The Tragedy of the Commons is a dilemma where people, acting in their own best interests, individually exploit a shared resource until it is eventually exhausted, to the detriment of everyone. The usual example is that of farmers allowing animals to graze on a common fallow field. Each is acting in his own best interests, and benefits from the practice. But eventually, the land is depleted, and no one can use it anymore.
Does this sound familiar?
All that water in the Assiniboine River is coming from somewhere. I have heard it said that we are in a natural wet cycle, and that every umpteen years, we experience higher than average rainfalls, saturating the ground and raising the water table.
It sounds like an excuse to me.
Has anyone heard certain environmentalists claim that the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate? Yes, the science remains close enough to the fringes to discount as hot air or conspiracy theory. But what if they are right?
I can do the math. The Arctic and Antarctic land masses are smaller, as more huge, ancient bergs calve off each year. The water table is higher and we have high rainfall. The rivers are swollen and the cottages that used to be thirty feet from the beach are now unstable, roof-shaped islands in the middles of new lakes. Hmmm… the earth doesn’t make new water, it just constantly recycles the old.
Let’s face it. Our excessive lifestyles (my own included) are in the (possibly irreversible) process of utterly ruining this planet.
Could we have prevented this flood? Probably not. After all, the “wet cycle” may have happened anyway. Could we have minimized its damage? Possibly, if we’d listened to the fringe scientists 20 or 30 years ago.
The problem is that it’s never our problem. The chain of cause-and-event are just too asynchronous for most of us to make the connections necessary to feel obliged to expiate our part in it. So either we never identify our own roles in this tragedy in slow motion, or we mentally assign the responsibility elsewhere.
“They shouldn’t have built on a flood plain.”
“We need another diversion.”
“My car gets great gas mileage.”
“It’s a wet cycle.”
It couldn’t possibly be our own fault that weather patterns are changing. If we admitted that, then we would have to admit that it was a mistake not to intervene years ago, and force people to stop squandering finite resources on vanity and convenience.
The tragedy is that every little thing we do that is wasteful feels like nothing at the time. We justify taking two cars to the cottage because it’s easier than waiting until the whole family is ready to go. It feels ok to lay rubber just to see how fast she’ll go, because it’s only a few dollars worth of gas. We choose plastic, because it makes clean-up that much faster. But when the waste is added up, the costs mount very quickly, and I don’t mean the dollars out of pocket. I mean overflowing landfills, and $1.25 gas and lakes that are double their normal size.
I have heard more than once this spring that the flood on and around Lake Manitoba is not a natural disaster, it’s a man-made disaster. I agree. But I don’t agree that the primary fault for flooded homes and cottages lies with the public servants who decided to open the gates. It lies much further upstream, with all of us who have continued to act in our own best interests, at the expense of the greater good.
I am not one of those environmentalist wing nut. I consume just like everyone else in the developed world. I feel very badly for those who have lost their homes and possessions in all the recent weather-related events. And I keep wondering if we have brought it all on ourselves.
We need to make some changes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we are anywhere close to that yet.
And for all this filibuster, I suppose I should put my money where my mouth is and do something. I work exercise into every day, maybe I should start working my social conscience in too, because I am all too certain that if we don’t stop grazing, those fields will be useless.