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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Study Finds Climate Change|May Drive Wealth Inequality

(CN) - Rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change are driving fish populations to cooler water, and the changes will have an "inevitable and unpredictable" impact on the world's economy, according to a study by university researchers.

Researchers say important fish species are relocating closer to the Earth's poles because of continued global warming and their migration could devastate certain fishing-based economies. The changes are shifting natural resources from nations near the equator and could "exacerbate" worldwide wealth inequality.

The study, conducted by scientists at Yale, Princeton, Rutgers and Arizona State universities, says there is a growing need for nations to prepare for the fiscal impact climate change is having on the world's economy.

"I don't think we've really started thinking enough about how climate change can reallocate wealth and influence the prices of [natural] assets," lead author Eli Fenichel said in a statement. "We think these price impacts can be really, really important."

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the study highlights the relationship between migrating resources and the resulting movement of wealth.

The scientists created two fictitious fishing communities and analyzed the possible impact of changing fish stocks in several scenarios. In the study, the northern community's fish population boomed while the southern community's decreased.

The fabricated scenarios were modeled after changes scientists predict could happen in fishing communities in New England and parts of the East Coast.

The study found that shifting inclusive wealth - natural resources such as fish and trees - could actually devalue the resource if the community gaining the bounty isn't prepared to manage it.

"If the northern community isn't a particularly good steward or manager, they're going to place a low value on that windfall they just inherited," Fenichel, a professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, said. "The losers are losing much more than the gainers are gaining. And when that happens, it's not an efficient reallocation of wealth."

The scientists concluded that future climate change policy should be centered on how the environmental changes will impact wealth reallocation, rather than taking a "wait and see" approach to nature's changes. The study also says scientists must improve coordination of their work on sustainability and climate change research.

Next, the authors will study commercial summer flounder-fishing communities near New Jersey and Maine. Their projects are being funded by a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant.

Co-author Malin Pinsky said climate change is more than just "a problem of physics and biology," and that the studies are crucial to relating the Earth's warming climate to human behavior.

"But people react to climate change as well, and at the moment we don't have a good understanding for the impacts of human behavior on natural resources affected by climate change," Pinsky, a Rutgers University professor, said.

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