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September 21, 2023

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Countries can conserve environment without government help

When it comes to conserving the environment, popular opinion tends to lean towards legislation and policy as the consummate, do-all solution. There is a contingent among environmentalists that strays from this commonly held belief.

This strand calls themselves “free-market environmentalists,” and they have a very compelling argument for why a system of property rights may be the ticket to conservation.

Property rights are generally defined laws that delineate how an individual may control, benefit from and transfer property. Free market environmentalists apply these rules to environmental problems, and given the results of research and “experiments in conservation,” they have successfully presented their case.

One of these case studies lies in the fisheries of Namibia, a relatively young country on the southwestern coast of Africa. Following more than 20 years of guerrilla warfare between the South West Africa People’s Organization and the South African government troops, independence finally came to Namibia in 1990, just two decades ago.

The Namibian people were freed from discrimination and disenfranchisement of colonial rule, but were also left with a weak economy. The government has since implemented free-market principles and a system of rights-based management of the country’s vast natural resources to strengthen the local economy.

These policies have not only resulted in helping to flourish people, but have also helped develop and preserve the nation’s rich natural resources, which were previously on the verge of depletion.

During South African occupation, the fisheries of Namibia contained no rule of law. The open access inevitably led to an international free-for-all, where constant jockeying resulted in overfishing and a depletion of resources.

Many biologists and social scientists have dubbed this problem the “tragedy of the commons,” which arises when rationally acting individuals deplete a shared resource even when doing so is not in their best interest.

This problem occurs because each user receives direct benefit of using the resource, but only bears a small fraction of the cost of its exploitation.

The Namibian people have found success in the establishment of excludability.

The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism reported that the asset value of fish stocks increased by 40 percent in the 1990s. A case study conducted by Peter Manning found that during this same period of time, the fisheries’ contribution to the nation’s GDP increased by six percent.

New Era, a Namibian newspaper, also reported that these fisheries now employ over 14,000 locals with steady growth. It is small, steady growth but remains growth nonetheless— an optimistic sign for a newly independent, recovering nation.

By employing a system of community-based management, Namibia has avoided the fate of most others on the continent and registered a sharp increase in its key wildlife populations. Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution for environmental problems such as overfishing or exploitation, Namibia illustrates how a nation can successfully conserve the environment while improving the local economy and community— all without heavy government regulation or subsidies.

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