In Garrett Hardin’s article he outlines a phenomenon which he titles the “Tragedy of the Commons.” The environment, previously uncategorized as an economic issue, has been allowed as a birthright to all and, as such, has been regulated as what Hardin coined as the “commons”. He outlines the example of shepherds in an environmentally fragile pasture. Hardin makes the case that it would be individually beneficial for any one of the shepherds to bring more sheep than they are allotted by the rules of the commons because the rational decision would capitalize on personal gain. In order to prevent this and slow the degradation of the environment Hardin maintains that the commons should be privatized because it would be in the owner’s best interest to keep the land healthy, and therefore profitable.
Hardin’s argument that it would be most effective to privatize more land in order to protect the environment would work because it is in human nature to protect personal possessions and properties. Privatization would allow for regulation that is more tailored to individual pieces of land which would benefit the owner because he or she would not have to adhere to generalized government regulations that would only cause chaos and confusion. Government regulation has not worked in the past against individual ambition with regards to the commons, and furthermore cannot attempt to provide a decent control over every ecologically different piece of land. Not only does privatization remove government regulation, but also a healthy environment and plentiful land would draw more customers and therefore more profit. If a piece of land is able to provide the consumer with a better experience, it will attract more consumers and fetch a better price. This would be better for the land owner, the consumer, and the environment.
Though privatization of public land is one solution, it is not a solution that would help to prevent the rapid decline of the environment. It is in human nature to protect one’s property, yet it is also in human nature to profit and succeed. Those who would seek, and have the funds, to privatize are in it for personal gain not the wellbeing of nature, and therefore would not care about degradation as long as it comes at a good price for them. It would be much easier for an ambitious property-owner to make a quick buck than to try to wait out the whims of the economy and produce a long term gain, especially since this owner would not necessarily even have to immediately feel the effects of the degradation of the land. With overseas purchases, the owner could reap all of the benefits from the land at none of the cost. According to Hardin’s own logic, it would be more beneficial and more in line with human nature for the private owner to allow the degradation of his land in order to gain a bigger profit.
Larry Ruff maintains that the problem of pollution arises from the divergence of private and social costs. To balance the marginal costs and benefits, Ruff would put a price on pollution.
Like Hardin, Ruff views pollution as an environmental issue, yet while Hardin proposed a possible solution of privatizing in order to conserve, Ruff is more in favor of holding those who contribute to the problem accountable. He does this through a tax or law which would make people pay for their pollution. This is a very plausible solution because people use less of expensive things which would assume that people would pollute less and be more conscious about their contribution to the environmental crisis. Because people are used to a certain kind of life, however, they would still pollute and hence pay the tax. This means that the tax on pollution would not only be a valuable preventative measure, it would also help to provide more access to healing measures as well. The money raised from this tax on pollution could be used to clean up roadsides, oceans, build solar panels, provide better education about the environment etc. Though it would be impossible to impose such a tax on a world-wide scale at first, a little bit of change makes a lot of difference and could inspire other countries to join in and try to curb their resource use.
Ruff’s proposed solution, that the government imposes a tax on pollution and resource use, makes a lot of sense on paper. Economically, the money from a tax could help both to prevent and to control damage but socially and morally the tax is wrong. Everyone uses energy; everyone produces garbage; everyone uses up natural resources. It does not matter if a person is wealthy or not, in the modern world he would have to pay this pollution tax in order to continue to live a considerably decent life. This tax would be entirely unaffordable for lower income people who are already struggling to pay their rent and electricity bills, much less an added ten percent on every watt of energy they use. It would also be much more valuable for someone who is not making much money to have cheap gas, electricity, and waste disposal than it would be for the same person to have clean national parks to visit or a repaired ozone layer. If the only reason for pollution control is to provide a better life and continuation for the human species, then taking away basic amenities as stated above would be counter to that ideal. How can one claim to be helping humanity when he is taking away a man’s ability to drive to his job and earn a livelihood?
William Baxter proposes reducing pollution only to the point where it is most beneficial to human satisfaction; when the benefit to humans is equal to the cost to humans.
Baxter is very clear from the opening of his article that he is not concerned with the needs of anything other than humans unless the needs of that thing directly impact the satisfaction os the human life. This said, every human’s satisfaction is different and all cannot be met at once so it is important to gauge the problems that are most harming general human flourishing. He proposes imposing a tax on sewage and water waste and using class action lawsuits to change policies and make rules that are beneficial to the greater public. Baxter argues that this could be a great way to maximize human benefit because it would consider the opinions of many people who would not otherwise have a voice in the matter. The difference between Baxter’s solution and Ruff’s solution is that Baxter heavily emphasizes pollution control to a point. He argues that some pollution allows humans to live a more satisfying life than they would with no pollution at all. This would suggest that, though all pollution is bad for the Earth, only some of it should be taken care of in order to find the balance between benefit to humans and cost to humans.
Baxter’s aforementioned solution revolves around the basic assumption that human success is the only thing with inherent worth. Though this might be an instinctual thought that many humans share at a deeper level, it is a very short-sighted plan. Baxter’s solution is concerned with immediate satisfaction and happiness rather than continuation as a species. Many times, the outcome of a particular practice or implementation cannot be entirely known until years later at which point it is too late to turn back. What is good for human flourishing at one point may not be what’s good for human continuation, and ultimately continuation is the real way of flourishing. If the Earth dies, the human race will have nowhere to inhabit, making a healthy Earth one of the most human-centric goals. Consider a class action lawsuit that speaks against raising gas prices to an unaffordable level. This would be very beneficial to humans at the time, it would be the general opinion of the public, and it would be wrong. Though keeping gas prices low would satisfy many people on a short-term level, it would not be the right thing to do to protect the Earth and therefore the human race.