The ‘tragedy of the commons’ is an economic theory founded on the idea that when there is unregulated use of a shared resource then the rational consumer, acting independently and in their own interests, will maximise their consumption leading to the depletion or destruction of the resource. For example, if there is no cost or limit to grazing sheep on common land then a rational shepherd would maximise their flock size in order to maximise profit. Eventually, the commons’ ability to sustain the sheep is overwhelmed and it becomes a wasteland. Are we all taking a free ride on the world’s ecosystem? Our cars and houses freely pump out huge quantities of carbon dioxide that are overwhelming our ecosystem. Most of us do nothing – either because we refuse to believe the evidence, or we believe it is not in our interests to act, or we don’t think it is our problem, or we don’t know what to do, or a combination of these excuses.
This might seem a low priority to you. But, for the 40% of the world’s population that live in the five countries with the worst air quality, it is a high priority. If you visit these countries, you experience days when it is difficult to breathe because the pollution is so bad and it is hard to read your smartphone because the air is so thick with particles. We are all part of a single ecosystem on the planet, Gaia if you like, and we are joined to one another through a myriad of connections. So we ignore this issue at our peril, or the peril of our grandchildren.
It seems unlikely that our leaders will take effective coordinated action and so grass roots action is needed as suggested by Kofi Annan. Assess your carbon footprint now and think about ways to become carbon neutral. If you want to find out the carbon footprint of your organization then the Carbon Trust has useful information and services.