Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Commons

What do we own?

When we say we, are we talking about us citizens? Or are talking about us humans?

These questions are relevant when dealing with environmental issues because they frame our relationships within our world. That is why we talk about it in our Earthkeeping class.  We have been looking at Nietzsche's view of human nature and we talked about Hardin's view "The Tragedy of the Commons" in Louis and Paul Pojman's book "Environmental Ethics."

So first we have to analyze a few ideas about who we are as humans, what drives our actions, what stops us, how do we value our  relationships. All these philosophical questions are very difficult to answer. So here we should only try to set a basic framework about these in order to analyze what is happened to the commons.

When we think about humans we see that there is the self and the ego characterizing the individual. We are what we think we are! Thus, actions are driven by the needs set by each individual self or ego that can be from the basic survival needs (food) to the most sophisticated like recognition by others.

Thursday of last week (4/21/2016) our class went up to Mt. Tabor for what we call our "Nature Walk". One objective of this exercise is to talk about the interdependence between the city of Portland and the water reservoir that have now been decommissioned. This park is part of the commons next Warner Pacific College so we have a conversation about the need to participate in the upkeep of the park. The picture above shows students enjoying the view.

An example of how there is no way to disconnect what we do from other people's activities is what in economic terms is called "externalizing cost". When we learn about horrendous train accidents that are endangering American citizens, like the one in Tennessee we see how connected we are. To read more about the accident click here.
This time is not oil but a toxic organic compound called acrylonitrile that when burns can produce cyanide which is extremely toxic. And as we the other recent train accidents many people have been affected, this time about 5000 people have been displaced.

Again the question is who is going to be held accountable? Not only who is going to pay the cost of cleaning up, but the invaluable damage to the environment and more important to the lives of those who live near by. The norm is that when profits are made by these companies they are distributed to the owners stock brokers and fatten the bonuses of the CEOs. (BTW these CEOs are paid millions, Michael Ward CEO of CSX the train corporation in this accident made more than 10 million in 2014 according to Bloomberg, click here for the reference.)  But what happens when something like what happened in Tennessee happens, who pays?

We all know how strongly opposed are these corporation to taxation. We all know how, even in the face of huge profits, these multinational corporations get tax incentives and contribute very little to the well-being of the regions where they operate. But when a disaster like this one happens, not only the environment is damaged but the livelihood of the inhabitants is affected. 

As the ego is nurtured through growth one can see why these corporate giants are so egotistic. We see how they are so self-centered that they can't see what is around them. It looks like size matters. When a business is small and more dependent on the local/regional inhabitants, it looks like the know how to connect and see the need of protecting the commons. 

Is there a limit on size for these corporations that can make them aware of the interdependence and inter-connectivity of us all in this planet?      

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