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A Description of How Hardin's Thesis Applies To California's Current Production of Smog pollutants

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A majority of the local and global environmental challenges and calamities that are eminent in the 21st Century are an eventual occurrence of the tragedies-of –the-commons dilemmas where the personal interests and collective interests conflicts and are most often at odds. In such instances of the Tragedy of the commons, people are intricately motivated by narrow gains of self interest and rationally decide to act so as to derive benefits by using and exploiting the resources that are owned by all or rather the ‘commons’. This paper will seek to answer some of the common questions amongst many people in close reference to the case in California such as what is “The Tragedy of the Common”.  And how is this related to smog production in California and the possible solutions such as mass transportation. This paper shall focus on Gallet Harding paper of the 1968 known as “The Tragedy of The commons".

Description of ‘The Tragedy of The commons’.

Towards understand the meaning of Tragedy of the commons, we explore the meaning of a tragedy and the commons as used by Garrett Hardin in his paper "The Tragedy of the Commons”.Tragedy is a calamity or rather a disastrous event. Garrett Harding describes commons as the resources held and owned by no one unlike a privately owned resource. This therefore implies that “The Tragedy of the Commons”   is the unfortunate predicament caused when a resource, such as a natural resource like the air or water resources is consumed by everyone but maintained by no one. In such a situation, every individual tend to utilize and make a gain from the free resource with a view of drawing some benefits and in so doing causing some consequences whose effects are equally spread amongst the entire society within the niche.

Garrett  used an instance of a pasture open to all people i.e. The Herdsmen. He noted that every herder would rationally and independently seek to increase his gain by increasing the number of animals. This action leads to a positive component and a negative component where the farmer fully and positively gains by adding an animal and in so doing causes a negative impact in terms of overgrazing which unfortunately is shared by all herdsmen.The tragedy however occurs when each and every herdsman rationally decides to make a gain out of the utility by most likely adding an animal to their herd hence leading to eventual overgrazing that has drastic impacts on all of them.

It can therefore be noted that ‘The Tragedy of the commons’ is fundamentally an environmental issue that eventually leads to pollution and cause some of the most really difficult environmental problems, in this case the smog pollution.

The Tragedy of the commons as it implies in the California’s Case.

Looking at the case of California's current production of smog pollutants, it is to be noted that air pollution is one of the major problems facing the environment, which unfortunately is not as easily cleaned up as land and water resources that have been polluted. The effects of air pollution are felt by not only the person or agent causing the pollution but rather by the majority society. Smog is one of the air pollutants and is a resultant of chemical combinations usually from smoke, dust ,carbon monoxide, dirt, soot, and ozone .Chemical reactions occur that eventually lead to a haze appearance in the atmosphere after sunlight, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons have mixed. It usually occurs in cities where the population. Mostly, smog is produced by the fuel combustion in automobiles, waste treatment, fires, oil production, industrial solvents, coatings, and paints amongst others.

In California, one of the major causative of smog is auto-mobile. Combustion of gas in motor vehicles produces smoke which when released together with other particulates and chemicals into the atmosphere, causes smog. Today, the smog problems created by vehicles are becoming increasingly severe with its effects being felt not only in obscure visibility but also in increased rates of chronic diseases. Brit Ligget noted that California Smog is causing $193 Million in Healthcare Costs .

Definition of ‘The commons’ in California’s Case

The commons or the resources ‘open to all’ include the government owned roads which are toll-free and the overall air mass which supports life and others aspects such as combustion. These components therefore represent the “commons areas”. In his paper, Garret Harding noted that every person wants maximum goodness to their selves. Every Californian is no different and thus tends to seek gain from these unmanned utilities. Bearing in mind that roads are government owned hence most of them are toll-free; they therefore become “common areas”. In other words, there are no major restrictions in using the roads unlike a case where the roads would be privatized so that every individual was forced to pay a levy in order to use them. This notion thus leads an individual to think independently on how to utilize this free resource and hence decides to buy a vehicle. The comfort derived from owning a personal vehicle and driving is the gain that an individual fully enjoys thus making the positive component. This has lead to the increase in traffic over time.

Another common area that interestingly evokes an individual’s utility demand is the air. As we know, air is rich in oxygen thus supports combustion. Combustion is an important and virtually the most fundamental process in the motor-world. Most of the vehicles, apart from the electric cars connected to the national grid, must most probably utilize the combustion process for them to be fully and efficiently functional. Bearing this in mind, rationally, every person would like to maximize his/her  personal short-term gain thus locking them into a dilemma that most often cause long-range harm to the environment, to others and ultimately to oneself. To realize this gain, a citizen will rationally decide to buy a motor vehicle so as to utilize the free air mass in combustion. This leads to a positive gain to oneself and an ultimate disastrous and negative component that is shared by the whole society and far beyond. However, this dire need to make a gain out of the utility i.e. the air is widespread with every person independently deciding to move towards buying a personal vehicle so as to utilize this free resource and hence, therein is the tragedy.

Similarly, we may take it that people may consider the atmosphere as a common dump site with no one really having a concern of protecting it. More people will tend to make a gain in utilizing the common dump site by adding even more pollutants to the atmosphere. In both cases of the atmosphere being a common area open to all, there are ultimate environmental effects that are felt and shared by the entire society. This phenomenon has lead to air pollution that has been a result of continuous exploitation of the atmosphere over time by human beings, with the ultimate effects of what is disastrous global warming that is being felt to the core in the 21st century.

The individual interests

As noted earlier the tragedy of the commons essentially starts at a personal cognitive level where an individual’s rational thinking more often tend to trigger an intricate action towards making a gain from a utility and by so doing, the individual interest at hand withstands the societal effects. Air being a free resource, every Californian would like to make a gain out of it. Let’s take a case where one person rationally and independently decides to buy a motor vehicle. Taking note that the cost of gas has considerably fallen due to emergence of other car propellants such as bio-fuels and electric motors, an individual will most likely go for a motor vehicle with a high consumption rate of gas and more comfortable. In so doing, the individual interest at hand will be quenched thus leading to a positive gain. The individual gains include the sense of well being created by owning and driving a personal car vis-à-vis using public means of transport. Another personal gain that an individual would be looking forward to accomplish is the conveniences associated with using a private car to commute. These two aspects add up to the personal interest that consequently leads to the positive component (+1) derived from owning a personal car.

The collective interests

In that line, every Californian is then held up and locked up in a system that leads to a dire need of wanting to own a personal vehicle and it is by this that the collective interests to gain from the resources is attained. One person after another will therefore move towards the individually gaining the benefits from the commons, and that is the state owned roads and the air. By so doing the number of motor vehicles in the California city has continuously increased over time thus an increased traffic.

Taking that the population of California was 33,871,648 in the year 2000 and has positively changed by 10.0% to reach a total number of 37,253,956 in 2010 according to the U.S Census Bureau, we can therefore say that the number of motor vehicles bought within this period have positively shifted bearing in mind that the Californians have followed the intricate line of individual interests towards the commons.

It is therefore to be noted that the cost incurred to an individual from his car’s exhaust emissions is negligible hence a person will feel just a factor fraction of the negative component  (-1) impended as a result of using a personal car considering the rather high population in California. However, in contrast, a person will fully enjoy the full positive component (+1) in terms of benefits and gains realized from owning, using and driving a personal vehicle. This then lead to the tragedy where the collective interests of all motor vehicle owners trying to maximize their benefits from the commons (The atmosphere) without moderation and protective counteracts conflicts with the limited resources offered by the nature hence leading to an imbalance. Over time, this has lead California to end up with the ultimate eventual occurrence of smog.

In another dimension it had been indicated earlier that government owned roads are common areas where people tend to make a gain out of it by buying personal vehicles. With an increasing population, the traffic increases due to the fact that this rational thinking of making a gain is independently arrived at by almost everybody in the society. This will lead to a tragedy overtime due to over-use of the roads hence causing a case where the number of the cars on the road surpasses the normal road carrying capacity hence causing the commonly known traffic jams. This increased number in traffic leads to an increase in the amount of particulates such as dust and smoke to the atmosphere thus leading to occurrence of smog.

The Resulting conflict between Individual interests and Collective interests

The collective individual Interests most often conflicts with the limited resources thus eventually leading to pollution. In his paper, Garret noted that the essence of a problem lies in a rather simple cost benefit analysis at an individual level, where the “rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them”.

The extricate costs caused by occurrence of fog is borne and felt by the entire society. Amongst the costs accrued as a result of fog are obscured visibility that more often leads to accidents and high medical costs arising from chronic diseases. This occurrence thus justifies what Garret observed concerning the commons in his paper that whenever a resource is collectively owned by a group of people, unlike a private owned resource, each person will exploit the resource, Overuse it and thus eventually and ultimately destroy the resource.

Possible counter measures to these problems.

Garret says that problems that result from the tragedy of the commons have no technical solutions but rather require changes in human attitudes and the general behavior.For instance, Some people notes that the level of congestion in traffic that contribute to smog pollutant emissions that the entire society tolerates is a rational, but not necessarily conscious, and subjective choice between car-owning and car-free households. By this, it’s to be noted then that one way to cut on the increasing emission of smoke that, amongst others, lead to smog is by use of public means of transport as opposed to the use of privately owned cars.

Another route to solution is to apply Mutual Coercion that has been Mutually Agreed Upon. By this the government may decide to restrict the freedom of the commons by instituting taxes hence remove the notion of free to all resources. Such may be through instituting levies on roads that will discourage people to use personal vehicles and rather prefer use of public means. Similarly, the Tragedy of The commons have been greatly tamed by instituting trading measures where you pay for the amount of emissions you damp to the commons i.e. The atmosphere. This is practiced in California where smog inspections are required unless your vehicle is Hybrid, Gasoline powered 1975 year model or older, Diesel powered manufactured prior to 1998 or with a Gross Vehicle Weight rating (GVWR) of more than 14,000 lbs, Electric, Natural gas powered with a GVWR rating of more than 14,000 lbs, Motorcycle or it is a Trailer (vehicles, 2011)

Even friendlier is the route of Collective-choice arrangements. In this, all individuals are included in formulating and implementing laws to curb over use and over exploitation of the commons. This brings all persons on board and places everyone on the forefront of conserving the environment. This is by making everyone feel that they have a responsibility to conserve the commons i.e. the atmosphere. However, to achieve this, an institution mandated with the tasks of correlating these aspects is fundamental.

Other measures that can be put I place to reduce the smog emission to the atmosphere are placing a requirement  for carpooling and also to introduce incentives such as offering free bus services which will tame the rational thinking of individuals towards the commons.

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