Environmentalism now requires the prefix ‘real’ to separate it from its toxic cousin, eco-fascism. In terms of real environmentalism, there are areas that deserve mainstream attention, particularly when it comes to the health of our oceans.
It is also possible to disagree with the final conclusions of an author, but recognise that the bulk of their argument contains something worthwhile.
Rewilding the Sea writer Charles Clover wishes, quite rightly, to salvage our damaged oceans as best we can while being aware of the powerful forces that continuously orchestrate further harm. He also does not shy away from calling out otherwise untouchable political entities who commit sins against the environment in full view of the international community.
Part of his thesis for saving Earth’s oceans centres around the danger posed by government subsidies. Clover is onto something here, with an observation that expands into other areas of the economy.
In Clover’s particular case, he is referring to the problem of over-fishing caused in large part by distant-water trawlers sent out by nations that have already over-fished their local areas. The two biggest culprits are China and the European Union – although the former is excessively worse than any other single entity.
Interestingly for an environmentalist, Clover positively describes the normally self-regulating market forces that would stop over-fishing from becoming a problem.
‘In theory, of course, the world’s wild-capture fisheries should be self-regulating. When fish stocks get low, fishing gets expensive and workers and investors move on. But in practice, unprofitable fleets often continue fishing because of the ultimate enemy of progress: subsidies.
The greatest giver of state subsidies in the world, and hence the greatest enemy of progress in the oceans of the world, is China, which provides the greatest volume of harmful subsidies – the ones that cause overfishing – according to an analysis of who doles out the worst subsidies by the International Institute for Environment and Development.’
In essence, if governments did not interfere, scarcity would drive fishing to become an expensive activity, pushing the price of fish too high in turn leading to low demand. This would slow the trade down significantly for a while, giving the oceans time to recover.
Various governments have instead decided to ensure consistency in the availability of fish. To do this, they ‘subsidise’ the industry by handing out billions of dollars in subsidies, pushing the industry beyond its limiting market forces. Government meddling using public money is, according to Clover, driving over-fishing.
To put the problem in perspective, China spends $16.6 billion on subsidies to the fishing industry compared to America’s $1 billion.
Without subsidies, it is more likely that the fishing industry would have moved more rapidly toward fish farming to cover the gap – or even away from fish products entirely. Whatever the market solution was, it would have likely been better for the wild fish population.
We see similar damage being done via subsidies in Australia’s energy sector. Government meddling coupled with untold billions in subsidies and grants to the renewables industry has led directly to Australia’s domestic energy crisis (which is mimicked in other countries).
Subsidies to renewables allows their third-rate, expensive, and otherwise substandard product to replace superior baseload power systems. The existence of subsidies also muddies the cost-benefit calculations of the natural successor to coal – nuclear.
Nuclear would likely be ‘free’ if it received the same green shower as wind turbines.
When governments interfere in markets, they almost always do so to the detriment of the entire system.
Take electric vehicles. When left to compete with ordinary cars, their progress into the market was slow, but that hesitation was required to drive a crucial stage of technological refinement. Ecars had to earn their place and prove that they were a product worth buying.
After governments around the world started propping ecars up with public money and constraining their competitors with coercive legislation, their quality plummeted. Now, we are seeing the real damage of ecar subsidies hit – and it could be fatal.
Because governments very nearly mandated renewables and ecars at the same time, they fabricated a rush on rare earths minerals – particularly lithium – that has exceeded mining reserves. The price of these raw materials are already forcing ecars out of reach for most citizens. This situation necessitates more subsidies to make them ‘affordable’ which feeds the cycle until a very empty public purse hits the floor. We are ‘over-fishing’ our rare earths.
Returning to the oceans, Australia has a very real problem protecting its extensive waters – including those in Antarctica – from Chinese and European trawlers. Already, the government has shied away from stopping krill trawlers damaging the precarious ecosystem while a spineless United Nations sits on its hands, either unwilling or afraid to damage relations with Beijing. They’d rather extort money out of Australia over the pristine state of the Great Barrier Reef than hold China to account for eating its way through the world’s protected waters.
While Pacific Nations guilt Australia out of hundreds of millions of dollars over non-existent climate change, they rarely raise a finger to the calculable damage that China does in their local area. Those that do, tread so carefully they may as well not bother.
Rodrigo Duterte, former President of the Philippines, famously said of China’s illegal fishing inside their economic zone that he would not risk sending the military to protect fish stocks. He was quoted before a joint session of Congress in 2019 saying:
‘When Xi [Jinping] says, “I will fish” who can prevent him? If I send my marines to drive away the Chinese fishermen, I guarantee you, not one of them will come home alive.’
Can you imagine what the international backlash would be if Australia insisted in fishing-out Pacific Island waters under the threat of war?
In March of 2021, 220 Chinese ships descended on the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) area that is claimed by the Philippines. These vessels were patrolled by military personnel. Earlier, Defence Chief Delfin Lorenzana had made a statement that: ‘We call on the Chinese to stop this incursion and immediately recall these boats violating our maritime rights and encroaching into our sovereign territory.’
China’s trawlers formed a line along the water, having no interest in sustainable fishing practices regardless of whatever virtue-signalling they carry on with at UN-love-ins. When it matters, China does whatever it likes – the environment be damned.
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