Sunday, 17 April 2016

Free market environmentalism gone wrong

I've been writing for some time the problems of trying to save endangered species (see here, here, here, here, and here). One potentially effective (and controversial, compared with orthodox environmental values) solutions is to grant property rights over endangered species and allow them to be farmed. Of course, this would also entail legalising the trade in endangered species. Then the farmers have incentives (backed by legal rights) to protect their herd of rhinos from encroachment by others (including poachers), and will be much more likely to sustainably manage their herd (otherwise, their livelihoods will suffer). You could argue this is one of the reasons why rhinos are endangered, but cows are not.

Now, it seems that South Africa has moved one step closer to this ideal, as Science Alert reports (emphasis added):
A high court judge has upheld a decision to lift the ban on buying and selling rhino horn within South Africa. Rhino horn trade has been outlawed in the country since 2009, and internationally since 1977, but if the high court's decision holds up against an appeal, that could all be about to change...
The push to lift the ban on selling rhino horn came from game breeders, John Hume and Johan Kruger, who claim that legalising the trade within the country will reduce rhino deaths - rhino horn is similar to our fingernails, and can actually be harvested without harming the animal. Hume also argued that if the ban on rhino trade continued, he'd no longer be able to afford to keep his 1,200 farmed rhinos.
However, this doesn't solve the overall problem, because the international trade in rhino horn is still illegal:
But there's a big problem with their argument, and that's the fact that pretty much all of the demand for rhino horn comes out of Asia - and lifting the ban on being able to sell within South Africa isn't going to do anything to stop that...
In fact, if the ban is lifted, it'll probably just create a new market for rhino horn, and put more pressure on the already endangered species.
So, rather than reducing the price of rhino horn by flooding the international market with supply of farmed rhino horn, this measure likely increases the demand for rhino horn, raising the price, and increasing the incentives for poachers!

It'll take something more coordinated internationally to create the right conditions to eliminate (or at least, minimise) poaching of endangered rhinos.

[HT: Marginal Revolution, back in January]

Read more:

No comments:

Post a Comment