Let’s delve into a hypothesis for today and get started with a story –
Mr. X lives very close to this serene lake in his village. He enjoys the early morning walks, gardening, agriculture, refreshing baths and peaceful environment of the lake. He uses the lake water to not just sustain his agricultural business but also supports his household activities on the same. Then there’s Mr. Y. Mr. Y lives around 10 kilometres far from the lake and has no nearby sources of water. He has a huge land which gives generous treats of fruits and vegetables during rainfall, but for the rest of the year, he and his land remain thirsty. Both Mr. X and Y are a part of the same village.
So the question of the day is, who has a greater right over the water from the lake? Is it Mr. X just because he happened to take birth in a house which is closer to the lake or is it Mr. Y who desperately needs water to sustain his family and farm but is unable to do so?
During the primitive age when homo sapiens were still evolving, the human population was easily able to survive on the common properties made available by nature. But slowly as humans grew as a species, both in the sense of evolution and also population, instances like the one mentioned above could have risen at several places. We realised the need of a third person’s intervention as an unbiased entity to settle such debates and entrusted several kinds of people and institutions along the way. And one of the basic and most important debates/ issue that kept testing us as a species is – the tragedy of commons (brief explanation here).
If you do a quick Google search on this interestingly named theory – the tragedy of commons, you’d be teleported to a small farm where cow grazers could exploit and hence later destroy farmlands due to lack of regulation, hence creating a tragedy which has to be borne by everyone equally.
But how is this relevant now and will this tragedy continue to happen in future? Common property resources (or the lesser known full form of the abbreviation – CPR) have been and will always be an integral part of the survival of our species. And this is why tragedy of commons remains as an integral part of the aforementioned “third party intervention”.
This requirement of a third person or entity to intervene and settle such affairs is one of the factors that led to the birth and evolution of what we now know as governance. The need to coexist peacefully demanded the creation of a set of rules/ regulations/ norms that we as a community and species could all accept and adhere to. These guiding principles became the foundation on which most of the governments around the world are formed. From a small tribal community in South Sudan to the concrete jungle of Washington, constitutional structures have been created on the basis of these principles . And that brings us to the various forms of governance now visible in the world, which has undergone decades of evolution and redressal of errors – people considering to use a tool like Democracy to bring someone like Donald Trump in power!
How will we witness tragedy of commons in the future? With huge efforts and leaps being made in the technological arena in the last decade, we can hypothesise that in an ideal scenario, energy shouldn’t remain as one of the dire issues for commons. We had news from Germany stating that the government had to pay its citizens to use electricity due to the renewable energy surplus. Tesla has made advancements in one of the major hindrances in solar energy revolution with their product – Power wall.
We believe that two of the most important common property resources which will be the tragedy of the commons in future would be – Earth and Information.
To be continued in Part 2 (coming soon).