The Tragedy (and Hope) of the Commons — Clifton Ware, Editor
The goals, circumstances, and opportunities that benefit both individual citizens and the larger community are often in conflict. Since a primary democratic goal is to create equality for all citizens, one of the most challenging issues of our species is creating a synergistic balance between individualism and the common good.
In 1968 Garrett Hardin, a human ecologist professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, published a paper in Science magazine that modified the way economics is viewed today by enlightened people. The title, “The Tragedy of the Commons”, addressed the many converging crises the world has been experiencing over the past 150 or so years, with climate change topping the list today.
In simple terms, Hardin was rebutting the economic views of economist Adam Smith, who proposed in his 1776 treatise, Wealth of Nations, that an individual seeking his personal needs and wants was effectively improving the common good, whether or not he had an altruistic motive for doing so. In other words, an individual, in pursuing his own interests, more effectively promotes society’s interests in the process of serving self-interests. Capitalism has adopted this view–and capitalized on it.
As an illustration, Hardin uses the story of village herdsmen who historically have shared a pasture for grazing their sheep for sustenance. Over time, recurring weather patterns, disease, poaching, and community needs manage to keep the number of sheep in balance with resources provided within the pasture.
Eventually, as farming practices and conditions improve, losses of sheep are minimized and overall stability is created. At this high point, both the individual and the common good are beneficiaries. But, alas, just as everything is going well, individual herdsmen begin desiring even better outcomes, wondering how much better off they’d be by adding another sheep to the pasture. In time the pasture becomes overcrowded and overgrazed, leading to a downgrading of overall environmental and economic conditions, both to the detriment of herdsmen and their community.
A similar type of catastrophe occurred in the 1920s-30s, with the historic Dust Bowl in the U.S. plains states. Encouraged by unwise government promotions and unstable wheat prices, farmers acquired more land and equipment in their eagerness to plow up greater amounts of prairie grass for planting. Unfortunately, a multi-year stretch of drought created unbearable living and farming conditions, destroyed much of the formerly durable prairieland, and demoralized a once-proud and hard-working citizenry.
The moral of these two stories is this: In order for civilization to continue existing and prospering in a finite world, attention must be given to balancing the needs of individuals with the needs of the larger community (common good). Some examples of individual behaviors that affect other people negatively and need regulating include: unhealthy personal habits (smoking, drinking, drugging); polluting the environment (air, water, and land); consuming and wasting natural resources (water, energy, etc.); taking unnecessary risks that endanger the lives of others (texting when driving, not using seat belts; trill-seeking activities); and so on.
I think most responsible citizens agree that, if we wish to avoid potential socio-economic-political problems caused by “contemporary herdsmen”, we’ll need to promote sensible, equitable regulations and laws that benefit the common good. Only by balancing the needs of the individual with those of the greater community can we can create a healthy living environment that benefits all citizens.
ECONOMIC AND ENERGY NEWS-VIEWS
The Anniston Star: Insight: Plutocracy Trumping Democracy. A disquieting paradox is increasingly apparent. Americans hope for the self-respect and happiness that arise from a hearty sense of earned merit. Yet, we simultaneously desire greater wealth and advantages than deserved by any prudent measure of social responsibility.
Peak Prosperity: Money Creation: The Fed – Crash Course Chapter 8. As a follow-on to the two previous chapters — one explaining the nature of fiat money, the other showing how money is loaned into existence through our fractional reserve banking system — this week’s video details the Fed’s near-magical ability to create money out of thin air (literally!).
KCSG. Com: U.S. National Debt Now Stands At $1.1 Million Per Taxpayer. Forbes reports the total amount of unfunded U.S. liabilities at $126 trillion, or $1.1 million per U.S. taxpayer. The U.S. National Debt Clock may calculate that every man, woman and child owes $55,346 in funded liabilities, but tax payers will end up paying over $1 million in both funded and unfunded liabilities to pay back this debt.
MinnPost: Earth Journal: Nuclear Is Generating Less Of World’s Power; Renewables Are Accelerating. At best, nuclear power accounted for only 10.8 percent of the world’s electricity last year (down from a peak of 17.6 percent in 1996) and faces a difficult future because the world’s reactor fleet is aging, while new projects are burdened by high costs and construction delays
Resilience- Prosperous Way Down: Stop Growing Or Meet The Four Horsemen? Americans are now receiving unsubtle messages from the universe that perhaps we have reached our limits, and it is time to stop trying to grow the economy. The four horsemen—pestilence, famine, war, and death—are emerging on a global basis, as energy inputs wane and the global economic system slows down.
Common Dreams: ‘Our Economic Model Is At War With Life On Earth’. A new video trailer previews thesis of anticipated new book by Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein titled This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.
CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS-VIEWS
Resilience-Archdruid Report: Dark Age America: The Rising Oceans (John Michael Greer). As time passes, the resources needed to do the necessary work [of mitigating and adapting to climate changes] become increasingly scarce; and, as time passes, the uncertainties about what needs to be done become increasingly large.
Climate Progress: Keystone Xl’s Climate Impact Could Be Four Times Greater Than State Department Claimed. Depending on how much the pipeline increases oil production, its climate impact could amount to anywhere from zero to 110 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, the study showed—an emissions range of 1 million and 27 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Climate Progress: False Balance Lives: Media Biased Toward Fringe Climate Scientists Who Reject Global Consensus. A new study of climatologists finds: 1) widespread agreement that global warming is predominantly caused by human greenhouse gases, 2) this consensus strengthens with increased expertise, and 3) self-reported media exposure is higher for those who dispute a significant human influence on climate.
Environmental Leader: MIT: UN Climate Talks Likely To Fail. Talks at next year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris are unlikely to result in the goal of slowing climate change and keeping global temperatures below two degrees Celcius, according to MIT Study.
The New York Times: The Threats To Our Drinking Water. Twice this year the water supply for a major American city was interrupted for days by water pollution. When we ignore the weaknesses in our current approaches to safeguarding our drinking water supplies, we take a significant risk
Center for Biological Diversity: #CrowdedPlanet. There are nearly 7.2 billion people on the planet today. That means more crowds, more traffic, more pollution… and less room for wildlife. We want to know what living in a world of 7 billion looks like and feels like to you. Submit your photos to our Instagram campaign.
Center for Biological Diversity: Heading Toward 10 Billion People. The planet hosts more than 7 billion humans, with 227,000 added daily. Our expanded Population and Sustainability Program — the only one of its kind — tackles what it means for us and wildlife.
On Earth: Six Surprises About The State Of The American Farm. If you really want to know about the current state of farming in the U.S.A. (as opposed to merely knowing the current state of this summer’s heirloom tomatoes), you’ll need some real, hard facts.
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Community Voices: Dead Zones Ahead, From Great Lakes To Gulf Of Mexico. The dead zone created by phosphorous run-off into Lake Erie is like the dead zone growing in other lakes, including parts of Lake Huron and Canada’s Lake Winnipeg. It’s like the gigantic dead zone growing in the Gulf of Mexico, fed by the phosphorus flowing from our farm fields down the Mississippi and out into the Gulf.
Post Carbon Institute (Richard Heinberg): Blame The Environmentalists. CEOs of companies engaged in shale gas and tight oil drilling are undoubtedly aware of what’s going on in their own balance sheets; hype is an essential part of their business model.
LOCAL, STATE, AND REGIONAL NEWS-VIEWS
Twin Cities Daily Planet: Twin Cities Farmers Want City Officials To Do More For Urban Farms. Urban agriculture may be a growing trend, but some Minneapolis farmers believe the movement may become stagnant if city officials don’t make active pushes to support it.
MPR: Minnesota Starts To Think About Re-Using Wastewater. Treated sewage water is getting used again in a few places–watering golf courses, washing trucks, and sweeping streets. The Economics in a water-rich state make for slow change, but those who have tried it think it could be a way of the future.
Blue & Green Tomorrow: Canada Faces Environmental Disaster As 1.3 Billion Gallons Of Mining Waste Flows Into Rivers. Citizens of British Columbia awoke to the thunderous noise of over a billion gallons of mining wastewater cascading through Hazeltine Creek earlier this week, polluting the state’s fresh water supply.
MPR: Twin Cities Oil Train Traffic Jumps; Safety Worries Rise. The state is also finalizing a plan to train emergency responders and determine how best to share special firefighting equipment. Christianson estimated that only about half of Minnesota communities along the oil routes have been trained to respond to a catastrophe involving the highly flammable crude oil.
MPR: “Beneath The Surface” Series. MPR’s ongoing project “Beneath the Surface,” shines a light on the pressures on Minnesota’s groundwater and how residents, businesses and officials are being asked to adapt. The latest story by MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar investigates a growing interest in reusing wastewater due to concerns about the availability of groundwater. Read more »
SUSTAINABLE IDEAS AND PRACTICES
MPR: U Of M Flushes Toilets With Rainwater. The system collects stormwater from the roof of the new student housing, and a cistern can hold up to 35,000 gallons of water to serve the building.
Yes! Why Banking At The Post Office Could Be A Better Option Than Payday Loans—And Wall Street. USPS used to offer financial services. Proponents say that bringing them back could buffer us from financial meltdowns and alleviate poverty. Here’s why it just might work. READ MORE »
Shareable: How Cooperation Jackson Is Transforming The Poorest State In The U.S. Cooperation Jackson is a network of interconnected yet independent institutions including an incubator and training center, a cooperative bank, and a federation of established cooperatives. Together, they’re exploring the potential of cooperatives to transform local communities.
Twin Cities Daily Planet: This City Bus Will Soon Be A Mobile Grocery Store. The Twin Cities Mobile Market will provide affordable food to people who otherwise would have to travel one or more miles to obtain it.
Peak Prosperity: A New Opportunity For Investing In Productive Farmland. Podcast, featuring Craig Wichner, managing partner of Farmland LP, discussing how to create value by improving the land.
Environmental Leader: Report: Circular Economy Makes Economic Sense. The concept of a circular economy is not new, with certain principles of it based on the well-known “cradle to cradle” model.
Environmental Leader: Hog-Waste-To-Energy Plant Under Construction. This 80M structure will convert hog waste into methane. Residue material can be used for fertilizer and water for irrigation.
Resilience: Zero Vision: A Plan To Make Our Roads Safe. Campaigns to reduce pedestrian, bicyclist and motorist deaths to zero are now taking shape around the country from Philadelphia to Chicago to Oregon.
CFS UPCOMING EVENTS
CFS PLANNING- BUSINESS MEETING: Sat. Aug. 16, 3-5 p.m., SAV City Hall Council Chambers. Open to anyone interested in CFS. Ministers of two local churches will meet with us to discuss potential collaborative initiatives.
CFS BOOK CLUB: Sat. Aug. 23, 3-5 p.m., St. Anthony Village Library (SAV Shopping Center). Books: Decline and Fall: The End of Empire (John Michael Greer; The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivor’s Toolkit (Dmitry Orlov). Open to public.
NOTABLE UPCOMING LOCAL EVENTS
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: Eco Experience: Minnesota Goes Green. “Best Attraction 2013”. Also, Renewing the Countryside: Healthy Local Foods Exhibit at MN State Fair.
Aug. 21-Sept. 1, MN State Fair, St. Paul; Info: http://www.ecoexperience.org.
Alliance for Sustainability- AfroEco: Cooperative Solutions: A Convergence For A Just And Sustainable Economy. Sat., Aug. 23, 9am-6pm, Laura Jeffrey Academy 1550 Summit Ave, St Paul, MN. Registration
SAV Chamber of Commerce: Touch-A-Truck. A fun, educational, “hands on” experience for kids of all ages! Saturday, September 13, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., 39th Ave NE, Silver Lake Village. Info: Tony Fragnito (firstname.lastname@example.org; 651-748-7860), or Jan Fillmore (email@example.com; 612-788-1675).
Sustainable Cities Institute: Midwest Convening On Climate Resilience, Sep. 21-23, Saint Paul Hotel – 350 Market St, St. Paul, MN. Register by August 31st >>