Friday, February 15, 2008

The Tragedy of the Commons

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of the Tragedy, you can read about it here:

The idea is very basic: When humans are given a resource that is available to anyone who takes it, humans will take all of it as soon as possible without thought to the consequences or the future.

For example: What would happen if a suitcase full of cash was spilled above a major freeway? The cash showers down on the drivers....and disaster! The greed of the people involved would completely override their sense of safety and fair play. People would be killed, cars wrecked, and traffic jammed up for miles. The cost of the damage done would be much higher than the potential profit from grabbing the cash, yet humans do not think that way, and so it is with nearly every facet of human society.

Commercial Fishing: Huge fleets of fishing vessels hit international waters every year taking as much as they possibly can and wasting 25-50% of what they catch. There are some minor controls placed on the fisheries but over all the ships operate outside the jurisdiction of individual countries and far enough away to literally get away with murder. Whole areas of the oceans have been fished and overfished until they are devoid of life. The ships move on and leave wreckage in their wake. The Japanese fleet kills hundreds of whales in the name of research and sells the meat to be used in school lunch programs. The Gulf Coast Shrimp industry uses gigantic nets that scoop up every living thing in 200' wide swaths. When the net is full it is brought onto the deck and the shrimp are sorted out of the turtles, dolphins and any other marine life that got in the way. An average netting can yield 10% shrimp and 90% waste that is dead and dumped back into the Gulf of Mexico. No one controls the seas so everyone takes as much as possible.

When does it become "Our Problem"????

Plastics Industry: Recycle is the catchphrase when it comes to plastics and it makes the manufacturers and consumers of plastics look fairly innocent and eco-minded. Truth is that very little plastic is getting recycled and a large portion of plastics that enter our lives is not recyclable at all. Everyday, each American uses dozens of pieces of plastic. We can shout recycle until doomsday but it doesn't change the fact that 90% of the plastic we handle is not recyclable by current methods. Plastic bottle are recyclable but the lock rings and caps are not. Clam-shell packages are not. Plastic food wrap is not. Bic pens(and most other small 'plastic implements') are not. Plastic toys are not. The list of "Not Recyclable" is much longer than the list of what is. So why do we still use these kinds of plastic, even knowing that they can not be recycled? Because it is cheaper and companies still make profits from it. No one cares where it ends up, because, at least in the US, it is kept out of sight and therefore it isn't our problem.

When does it become "Our Problem"????
UK Fishermen

CFL's and Ecology: Most "Green" websites and companies state that "Replacing 1 light bulb with a Compact Florescent Bulb" is the easiest way to cut your Carbon Footprint. But at what cost? In the US (according to 134,475,214 CFLs have been purchased in the last 14 months. Each bulb contains 5-6 mg of mercury. That is : ((134 475 214 * .005) / 28) / 16 = 1500.83944 Pounds of Mercury every year.

In order to keep up with the demand, China has lowered their pollution standards for mercury mining and many areas are quickly showing signs of mercury poisoning. Mercury emissions from mining operations are spreading around the world so we have no idea if we are actually cutting down the mercury totals or not. And in the US, only about 15% of all florescent bulbs are actually being collected for recycling which means 1275 Pounds of mercury is being added to landfills every year. 5 mg is such a small amount that it is easily defended as "being a better alternative" and that statement is being made on nearly every website in defense of CFL's but the hard facts will catch up with us in the future. It is easy as an individual to dismiss the consequences of CFLs, after all, "I only have 10 of them in my home and one or 2 in the trash isn't going to make a difference." "The Trash" is another "Commons" that is abused everyday. Trash goes somewhere and is a huge, but relatively, unseen problem.

When does this become "Our Problem"????


koren said...

I had the very same thought when the company I work for started advertising the benefits of changing to the new energy-effient light bulbs. They did provide information on how to dispose of the bulbs but it wasn't very prominent and the average employee probably didn't read the fine print ... we are in for it one way or the other.

Love your blog, found it while finally trying to make our 3 month food storage rotation list after reading in the newspaper that the US released $200mm in emergency wheat stores for developing countries. Since Costco is also limiting the amount we buy I will be heading over there tomorrow to get my "ration."

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