October 3 2022 9:50 PM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Tragedies of the public commons

Amjad Yamien
Amjad Yamin (Photo: JNews)
The problems we face today could fall squarely within the realms the public “commons”, or tragedies of the commons as economists put it — from biogenetics to forests to pseudo-apartheid, we are struggling with topics we took for granted as owned by all (who owns the sun, or the human DNA, for example?), and will only proliferate this century. اضافة اعلان

As global capitalism is no longer in need of democracy, we increasingly see governments, and individuals, that are happy to ignore traditions, respect for human rights, diplomatic agreements, and even common courtesy in favor of personal interest, and there is very little that actually regulates the common spaces — the rise of neo-nationalism across the world is a good example of that.

For example, despite all of the doomsday predictions fueled by panic over production, the scarcity of natural resources has been decreasing rather than increasing. Between the exploration of new technology, finding substitutes to fueling cars and cooking stoves with electricity and renewable energy, and improving the efficiency of everyday items and recycling, for the large part either demand decreased, substitutes were created, or reserves have increased.

The irony, of course, is that some of the renewable natural resources, including many fisheries or forests, have completely disappeared — events that seemed unimaginable before, like bees becoming extinct, are a reality today.

The key differences being, among other reasons, property regimes. While nobody owns the fish in the sea, oil is governed by well-defined, relatively easily enforceable rights of ownership and are often regulated, to some extent, by what is dubbed as scarcity rent, where the price of a good in short supply increases because of its limited supply, while such rents are dissipated with public commons.

This is not to suggest that all renewable sources should be privatized to be controlled. What we need is to reinvent how we think about these topics and find solutions at a global scale.

Sadly, what is happening today at a systems level is almost turning the tables on individuals: Did you recycle your trash? Are you using less plastic? Have you turned the lights off in your house? Are you driving a hybrid car? and so on. Even when the evidence clearly exist that — at an individual level — our use of plastic, for example, is not what is causing the environmental catastrophe, but that large-scale production and mishandling could be.

We need new solutions that are enforceable at a global level, as very soon we may need to answer the question of how to regulate human consciousness planted into a machine; there is no template for that.