Tragedy of the Commons │ The Problem with Open Access

This is a model called the tragedy of the commons. Which should be called the problem with open access, since it has little to do with a commons. And tragedy is a kind of dramatic. Let's say there's some land with grass on it that people use as pasture for their animals. Nobody owns it and anyone can come and graze their livestock here. We're assuming that people don't communicate or work together. So we would call this an open access field. Let's assume the number of animals this field can feed is based on the quantity and quality of the grass, which is based on the health of the soil and it can only hold this many animals. This is the carrying capacity. If animals are added beyond this, the grass can't re-grow fast enough to support them all. Also the grass protects the soil from erosion. If too many animals are around eating the field may decline in productivity lowering the carrying capacity. The animals will be less healthy and provide lesser quality products lowering the profit each animal provides.

So it's in this group's best interest to keep the number of animals on the field at or below the carrying capacity. But every herdsman that puts animals on the field will get the direct benefit that that animal provides for them. But they would only share a portion of the costs of the degraded field. If the field were at carrying capacity and a herdsmen decides to add an extra animal. The added animals takes some of the food that would have gone to the others. This reduces their value. The owner of that additional animal comes out ahead because even though all his animals also are less healthy, he has more of them. But each herdsmen acts under these incentives and will keep adding animals to their herd or let their animals graze longer, so long as it's profitable to themselves. But really they are all losing out.

Kind of like the prisoner's dilemma. Contrast this to a situation where one person owns it. If they add extra animal, they're only hurting themselves so they don't do it. Since new people can't be excluded from using the field, there's almost no point in boycotting use because someone else could just come in. None of the herdsmen own the field and they can see the field may not be around forever. They see no point in conservation and just try to use it before someone else does. OK so we go on to can apply this model to unregulated open access fisheries, open access forests, an unregulated college dorm dish sink. But the problem with applying this model to the real world, is that we have to assume, among other things, that people don't communicate or work together. Which isn't true…. With a field like this, people will generally get together and make plans together and make plans about its use. They may act as a single unit, or just partition it sections, and they'll regulate the number of people that can use it. And if people are working together and communicating then it's not really open access.

It's not like every management situation is open access until somebody does something about it. So you don't tend to see the open access problem because people don't work together. You tend to see it in situations where people can't work together. The open access problem tends to appear not where people don't communicate or don't work together, but where they can't communicate or can't work together. Sometimes people are forced into a situation where they're not allowed to work together. Check out this video. Also the larger the management area is the more difficult communication and influencing each other becomes. For example the global management of greenhouse gas emissions tends to take on some open access properties. Basically this model is a way of communicating that: when people can't work together on a resource you call it open access..

. and it's bad. Which is why the model should have been called, the problem with open access. This episode is brought to you by, Hardin's canned animal meat. Now orphan free..

Environmental Econ: Crash Course Economics #22

Adriene: Welcome to Crash Course Economics. I’m Adriene Hill Jacob: And I’m Jacob Clifford. Economics is about choices, and how we use our scarce resources. It’s not just about producing and consuming, it can also be about conserving. Adriene: Maybe counterintuitively, economics has a lot to add to discussions of how we can balance our desire for prosperity and growth, with the need to protect our natural resources. Today we're going to look at environmental economics and think about how economics can help us keep our planet livable. [Theme Music] Pollution is going to happen, it’s a by-product of human existence and there is no way that we can get rid of it all. In fact, one of the ways we know about earliest the societies is by looking at their trash heap, something archaeologists call middens, because it sounds better than “dumps.” But the fact that humans produce all kinds of waste doesn’t mean that we have to embrace islands of trash floating in the oceans, a layer of smog over industrial cities, and toxic chemicals in our rivers. For sake of simplicity though, we’re going to focus on one type of pollution: carbon dioxide emissions. They’re one of the primary greenhouse gases.

These greenhouse gases basically blanket the earth and are causing climate change. CO2 levels are the highest they've been for millions years which is why environmentalists consider it a “planetary emergency.” There's a lot of effort going into how to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, how to make cities more resilient to climate change, but in the interest of time we’re going to focus on efforts to reduce the amount of new pollutants getting spewed into our atmosphere. Jacob: The economic solution is pretty simple. Step one, identify the sources of the most air pollution. Done. We know exactly what it is. It’s factories that burn fossil fuels for energy, industries that use oil and coal to produce things, and vehicles with internal combustion engines. Step two, decrease the supply of these technologies and products or decrease the demand for them. That’s it, it’s simple.

But, the implementation of these policies gets complicated. Let’s look at decreasing supply. As we mentioned in the last video, one of the biggest problems with having countries independently enforce environmental regulations is the Tragedy of the Commons. No one owns the atmosphere, so there is very little incentive for countries to keep it clean and switch to expensive green technologies if no one else is going to. It’s not like there is some global environmental police punishing countries for polluting. While a country like Trinidad and Tobago has a huge carbon output per capita, its small population means it’s only producing a small fraction of global CO2. The other option is to decrease the demand for fossil fuels, possibly by finding alternate green energy sources. But we’re already very reliant on fossil fuels, and markets have made the production of those fuels very cheap. So, any new type of energy will have a hard time beating the established system.

So we can either wait patiently for new technologies to develop and get cheaper, or we can speed up the process by manipulating markets with government subsidies, taxes, and regulations. Adriene: In the case of pollution, there are long-term side effects, like climate change, that consumers often don’t take into account when they buy products. Remember negative externalities? When the full cost of a product doesn’t line up with the costs that manufacturers or consumers pay? Pollution represents a market failure — a situation where markets fail to produce the amount that society wants. To address this, some economists argue that government intervention is not only justified, but essential. There are all kinds of different ways intervention can happen — all of them meant to encourage producers and consumers to choose to pollute less.

One solution is for the government to come out and set very specific rules about how much specific industries can pollute. Forget markets. You're gonna follow our pollution rules. Another way governments encourage people to pollute less is by providing price incentives. Those incentives can encourage individuals to make choices that are better for the environment. The government could add taxes to gasoline purchases, or, on the other hand, provide subsidies for people who drive electric cars. Governments can also create permit markets — basically setting a limit on how much firms can pollute, and allowing those firms to buy and sell pollution permits. You’ve probably heard these called “cap and trade”. Proponents of cap and trade argue that it can successfully limit emissions, without creating hard and fast rules that might hinder economic growth.

And, governments can subsidize the development of a specific technology or industry—in an effort to make that technology more competitive with the alternatives. A country might help support the development of solar or wind energy. As of 2014, around 10% of the energy consumed in the United States came from renewable sources, which is pretty much in line with the global average. Current predictions are that by 2040 15% of the world energy consumption will come from renewable sources. But, alternative energy sources, for the most part, just aren’t cheap enough yet, so the majority of our energy is likely to continue to come from non-renewable sources, at least for now. Jacob: We don’t have the time to sit back and wait for new technologies to get cheaper, and there's no guarantee that the technologies that the government picks will be cost effective. Perhaps the solution is not to get rid of fossil fuels, but instead be more efficient with those fuels. But that has drawbacks, too. Some energy economists argue that the expected gains from energy saving technologies, are offset by something called the rebound effect. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

Adriene: Let’s say Hank uses a gallon of gas to drive to work everyday. Then, partially to help the planet but mostly to help his wallet, he buys a new fuel efficient car that only takes half a gallon of gas for the same commute. He saves money and there's less pollution. It is a win-win. But the rebound effect says that the benefits of energy efficiency might be reduced as people change their behavior. With the money he saves, Hank might start driving more than he normally would or he might go on a vacation in Hawaii. That leads to more consumption and possibly even more emissions. Also, if greater fuel-efficiency makes driving less expensive it might encourage more people to buy cars and increase the overall use of gasoline. And even if people didn't increase their driving, the new fuel efficiency could decrease the demand for gas, making fossil fuels cheaper and more readily available for other uses. The possibility of the rebound effect doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in energy saving technologies. It just means that we have to keep in mind how consumers will behave. It’s also the reason why it's important to have economists involved in the discussion of environmental policy.

The tools of economics can help analyze the incentives and figure out what might work best. Thanks Thought Bubble. Okay, so we’ve identified another problem. But before you get so angry that you kick over a barrel of oil and light it on fire, keep in mind that there is hope. Most countries are actively trying to address the problem of greenhouse gases. The international community has been trying for decades to work together to protect the environment with varying success. There are international treaties that commit countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. UN negotiations are underway to create a new climate change agreement — that could be adopted in December 2015. Private companies and governments are also funding research into green technology. In the U.S. the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocated billions to fund renewable energy.

China is also vowing to clean things up, and, in fact, leads the world in renewable energy investment. So, now that most countries recognize there is a problem, the hope is that they’ll figure out a way, or more likely a lot of ways, to start addressing it. Environmental economists say that is not just governments and producers that need to change, it’s also consumers. Conserving and consuming more thoughtfully likely need to be a part of our daily lives if we want to protect the environment. But just bringing our reusable grocery bags to the store isn’t going to save the planet, even if it says it on the bag. Bigger and more costly interventions like improving insulation and changing thermostats might have more impact, but we need to recognize individual action alone isn’t going to be enough. Industries, governments, and individuals; we’re in this together. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you next week.

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Local effects of climate change: protecting Dublin from flood risks

Ireland has experienced devastating floods in recent years which has affected thousands of people and caused millions of Euros worth of damage. Nowhere in Ireland has remained untouched by the deluges now part of our annual weather pattern. I met with Ray McGrath from the National Weather Centre to find out how Ireland is being affected. Ray have we seen changes in our weather patterns in recent years? Well in the case of rainfall it looks like there has been an increase in the amount of rainfall that is falling over Ireland. And is it more deluges of rain or what’s the pattern? The heavier rainfall events have increased in frequency. Are we seeing changes in our oceans also? Yes. The most obvious change is that the temperatures in the oceans are increasing and this is leading to more moisture being pushed into the atmosphere. That of course means that there is a greater potential for more extreme weather.

Of course this is more likely to lead to flooding events. The east coast is now susceptible to surge events bringing higher than usual tides which combine into perfect storm scenarios such as what happened in 2002. The way it works is the surge actually sucks up the ocean surface and this in combination with a wind which may be pumping, pushing the water towards the coastline this is what effectively creates the surge conditions. If this happens to coincide with a high tide, it obviously worsens it so you can get a much greater surge effect affecting the coastline and the research we have done in Met Éireann it does indeed suggest that in the future climate change will bring more intense surge events to these coastlines. Being on the frontline is something Dubliners have known about for a long time. 200 years ago Dublin was a sea port on a wide estuary surrounded by marshland. We’ve a long history of reclaiming land that was liable for flooding but back then the big storm was looked on as a rare event.

Not anymore. The residents of Dublin’s East Wall were badly hit in 2002 and have been living in fear of another storm ever since. Most of it came from the sea originally to that point but it was a mixture of canal and sea water because it came up the Liffey, up the canal and of course once the canal level went too high it overflowed. It was terrifying for me walking around in it I have to admit but in saying that, the elderly people and to look at their faces, and to look at their homes devastated with the dirt five foot up the walls; it was absolutely horrendous. We were out of the house for 7 months. Had to get the builders in: floors, walls, furniture everything thrown out, rip it all up. It wasn’t just a matter of drying out stuff, this stuff was destroyed. Over €6 million has been spent in the risk area on defences and early warning systems have been put in place to give the residents the highest levels of alert.

There is a number of defences put out there. There’s a monitor out at the Kish which’ll give us advanced warning of the sea and there’s depth warnings in both of the rivers in the Tolka and in the Liffey which at least is a help. At least we will know in advance if something is going to happen. Dublin City Council has an emergency plan coming into force soon. We have a lot of volunteers in the area, at the moment we have the church set up in case of an emergency that we can bring people, particularly the elderly. It’s the elderly and the infirm we need to get out of the area quickly if we did have another flood. The changes coming mean rethinking our strategies for everything: from river and sea defences, to where we build and live in the future.

Mark Adamson from the OPW showed me the first line of flood defences for Ringsend being built on the Dodder by Dublin City Council. These are flood protection works that we are currently building to protect against tidal flooding, such as the very severe event that happened in February 2002 here in Ringsend. What happened? Well the sea level came up the river and spilled over the banks flooding some areas to a depth of maybe 3 metres so the wall we are currently leaning on here is to protect against exactly that kind of flooding. So all of these houses here were flooded in 2002? That’s right yes. So what are they actually doing? Well over here they’re currently putting in piles and they’ll be building a defence wall to protect against the high sea levels. So what sort of work have we got to do in the future to protect us against what’s coming with flooding? Well we’ll obviously keep building flood protection schemes such as these for areas of significant existing risk. We’re also producing flood maps to identify other areas that are at risk or that could be at risk if people were to build in them.

The massive development that has changed the face of our cities over the last 10 years hides what’s happening beneath our feet. Under the millions of tonnes of concrete, are water courses now cut off and rivers and streams we’ve diverted. Tom Leahy told me about the Dublin City Council strategies to future-proof the city. we’ve seen some big floods in recent years are we going to see more floods in Dublin? Well Duncan, Dublin is located in the floodplain of 3 major rivers. 200 years ago the land we’re standing on was once under the sea. That’s just one of the challenges we face. Over the years Dublin has grown. It’s been intensively developed, houses wherever you see and we’ve changed water courses as well. So each of those poses its own challenge and hazard which we have to deal with. So how are you going to deal with these sorts of challenges? Well we have noticed that the weather patterns have changed quite significantly. We’ve also noticed the phenomenon called pluvial flooding, now that’s a very technical term, the Dutch have a much better name they call it “monster rain”.

What it means is very heavy monsoon-like rainfall that falls over a short period of time will overwhelm any drainage system. So that’s a challenge, one of the challenges we’re going to have to deal with. Is this the sort of flooding we’ve seen in the last couple of years? Yes, particularly last August and September that’s exactly what happened to Dublin. We had 3 floods in 2 months and the intensities were the sort of recurrence period that would be one in 150 years. Dublin City Council’s new strategy is being created and funded in tandem with European partners who face the same problems we do. The Flood Resilient Cities Programme follows on from the Safer Programme and looks to deal with the effects of “monster rain”. Well the sort of things that we can do, we can look at ways to control water flow at source, we’ve also identified the areas that might be at risk and logically they’re close to the coast and then if we know there is a high risk at a particular time we can mobilise all the resources of the State, fire brigade, emergency services, our own City Council personnel.

We can also link in with householders because everybody has a part to play in making their own property that little bit more flood resilient. When the next flood comes another team ready are Commandant John Moriarty’s Civil Defence volunteers. They’ll be on the front line to back up the fire brigade and I joined them on one of their drills. We learned a lot from the floods back in 2002 where we didn’t have the equipment; people were going into flooded areas and contaminated water in fire gear whereas now we have dry suits to protect them and so on. They’ve been trained by Dublin Fire Brigade in water awareness; our boat people obviously are trained in relation to water and so on. So there’s been a lot of training has been going on over the past number of years and we’ve also a lot of vehicles, a lot of four wheel drive vehicles which are very suitable for the flooding scenarios. Right guys how’s it going there? There is a way of laying these is there? There is a way of laying them yeah. You bring them close to each other first is it? Yes.

It’s the first line across and the next ones go in between and you can see where they cause the seal here. And that’ll totally seal water? That’ll totally seal and have a look at the door we went in with a line then right across the front of the lower part of the lower sandbag as well when we were finished building up. The fear at the back of my mind is that we get the combination of torrential rain with a very high tide and onshore winds and we get a combination of coastal flooding and torrential rain and rivers overflowing. That’s kind of a nightmare scenario. Flooding is a problem we all share throughout Ireland. As an act of nature it can’t be totally avoided, but we can lessen its worst effects. As we look for the solutions for the future we should focus on the underlying causes of climate change that we are currently failing to address..

How Worried Should We Be About Climate Change?

The United Nations recently held their climate summit in New York City. A few days ahead of the event, more than 300,000 people joined a peaceful march in Manhattan to call attention to the issue of climate change. Secretary Of State John Kerry recently argued that the problem of climate change should be addressed with the same immediacy as Ebola or ISIS. So, putting politics aside, how serious is this issue? Well, there’s an incredible amount of statistical evidence that illustrates the severity of climate change. But instead of getting mired down in talk about ice caps and polar bear populations, let’s just discuss what the UN Climate Summit is really about: air pollution. The UN is meeting in hopes of signing a deal that could cut down on carbon emissions worldwide.

Just to be clear, we are talking about cars and our dependence on oil, but we’re also talking about things like coal power. Climate change is a pressing issue now because there are nations, chief among them China, that are actively pumping carbon into the environment on an enormous scale. According to the Global Carbon Project, China alone accounts for 28% of the world’s total carbon emissions. And they increased their emissions last year by 4.2%, which increased global emissions worldwide, by 2.3%. In other words, year over year – the situation is getting worse, not better. The ultimate goal of this meeting is to establish a plan to reduce these emissions. And one way to do that – is switching away from coal and fossil fuels, to cleaner forms of energy; a switch that some economists and ecologists now argue could also help developing countries, like China, save money in the long run.

They also argue that it would benefit not just the environment, but also the health of the people in those nations. The argument against committing to cleaner energy is that it requires an enormous initial investment and could potentially slow down economic progress. The problem is that the very nations that need economic progress most, are also the nations that emit the most carbon. It’s a catch-22, and a large part of why an agreement still hasn’t been reached. To find out more about what’s going on in China, check out our video on the conflict between China and the Tibetan Independence movement. Or watch our other video on How Powerful China really is. Remember we upload new videos five days a week, so please subscribe..

Thoughts About Some Mind-Bending Earth Images

So, now that we’ve been regularly photographing the Earth from space for decades, we can watch in like time-lapse format, as our planet changes – usually, as we change our planet. Huge scale stuff. And Google has just released a tool that makes this easier. Basically, you can scan around the entire world and watch the last 25 years of life on Earth. What the world was like when I was four versus what the world is like now. So I wanted to share some of the cool things that I found while doing that. First, here’s my hometown of Missoula And if you look carefully, you can see some new neighborhoods being built and all the boxstores going into the edge of town. Bit of a small town but it has changed in the last 25 years. More interesting probably is the amazing sprawl of Orlando, where John, you and I grew up. But really, the most fascinating bits are where humans have had their deepest influences. America’s insatiable appetite for cheap coal power, our wonderful lifestyles has lead to a practice called mountain top removal mining, in much of Appalachia.

I’ve seen these pictures, I’ve seen close-ups and I’ve seen it from satellites but as you scroll around and watch the last 20 years’ progress, it is astounding and terrifying and moving to see the amount of destruction. And of course, I know that I benefit personally from this destruction but it is destruction. Similarly, we all know that lots of the Amazon rainforests has been cut down but you really can’t understand the depth and the scale of it until you watch it happen and are able to move all around Brazil and Bolivia and see how much of those forests are gone now. And then there’s the story of water, which of course, more people consume more of. Las Vegas and Dubai spreading across deserts, Saudi Arabia, with massive irrigation projects making the deserts bloom. Inland seas drying up, either because of drought or because of irrigation but in addition to being terrifying occasionally, it can also be a story of recovery.

Watching the forests take back the land that had been destroyed when Mt. Saint Helens erupted was particularly inspiring, though the nearby clear cutting was not. We humans have a profound and largely negative effect on the rest of the lifeforms of the planet. Science has, for a long time offered us these truths up on a platter in the form of data and numbers and statistics. But we are people, we are not computers and we are not particularly good at understanding what all of those data and statistics really mean. And it might be a better world if all policy was based on science, but it’s not. It’s based on the individual decisions and the individual feelings of individual people, like ME and like YOU. For me, watching all of this change with a very limited span of my own life is intense and it’s moving and it’s terrifying. We have learned a lot but we haven’t really acted on that learning.

And maybe that’s because we don’t really understand it. We know the numbers but we can’t see it, or we couldn’t see it. Maybe taking a look around the Google Earth engine, which I should say, is based on the NASA LandSat program, which is FANTASTIC, good job, NASA. It might give us all a better understanding of the realities that we face and if we really understand those things better, then the decisions we make will be better. At least one can hope. So YAY for NASA, YAY for Google, YAY for Science, YAY for understanding and hopefully, also in the near future, YAY, for action.