The typical New England village “common” was an open field where animals graze – until unintentional overgrazing destroyed it as each farmer, hoping to “maximize his personal gain,” kept adding more animals. A 1968 article in Science by professor Garrett Hardin called the resulting wreck “The Tragedy of the Commons.”

Today, because of the market’s failure to assign the full costs of burning fossil fuels, we’re threatened with our own “tragedy of the commons.” It’s called climate change.

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, we have been burning coal, then oil and natural gas, unlocking once-buried CO2 to thicken Earth’s atmospheric yet invisible greenhouse blanket. The additional warming is now melting ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, and the warming oceans are rising. Hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires are getting wilder. The costs of restoration and adaptation are mounting. What’s to be done?

The opinion of economists worldwide is that carbon emissions should be subject to an increasing price, with all revenues put back into the economy as a dividend to all families.

This has been proposed as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill that would be revenue-neutral, fair to everyone, job-creating and effective in reducing emissions.

The message is clear: Any “freedom” resulting from unintentionally abusing Mother Earth’s atmosphere like a “common” is no freedom at all. It’s a tragedy.

JeanAnn Pollard


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