WINSLOW — We humans, it seems, have always believed that Earth’s air, land and water are ours to do with as we please. One of our most cherished stories occurs in the Bible, where God says, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth.”

Even Aristotle, who lived from 384 to 322 B.C., wrote that “nature has made all things specifically for the sake of man.” And more than 2,000 years later, in 1749 A.D., the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus echoed the same sentiment.

By 1800, Prussia’s Baron Von Humboldt, possibly the first scientist to deplore the human urge to threaten the environment for personal gain, noted dry soil in the once-fertile landscape of northern Venezuela. Traveling west from Caracas he “bemoaned the fact that the first colonists had ‘imprudently destroyed the forest,’ ” resulting in erosion, a dying lake and dried-up springs until once-productive fields lay cracked and dead as the planters moved away to continue the same ruin wherever they went.

A dedicated observer, Humboldt also noted destruction “from Lombardy in Italy to southern Peru,” and even later in Russia. Nor were Americans innocent, as they plowed up the Great Plains, resulting in the horrendous Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

In 1968, Science magazine published an article by University of California at Santa Barbara professor Garrett Hardin, who compared the unregulated use of the planet’s finite air, land and water to the sharing of a piece of land by a hypothetical group of cattle herders.

Surrounded by houses, shops and churches, the typical village “common” was an open field where animals would graze – until, Hardin postulated, overgrazing ruined it as each farmer, hoping to “maximize his gain,” kept adding more animals. He called the resulting wreck “The Tragedy of the Commons.”


Today we’re threatened with our own tragedy. Innocently begun with England’s Industrial Revolution in the early 1700s, an increase of CO2 resulting from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), is now melting ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, acidifying and warming our rising oceans, creating unprecedented hurricanes and causing desertification and droughts on land, gigantic forest fires and mass extinctions of Earth’s animal and plant life.

Hovering over all is the threat of starvation and migration associated with millions of people already facing food insecurity and migration. In a report released last month, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019,” the U.N. estimates that the number is 820 million (with 149 million children stunted globally), or 1 in every 9 people.

So far, of all the costly adaptations being suggested to address global warming, putting a price on CO2 emissions seems to be the only fair and workable solution as time runs out. Suggested by the Citizens Climate Lobby in 2007 and endorsed by an astonishing 3,554 U.S. economists, carbon fee and dividend is a market-based policy that would tax each fossil fuel at its source. Carbon emissions would be subject to an increasing price, with all revenues put back into the economy as a dividend to all families.

The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR 763) was presented to the House last November and now has 58 co-sponsors.

“To call this legislation a breakthrough is an understatement. (It’s) easily the most significant congressional move on climate change since 2009,” said Citizens Climate Lobby Executive Director Mark Reynolds. “And with bipartisan sponsorship, it has a real chance at passage.”

Echoing Lord Nicholas Stern, president of the Royal Economic Society, who has called climate change “the greatest market failure the world has ever seen,” Peter Garrett, earth scientist and coordinator of Citizens Climate Lobby in Maine, remarks: “We need to properly assign the full costs of climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.”

In other words, there simply is no free “Common.”



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