boundaries. Moreover, such boundaries are especially challenging to define and defend in the waters of the open ocean, which is why they have so often been a source of international conflict. If the tragedy of the commons is best solved by state intervention—whether through regulation or the creation of property rights—uncertainties about the effectiveness of state power in maritime environments mean that the challenge of avoiding the fisherman’s problem is not merely economic, but legal, political, and diplomatic as well.
This is why Kurk Dorsey’s book... is such an important contribution, with implications that are as far-reaching as McEvoy’s and Hardin’s. 
Dorsey complicates the story by reminding us that people bring to markets a host of different backgrounds and values combined with national interests and identities. It is these as much as abstract economic logic that shape their behavior relative to the natural resources they harvest. When an environmental challenge becomes truly international in scope, these different values and national interests must be analyzed in all their subtle intricacies if we are to have any hope of shaping economic and political behaviors that can otherwise frustrate even the most well-intentioned efforts to build more sustainable human relationships with the earth. 
From the publisher:
Before commercial whaling was outlawed in the 1980s, diplomats, scientists, bureaucrats, environmentalists, and sometimes even whalers themselves had attempted to create an international regulatory framework that would allow for a sustainable whaling industry. In Whales and Nations, Kurkpatrick Dorsey tells the story of the international negotiation, scientific research, and industrial development behind these efforts -and their ultimate failure.
Whales and Nations begins in the early twentieth century, when new technology revived the fading whaling industry and made whale hunting possible on an unprecedented scale. By the 1920s, declining whale populations prompted efforts to develop "rational"-what today would be called sustainable-whaling practices. But even though almost everyone involved with commercial whaling knew that the industry was on an unsustainable path, Dorsey argues, powerful economic, political, and scientific forces made failure nearly inevitable. 

No comments:

Post a Comment