Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tragedy of the Commons

by Richard Crews
Humanity's present, most severe problem is the ultimate "Tragedy of the Commons," that is, when everyone may make use of common property (in the present case, the atmosphere, oceans, underground aquifers, rainforests, and near-Earth space) but no one has responsibility for its upkeep, the cumulation of self-interests will destroy it.

The oceans of the Earth are severely polluted, over-fished, and otherwise exploited.

The atmosphere is severely polluted and deteriorating.

Underground, century-old aquifers which people depend on for water around the world are becoming depleted.

Rainforests are destroyed by the millions-of-acres each year, and their climate stabilization and brilliant ecological diversity are lost.

And near-Earth space is so littered with space debris that it is dangerous for human travelers, and approaching unusability for scientific and commercial activities such as GPS, weather-forecasting, surveillance, and communications satellites.

Governments (including super-governments like the UN, EU, IMF, and Kyoto Conference), even with the work of NGOs, environmental groups, billionaire philanthropists, and scholarly dissidents (such as the Nobel Committees), do not seem up to the task of protecting these commons.

The problem is not scientific or technological--the science is clear; the technologies exist.

The problem is fundamentally sociological (or, more specifically, group psychological and political). The crucial question is, Can we build a social structure that will save our common heritage from the ravages of short-sighted self-interest so that the oceans, atmosphere, aquifers, rain forests, and near-Earth space will be available for the use and enjoyment of future generations?

That is the most pressing and severe problem of our time. Future generations will look back on ours and say either, "Thank goodness they..." or "Why on Earth didn't they...."