Sunday, 2 November 2014


"What is common to many is taken least care of, for all men have greater reward for what is their own than what they possess in common with others..."  - Aristotle

How true this ancient philosopher was when he thus wrote about the selfish nature of the human race. Many years later Garret Hardin echoed the same in his parable of 'The Tragedy of Commons' . One cannot imagine what their reaction would be if they walked on earth right now!
Any resource that is commonly owned and the costs cannot be pinned down but the resource benefits all will surely face misuse,overuse, and abuse. Over a period of time the resource is naturally destroyed. This is the message of  the parable - Hardin described the pastures for which there were no secure property rights. On the pastures or the commons, people were not protected from the effect of the actions of the others who used the pastures.The cost is not borne by the individual as it is a common property, but the benefit definitely goes to one. There is hence no responsibility pinned on to the individual who uses the commonly owned property/resource and hence emerges as what economists call 'the free rider'. Since the benefits are privatized and the costs are socialized there is little or no incentive to conserve or protect the resource. Examples can be cited from the world over. Pollution of air, water, and land, the destruction of the ecosystems, the fear of extinction of the turtles, the American bison, the over harvesting of the great whales or the decline in the beaver population. Closer home we can all agree that the little domestic sparrow is gradually disappearing! Fear we say? Whose fear? Here fear has also been socialized!!No one really cares! What then do we have left of the resources for the future generations? We are indeed a selfish race and such selfishness is aided and abetted by the ism of our lives viz - capitalism.
Many counter movements have evolved to try and influence us to not be so solipsistic. The Green Movement endeavours to change the attitude of people to preserve the environment, while the Terracotta ( meaning 'burnt earth') movement tries to suggest incentives to manage the environment. It is important that we do not pluck away from our children that which rightfully belongs to them. It may be true as the noted economist J.M.Keynes, once stated that  - we need not worry about the long run, for in the long run we are dead, but let us realize that though we are dead in the long run,  we do not have the right to leave a legacy of destruction for our children.
Environmental degradation and poverty are inextricably intertwined, resulting in a vicious circle in which poverty causes the environmental strain, and in turn this strain is responsible for widespread poverty.
Eco ethics must be the underpinnings of any economic growth agenda. It is also the underpinnings of sustainable development. It is in this context that E.O.Wilson's remark becomes so pertinent -

"In the end, however, success or failure will come down to an ethical decision, one on which those now living will be defined and judged for generations to come."