Since the beginning of time, nature has been providing resources and sustaining all forms of living and non-living things without handing right/ownership over any resource to any particular person or group of people. However, over time, people, different nations and governments have been claiming ownership over resources, and have engaged in wars in order to secure rights over resources and materials supplied by nature.
When a resource is owned, it becomes a property. To own a property is one thing; to manage it is another. One major problem associated with both common and shareable properties—which we will soon define—is that they are much more mismanaged than private property is.
Misuse of resources leads to mismanagement of resources, wars, environmental pollution, environmental degradation and destruction of human lives and properties. Irrespective of the type of procedures used by people or organizations to acquire resource ownership or properties in various regions or countries—legally or illegally—resource or property can be categorized into any one of the following three:
(1) Private resource
A private resource is any resource owned by an individual, or an organization—or any group of individuals or organizations. Examples of resources that could be called private resources include land, farmland, minerals, animals, etc.
(2) Common resource
A common resource is any resource owned by large groups of individuals or organizations. For example, all citizens of the United States own about one-third of the total land area of the country. Examples of common resources include irrigation systems, pasture/grazing land, fossil fuel, coal, electricity, etc.
(3) Shareable/open-access resource
A shareable or open-access resource is any resource owned by everybody because it’s shared by everybody and is openly accessible to any interested individual. Examples of shareable resources include groundwater, air, fishes, lakes, rivers, oceans, etc. In some cases, common resource and shareable resource mean the same thing.
Over the decades, several wars and cases of mismanagement and wastage of common and shareable resources have been incited by the mentality that “If I don’t use this resource, then someone else will; it doesn’t matter whether I actually need this resource, let me just use it; even if I waste it and pollute the environment, it doesn’t matter; it will always be available”.
Whenever few people have used resources, this mentality has not often led to instances of drastic negative environmental impacts; however, whenever many people have used resources, this mentality has often made the reverse to occur. Lots of evidence have shown that negative environmental impacts occur whenever a lot of people use shareable resources like air, various species of fish in oceans, groundwater from open hand-dug wells, etc.
Observations & Lessons
1. Since the beginning of the industrial age, the Earth’s environment has been exposed to negative impacts of indiscriminate disposal of chemicals, gases, liquid and solid wastes, etc.
2. Uncontrolled use of fossil fuel in industrial and transportation facilities has caused carbon dioxide emission levels to rise and increase environmental temperature, thereby melting ice caps and rising sea levels.
3. Large quantities of waste, sewage and unwanted materials like plastics have been indiscriminately disposed in the environment, and have found their ways into lakes, rivers, oceans and seas; moreso, they have polluted these bodies of water, and negatively impacted the quality of human and marine lives.
How to reduce/eradicate global environmental problems caused by mismanagement of common & shareable resources
(1) Regulate the use of common and shareable resources so that rates of consumption would be less than rates causing environmental problems. This is one area where governments and leaders of communities have to come in and establish laws/regulations that would limit the use of various types of resources to sustainable levels, and also limit the quantity of pollutants disposed on land, air and water environments.
(2) Regulate access to common and shareable resources. This is another area where leaders of governments and societies can make a difference by passing laws that would regulate or limit access to, and exposure of shareable resources like fish and other species that have been killed beyond sustainable limits—even to the point of extinction.
Laws could be implemented that would limit or regulate the amount of time that certain land, air, and water environments are exposed to different types of environmentally degrading activities, and different sources of pollution and pollutants.
(3) Convert ownership of shareable resources from the public, to a private organization(s) or person(s). The reason for this is that whenever an individual (or a few individuals) owns a resource, such a resource tends to be protected and managed better.
Although some individuals would be able to manage public-turned-private resources better, life could be difficult for those individuals who don’t have rights to public resources that have been converted to private ones.
Imagine the possible negative impacts mankind could be exposed to if some self-centered and stingy individuals (who are, on the other hand, probably good managers) owned the air, rivers, oceans and seas, and kept them as their own private property.
(4) Harmonize scientific solutions from research with political processes dictated by world leaders. While scientists look for solutions to prevent degradation of forests and unsustainable use of common and shareable resources, the applicability of their work would be limited if there is no effective input from political leaders.
For example, major environmental problems could include:
- extinction of wildlife.
- depletion of forests.
- pollution of rivers.
For these problems to be solved, scientists might state that:
- people should limit or stop killing wildlife—or they should be prevented from doing so.
- people should limit or stop cutting down matured trees—or they should be prevented from doing so.
- people should stop disposing chemicals into rivers—or they should be prevented from doing so.
But the implementation of such solutions would require input from leaders of government through enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.
In this area, one major challenge is that enforcement of laws often leads to conflict between scientists, and either government, businesspeople or citizens.
For example, when scientists advise that forests should be protected in order to preserve and conserve important diversity of plants and animals, citizens and timber/paper production companies might protest against scientists because of the benefit they derive from using wood and paper.