Rutgers researcher discovers correlation between climate change, community economics
Climate change, labeled by some as the most daunting challenge facing humanity, appears to influence wealth distribution, according to a study examining the seemingly insignificant movement of fish.
A new report, compiled by a research team of scientists and academics at Rutgers, Yale, Princeton and Arizona State University, found that economic capital is being reallocated in parallel with the movement of natural resources.
By observing fish migration, the researchers have been able to study how communities with different economic and institutional circumstances are affected by climate change.
“Over the last few decades, climate change seems to be pushing many resources, like fish, into new areas,” said Malin Pinsky, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources. “We tackle what this means for the value of the fish and what these movements of natural resources mean in terms of wealth.”
It turns out that communities with developed economic institutions can better adapt to the changing patterns of natural resource movement that is being stimulated by climate change, Pinsky said. Groups with less advanced capabilities to manage resources, and whose economies rely on said resources, will be affected to a greater extent.
A model by Eli Fenichel, a professor at Yale University, suggests that as fish move northward towards colder waters, the wealthier communities in the northern latitudes benefit from the incoming natural resource of fish, said Kevin St. Martin, another member of the team and an associate professor in the Department of Geography.
Yet the pattern is not constant because wealthy and more developed communities can also be deprived of their natural resources. More developed communities just happen to be better prepared to confront any changes to their natural economies.
“If there is more a conservation-oriented management in a location ... those people stand a better chance of benefiting as more fish and resources move into their waters,” Pinsky said.
Fish migration happens to be an effective indicator of the inconsistent consequences of climate change, St. Martin said. It reflects the profound effects that resettlement of resources has on human beings and their activity in different regions.
St. Martin said that since fish are indisputably moving into deeper areas of the ocean as they move poleward because of global climate change, they serve as perfect samples to conduct research.
“It could be that the community that is watching its fish disappear might fish harder for those fish because there are fewer left,” he said. “It could be that they give up on that species and move to a new species, and it could be that they follow the fish and move along with the motion of the fish.”
Pinsky is certain that the effects of climate change present themselves here in New Jersey and its fishing industry. Both commercial and recreational fishing in the state will continue to be influenced by the altering water temperatures, he said.
“We’ve had lots of change and turnover of (fish) species in the coast,” he said. “Populations of summer flounder and sea bass have become more abundant in our waters … and some species have moved away.”
As the team continues their research, which is being financed by a grant from the National Science Foundation, they hope to spur further discussion and interest on the issues they are raising.
For example, the contemporary debate around climate change frequently fails to observe consequences on distribution of wealth, Pinsky said.
“We often think about climate change affecting the natural world and species but we often don’t realize how much the changing climate affects us and our pocket books,” he said. “We want to make that link more clear.”
Students around campus should care about the changes that are occurring here in the Garden State and around the globe, St. Martin said.
“The food we eat, the wealth we have, in terms of access to resources, is being affected by climate change,” he said. “The coastal communities here in New Jersey are going to have to adapt to that change … In the longer term, we are all going to have to adapt to these changes.”
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.