We Must Heal the Commons

The Tragedy of the commons, by Garrett Hardin, makes clear that environmental issues like that of the nuclear arms race are national and global security issues. Hardin places a strong emphasis on the fact that the nuclear arms race “has no technical solution.” Could this also be true about the environmental crisis as well?

The commons is a public plot of land that no one person has ownership or dominion over, but rather it is shared by every person in a community and owned by the government. This common place was not good enough for farming but was good enough for pasteurizing animals. There are many problems that arise when multiple individuals share a common space.

The main ideas of this article:
• Overpopulation: the individual impacts are small but the impacts of a group are huge and no one person is responsible.
• Over consumption: a technical solution would be to stop consumption of a certain substance. The problem is that people will find a way around it and consume that substance anyway. This leaves seeds of problems unseen.
• Economics and human behavior: The tragedy of the commons is presented as a mathematical equation. On an economic level, each individual will act to maximize his utility. For example, each individual increases his herd without limit.
• Pollution must be prevented by coercive laws or taxing devices. Pollution is a consequence of overpopulation.
• Temperance is self control or limit. This would involve an individual and collective movement that has to do with some type of morality to prohibit a certain behavior.

The commons serves as a metaphor for the planet. The commons problems of depleted natural resources, over fishing, over hunting, et cetera have resulted because no one has an economic incentive to limit their fair share. The problems that the commons caused mentioned in the main ideas above, such as over population, do not have a technical solution. Looking for the answers through science and technology will only make the situation worse. Rather the solution but be a nontechnical one and I feel the same way about our current environmental crisis. In order to improve the crisis one must look to nontechnical solutions whether that be in religion, education, government or any other area of life.

To heal the commons, we must first heal ourselves.


Encouraging a New Social Norm

Governor Andrew Cuomo declined the passing of the a bill that would have imposed a 5- cent fee on plastic bags because it would allow the profits from the plastic bag fee to be kept by the owner of the store. He also claimed that the plastic bag fee would end up as burden on poor consumers, for whom the convenience of plastic bags was an everyday practicality.

In my opinion these are the reasons why New York should charge for plastic bags:


The awareness of a problem does not lead to a change in behavior. People who learn about the importance of clean energy do not necessarily start using clean energy.The sudden change in action for a person to opt for a reusable bag rather than a plastic bag with a fee attached to it is most likely not coming from a sudden concern for the environment or the planet; but rather the option to choose a reusable bag rather than a plastic bag results from behavior. What we need to be doing is to encourage a new social norm.Everyone starts doing it because everyone else was doing it.

What better way to encourage a new social norm than for the government to set the precedent. A social norm that encourages the endless use of plastic bags. Attaching a 5-cent fee to plastic bags would be a step in the direction of a greener planet and a greener America.




Creating Ecological Cultures

We need a reconstruction of science and culture; the marriage between technology and science has shown ruthlessness towards nature. Most people today have a modern or capitalistic mindset; it is taught in classrooms, depicted through news stories and of course occurs in politics. This mindset teaches us the idea that we can think our way out of a problem, even on a global scale and implement a solution. But what happens when science alone can no longer fix our problems?

In the Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis by Lynn White, White speaks about what he has come to believe is the main root or cause of our environmental crisis. Much like the authors John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker of the book Ecology and Religion, White speaks about the idea of modernity being the cause of the environmental crisis. “Formerly man has been part of nature; now he was the exploiter of nature,” this sets the tone for the rest of the paper where White defines the relationship between humans and the natural world. He depicts this relationship in a negative way, a relationship in which “Man and nature are two things, and man is master.” White thinks that science and technology which originated in the West grew out of a Christian outlook in which man has dominance over nature.

White claims that “Hence, we shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.” Since our problems are so deeply rooted in the ideas of westward expansion, science and technology can not alone solve the problem of our ecological crisis; White believes “…The remedy must also be essentially religious.” I agree with White, when he says the crisis has only gotten worse as science and technology has continued to advance. If science and technology cannot in fact provide us with a solution, we must look to a different source. One source is religion; religious groups can serve as a vehicle for environmental change.


Similarly to White, Grim and Tucker, I believe that our environmental crisis will continue to worsen unless the necessary first step of changing the mindset of people all over the world is taken. A problem caused by the very thing, science and technology, that is trying to fix it, will inevitably result in a never ending cycle of one crisis after the other. The solution to our environmental crisis must be one in which science and religion work together to create an ecological culture.





A War of Ideologies


Modern life has led to our current environmental crisis. This crisis includes issues such as: global climate change, overpopulation, deforestation, etc. In an effort to combat these environmental issues the global population must come together to create an ecological culture that shares the ideology that man is a part of nature rather than man has dominion over nature. One’s ideology of modernity and religion will shape how one views the environment and the crisis of our present day.  

What does it mean to live in a modern world? The rapid rate at which change, advancements in technology and science is occurring has led to more development in technology now than ever before. To live in a modern society is to assume that science has the answer to everything.

“Western industrialization was driven by the dream of improving human well-being and yet has resulted in unintended environmental consequences” (Ecology and Religion). 

Industrialization occurred primarily in the West before moving to the East. Could it be that the West is responsible for rapid industrialization which has resulted in a depletion of natural habitats, led to the extinction of species, caused the globe to warm or should both the West and the East share the burden of a modern life which has lead to the pressing issue of an environmental crisis?

In chapter 11 of Explorations in Global Ethics, Kusumita Pederson included a quote from Lester Brown that reads, “In a sustainable economy, human births and deaths are in balance, soil erosion does not exceed the natural rate of new soil formation, tree cutting does not exceed tree planting, the fish caught do not exceed the sustainable yield of fisheries, the cattle on a range do not exceed its carrying capacity, and water pumping does not exceed aquifer recharge. It is an economy where carbon emissions and carbon fixation are also again in balance. The number of plants and animal species lost does not exceed the rate at which new species evolve.”

Brown describes what an environmentally sustainable economy would look like. It reads much like that of a Utopian society, one that is far out of reach due to the modern lifestyle of both the West and the East where there has been relentless economic exploitation of nature and the consumption of its resources. All throughout history the world’s religions have been able to create change; the hope is that religion could act as a vehicle of change for environmentalism. Through religious practices, rituals, and traditions it could be possible to educate people of faith to be more in tune to the rhythms of nature and the environment; this is the goal of religious ecology. 

If sustainability goals are not met, the human-caused factors of this crisis will keep increasing and the burden of humanity killing its environment will become heavier. Different groups within different religions have differing ideologies of how they view the relationship between man and nature. Imagine a world in which all people, of varying religious groups shared the same ideology, one in which man didn’t exert dominance over nature but instead showed stewardship towards it.