(Image credit here)
Speaking of the birth of his new grandson last fall, Larry J. Schweiger (President & CEO, National Wildlife Federation) wrote in an editorial in the Feb/Mar 2010 edition of National Wildlife:
I knew he was leaving his mother's womb to enter a world that is increasingly warming and more uncertain with intensifying storms, deepening droughts, massive forest fires and overheating cities. He deserves to live in a safer world.
You see, in the end, it's about the common property that is all around us: the air we breathe. It belongs to everyone on Earth-and no one-at the same time.
When I was a senior in high school in 1968, I read a provocative article in the journal Science titled "The Tragedy of the Commons" by Garrett Hardin that greatly influenced my thinking. Hardin described a number of herdsmen who were sharing a public grazing land called the commons. Each sought to get the most grass for their animals without limits and collectively they destroyed the commons. One line in his article has long haunted me: "Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all."
Global warming may soon be seen as the penultimate tragedy of the commons. If the nearly 7 billion people on the planet are free to continue dumping billions upon billions of tons of carbon dioxide, soot and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we will surely destroy the atmospheric commons that gives and protects all life.
Again--and again--and again--I keep going back to a simple rule. I guess it's a lot like the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you), but it forces us to focus on the children:
For. The. Children.
It's that simple--is what I am doing good for the Mister Tristans of this world? If not, don't do it. This rule must look to the larger as well as the short term picture, and applies to agriculture, to banking, to pollution, to government, to war, to morality, to health care, to religion, to interpersonal relationships, to whatever....you fill in the blank.
Children are a gift, a treasure, and are utterly dependent upon the unselfish and altruistic actions of their caregivers. In the example above, is overgrazing the commons in the best interest of the children? Of course not--perhaps there would be a short-term benefit, but it would be followed by a long-term collapse.
This isn't rocket science, people--we all have that little voice of conscience within us that tells us when we are straying from the rule:
For. The. Children.