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Part 2: An examination of the Tragedy of the Commons--Pollution

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Part 2: Pollution

As stated in “Part 1: what we face” of this four part series, “Part 2: pollution” deals with a predicament few understand as to long term consequences.  Yes, we create a few laws to mitigate water, land and air pollution, but we continue injecting 72,000 chemicals into our environment 24/7.  We exhaust billions of tons of petroleum products, coal burning particulate and worse.

Results:  The chemicalized Mississippi River creates a 10,000 square mile dead zone whereby most vertebrates cannot survive.  Many of our lakes suffer ‘acid rain’ that destroys the ecological balance within them.

Please turn your attention to Chris Clugston’s, “On American Sustainability—Anatomy of a Societal Collapse.” The complete analysis and associated models, evidence, and references can be found at: http://www.wakeupamerika.com/PDFs/On-American-Sustainability.pdf

The more I investigate our predicament, the more pained I am for the future of our civilization.  As you read this four part series, you will know more than 90 percent of Americans.  Dr. Garrett Hardin wrote his “Tragedy of the Commons” nearly two decades ago, but we ignored it—at our increasing peril.

This country stands in “Collective Denial” of our environmental condition.

Clugston brings it to us with articulate clarity, “Most Americans believe that we are “exceptional”—both as a society and as a species. We believe that America was ordained through divine providence to be the societal role model for the world. And we believe that through our superior intellect, we can harness and even conquer Nature in our continuous quest to improve the material living standards associated with our ever-increasing population.

“The truth is that our pioneering predecessors drifted, quite by accident, upon a veritable treasure trove of natural resources and natural habitats, which they wrested by force from the native inhabitants, and which we have persistently overexploited in order to create and perpetuate our American way of life. The truth is that through our “divine ordination” and “superior intellect”, we have been persistently and systematically eliminating the very resources upon which our way of life and our existence depend.

“We now find ourselves in a “predicament”. We are irreparably overextended—living hopelessly beyond our means ecologically and economically (we import 60 percent of our oil)—at a time when the supplies of many critical resources, water the big one, upon which we depend will soon be insufficient to enable our American way of life. We are about to discover that we are simply another unsustainable society subject to the inescapable consequence of our unsustainable resource utilization behavior—societal collapse.”

While Clugston states his case, you watch it unravel in the newspapers daily across the USA and the planet.  I am baffled if not astounded at how we can continue ignoring what’s happening to us.

Dr. Garrett Hardin said, “In a reverse way, the tragedy of the commons reappears in problems of pollution. Here it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in - sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and dangerous fumes into the air; and distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight. The calculations of utility are much the same as before. The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. Since this is true for everyone, we are locked into a system of "fouling our own nest," so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free-enterprisers.

“The tragedy of the commons as a food basket is averted by private property, or something formally like it. But the air and waters surrounding us cannot readily be fenced, and so the tragedy of the commons as a cesspool must be prevented by different means, by coercive laws or taxing devices that make it cheaper for the polluter to treat his pollutants than to discharge them untreated. We have not progressed as far with the solution of this problem as we have with the first. Indeed, our particular concept of private property, which deters us from exhausting the positive resources of the earth, favors pollution. The owner of a factory on the bank of a stream - whose property extends to the middle of the stream - often has difficulty seeing why it is not his natural right to muddy the waters flowing past his door. The law, always behind times, requires elaborate stitching and fitting to adapt it to this newly perceived aspect of the commons.

“The pollution problem is a consequence of population. It did not much matter how a lonely American frontiersman disposed of his waste. "Flowing water purifies itself every ten miles," my grandfather used to say, and the myth was near enough to the truth when he was a boy, for there were not too many people. But as population became denser, the natural chemical and biological recycling processes became overloaded, calling for a redefinition of property rights.”

How to Legislate Temperance?

Hardin continued, “Analysis of the pollution problem as a function of population density uncovers a not generally recognized principle of morality, namely “The” morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed. Using the commons as a cesspool does not harm the general public under frontier conditions, because there is no public; the same behavior in a metropolis is unbearable. A hundred and fifty years ago a plainsman could kill an American bison, cut out only the tongue for his dinner, and discard the rest of the animal. He was not in any important sense being wasteful. Today, with only a few bison left, we would be appalled at such behavior.

“In passing, it is worth noting that the morality of an act cannot be determined from a photograph. One does not know whether a man killing an elephant or setting fire to the grassland is harming others until he knows the total system in which his act appears. "One picture is worth a thousand words," said an ancient Chinese, but it may take ten thousand words to validate it. It is as tempting to ecologists as it is to reformers in general to try to persuade others by way of the photographic shortcut. But the essence of an argument cannot be photographed. It must be presented rationally - in words.”

Weekly newspaper and TV reports illustrate our dilemma for example: “60 percent in nation live in dirty air…186 million Americans at risk,” Denver Post, April 29, 2009 by Noaki Schwartz.

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Frosty Wooldridge Bio: Frosty Wooldridge possesses a unique view of the world, cultures and families in that he has bicycled around the globe 100,000 miles, on six continents and six times across the United States in the past 30 years. His books (more...)
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