Tragedy of the Commons

  • Posted: August 29, 2023
  • Category: Blog
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Print pagePDF pageEmail page

I admit I have succumbed to the modern scourge that is social media. Due to a combination of sloth and grandparent commitments I haven’t been able to spend much time working on my blog. But that part of my mind pacified and sedated by posting blustering blather needs its fix, otherwise I become a very unhappy camper.

And so it was I began to “comment” on LinkedIn posts, chiefly those posts swirling around the topic of “climate change”. I must say the opportunity for a “gotcha” brings a surge of titillating endorphins, an excitement bordering on the erotic. But the problem with endorphins is that temporary “hit” feeds a compelling need to revisit the site of gratification. Addiction looms. Before you know it, you are in a “are too/am not” situation reminiscent of 2nd Grade recess with random strangers.

This being LinkedIn on the topic of climate change, the rhetorical bombast does not revolve around the distance one can urinate or whether one has a “gurlfrend”. Given that participants in these disputatious squabbles are virtually all male – such might well be the case. But rather the LinkedIn comment section’s “nanner nannering” revolves around the learned studies of “climate scientists” and “Defenders of the Earth”. If you must ask how I know all these people are male, other than from obvious indicators like names and facial hair on profile pictures, many if not most include their preferred pronouns (he/him) in their personal information.

Participating in these swirling discussions of fossil fuels, climate change and green energy spiced with a generous sprinkling of progressive virtue signaling is a little sad. To what depths of the pathetic have I fallen? Most of those engaged in the swirl of passionate pomposity are either academics or activists masquerading as “Sustainability Entrepreneurs”, “Champions of the Earth” or similar metaphysics. Once rid of the emotional entanglement, the comments remind one of adolescent boys in their parent’s basement deep into heavy discussions about some fine point in the Marvel Universe.

I cannot help but smile when I engage with a self-described “Climate Activist – Empowering Positive Change – Business Activism – Trustee – BEng MSc”.  If this BEng MSc is a real engineer, employed as such, I fear for our future. On the other hand, I wonder if it more likely his day job involves captioning posters for use in elementary schools or in the area of barista science?

Of course, since I label myself as “Chief Executive Philosopher @ AbsolomBracer” I must remain tongue in cheek. You know the axiom about people living in glass houses. But whereas I am a retired old F*** making fun of myself, these folks are ultra-serious though strangely removed from the real life of going to work, raising families and paying mortgages.

What stands out about these Acolytes of Mother Earth in these childish exchanges is their absolute belief in Science. Science, not the proven science used by engineering, but the Science of Studies. Their fervent faith in the inerrancy and righteousness of “data” in the service of faith based conclusions equals or exceeds that of any Baptist tent preacher haranguing sinners from the podium of a revival meeting tent.

These legions of believers, the latest iteration of a fertility cult stretching back to Asherah and beyond, battle those few skeptics such as myself with computer model derived charts and tables. One must respond in kind, else be derided as an “ignorant climate denier”. With effort, one can find refutations and evidence of failed previous prediction to toss back.

But what is the point? Any reasonably competent and experienced individual can make the numbers dance – as my own years as a developer provided ample proof. However I can also testify that if one’s own money is on the line, one’s attitude toward the numbers changes markedly. Add to that the dismal fact that millenia of recorded history show war between two faith’s is not won with logic, nor with facts – nor computer models. Competing faiths always end up reeking of smoke from the funeral pyres of burning unbelievers and heretics.

There is so much rhetoric on both sides of the divide that arriving at a reasoned and logical answer is certainly beyond me. One might as well perform open heart surgery in an open tent the midst of a blizzard on the Wyoming plain. In my honest assessment, there are only two solid facts to work with:

  • Atmospheric CO2 has risen around 45% since 1800, from around 280 to 410 PPM (parts per million). Putting this amount in perspective – it is 1 lb of black sand thoroughly mixed into 2,500 lbs of white sand. On the other hand, it must be admitted that 410 PPM of hydrogen sulfide (H2S ) is nearly instantly fatal.
  • This rise in CO2 is virtually certain to be the result of human activities, most probably from the burning of fossil fuels; coal in its many iterations, oil and natural gas.

As a matter of scientific fact, i.e. science proven by engineering or repeatable experiments, certain gases such as CO2, methane (CH4), water vapor (H2O) and nitrous oxides (NOx), absorb light from the sun – preventing it from being reflected back into space. Thus increases in the concentration of these gases in the atmosphere result in the Earth’s equilibrium heat balance being affected as more of the Sun’s heat is retained, tending to increase the surface temperature of the planet.

Such is the primary effect of these gases. But as most scientists, engineers, economists, legislators, policy makers etc. know, primary effects are often totally overwhelmed by secondary effects. As William Shakespeare put it in his play, Richard III:

“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost

For want of a shoe, the horse was lost

For want of a horse, the rider was lost

For want of a rider, the battle was lost

For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost”

Those who have had to make real decisions outside the carefully proscribed bounds of the corporate policy manual or faculty lounge soon learn that intentions do not equal results. Having to live with the results of our decisions, however well intended, teaches humility. We have a very limited ability to predict with certainty the results of our actions, no matter how well thought through our actions might be.

While the posting and commenting on LinkedIn are sometimes sophomoric, oft times pedantic and nearly always reminiscent of an echo chamber, the exchanges are a mirror on the larger world. At issue is whose “Science is Right”. As I have learned over my years with both family and business, being “Right” is very expensive. A wise man gives great consideration to whether being “Right” is worth the cost.

Perhaps it is my age, perhaps it is concern over the future of my children and grandchildren, perhaps it is simply my retirement into the irrelevance of a man without a job, but I sometimes watch the news and am reminded of an old cartoon movie, Fantasia. To see the debasement of Disney, its retreat from engagement with the deep well of ageless wisdom contained in timeless stories to embrace the banal craftsmanship of corporate MBA’s, one only has to compare the Fantasia of 1940 with its remake in 2000. Today’s surrender by Disney to what can only be described as Wokedom’s bathos is simply the natural evolution of such corruption.

The original Fantasia was based on Wolfgang Goethe’s poem, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, itself drawing heavily on the Aeschylus’s tragedy, “Prometheus Bound”. The original Fantasia and its sources are meditations on power and wisdom – and consequences. They are an uncomfortably real picture of our modern world, in particular our own country – a nation of great power but of little wisdom.

While the factoid fencing of the LinkedIn playground is of little moment, it appears far more knowledgeable than that found within the councils of our leadership, seemingly little devoted to anything beyond the seeking of rents and/or votes. One hopes for more wisdom in the councils of the mighty than that shown by those “Empowering Positive Change”, but I fear in this case hope will be found disappointed.

The doctrines of climate change control the high ground of our culture. Our children are inculcated with its dogmas. And as it happens, we are a rich enough culture to afford Net Zero’s affectations. Its costs, both economic and social, are just another straw added to the large bundle atop the beast of burden. Though I fear the camel’s back is nearing its limit.

Given its domination of our culture’s institutions as well as the ecosystem of engorged parasites grown up around it, I think it likely that we will continue to travel the path to Net Zero, however meandering. But what happens then? Suppose we reach the “Promised Land”, we finally have a United States and Western Europe that are sustainable and renewable and all the other buzz words inspiring suburbanites shopping at Whole Foods, grade school children and those “Empowering Positive Change”. What then?

The greatest challenge to Net Zero is not Science, or even science, but something immediately obvious to peasants in all ages and times. It should be equally apparent to any environmental scientist or economist as well. After all, it was an American ecologist, Garrett Hardin, who gave this bit of common sense a name – the Tragedy of the Commons.

Garret Hardin was a founding member of that great groundswell among the great and good some sixty years ago, today’s environmental movement. A graduate of both the University of Chicago and Stanford, he was a professor at UC – Santa Barbara. With such sterling credentials, he should be a darling of Adorable America, but unfortunately, Prof. Harden was a racist, that all purpose rubric used to emasculate cis-normal Caucasian men born before 1990. And so, his work as such has since been rendered suspect, though its obvious truths remain valid, useful and generally recognized in the collective wisdom of the culture.

The Tragedy of the Commons refers to the inevitable ruination of common resources when benefits accrue to the individual but costs are borne by the community. In his influential paper, Mr. Hardin used the examples of unfenced range land overgrazed by ranchers. It is in the interests of each rancher to run as many cattle as they can on the common unfenced grassland. But in doing so, they ruin the pasture by overgrazing.

In that sense, our planet’s atmosphere is a “commons”. The combined populations of the United States and Western Europe are somewhat over 500 million, in a world population of approx.. 8,000 million. There are 7,500 million people who would like to achieve our standard of living, to live in a modern economy. But for this 7 ½ billion people to do so, they must –develop a modern economy.

Unfortunately, a modern economy requires enormous amounts of energy, primarily electrical energy. Despite all the logical contortions of the renewable power advocates, coal fired power is by far the cheapest, most reliable and most “grid friendly” dispatchable source of that electricity. Even when fitted with equipment to remove locally noxious pollutants such as sulfur, nitrogen and particulates affecting local populations, this remains true to such an extent that it renders the specious argumentation of the Green Lobby laughable.

The question arises naturally, Why would any nation needlessly subject itself to higher costs and lower standards of living unless forced to?” The great masses of people can sometimes be persuaded to spend money to dubious benefit, but only OPM (Other People’s Money). People in every place and time treat their own money differently.

As a practical matter, the Tragedy of the Commons requires an enforcement mechanism, which in the case of sovereign nations means military force. All of this blather about wind and solar, renewable and sustainable, is simply whistling past the graveyard. The truly serious issue in achievement of Net Zero is unspoken, unexamined and unremarked – until reality dawns at some future date.

If our national commitment to Net Zero is a real expression of our culture’s intent, its achievement assumes a commitment to use all avenues of persuasion and power projection, including military power, to enforce its dictates. Else we are simply emulating the great pyramid building characteristic of the Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty (circa 2500 BC) – expending great resources in the creation of monuments to ourselves.

One must also account for the true nature of our cultural commitment to Net Zero. As is very clear to all but the purposefully blind, our commitment to Net Zero is an expression of the spirit, just as Khufu’s Great Pyramid was. The science that ushered in the Enlightenment is a process of logic and experiment proceeding fitfully, continually questioning itself, welcoming debate. The Science of Climate Change and Net Zero is a faith, a religion. It neither questions itself nor invites debate. It wears the cloak of “Science”, but it is simply the latest iteration of sinful humanity’s worship of Creation rather than the Creator.

But if we achieve Net Zero, it will because we were in fact a nation of faith, of believers, else we would not have gotten there. Imagine then that we are a nation committed to the faith of Net Zero. We have sacrificed much to get there. The smoke of burning heretics remains in our nostrils.

Much of the rest of the world is pasturing the largest herd possible on the common grassland of the atmosphere. We believe they are enjoying cheap power at our expense. But it is not economics that powers our understandable fury, certainly there is anger at free riders, but it is righteous rage – they are profaning our god!

What will we do? History provides numberless examples and they are not pretty. I can see the blood of my grandchildren christening the righteous battlefields of Mother Earth’s acolytes.

Once more I remember that prescient prophet of our age, Matthew Arnold:

“And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight

Where ignorant armies clash by night”




2 Responses to “Tragedy of the Commons”

  1. Russell Kyncl says:

    Good to see you are back to long-form posts. My last Facebook exchange of this sort was several years ago, with the ignorant Marxist friend of a Boulder friend (a thoughtfully left-leaning immigrant tech entrepreneur turned successful real estate developer). The Marxist, a high school English teacher with an undergraduate degree from an upscale boutique liberal arts college in California, started the exchange by stating Thomas Sowell was an ignorant rube of an economist. I decided to go silent on the second day of our exchange. Judging from his Facebook page, I would actually enjoy learning more about Emerson or Whitman from that teacher. Not so much any other subject.

    • bgroskopf says:

      College professors; can’t live with them, can’t live without them – or can you? Night school in the mid-1970’s, I was getting my MBA in California. Granted, night school is probably not where the A-Team is teaching. But my Economics course was being taught by an avowed Marxist. I couldn’t believe what he was teaching.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Email Updates

  • Categories

  • What I’m Reading

    What I’m Reading

    The Twelfth Department
    By William Ryan

    What happens when we forget, or never bothered to learn, what we believe in and why we believe? What happens when the emotional whirls of Facebook and Twitter are the depths of our understanding? Evil, great evil, is regularly found lurking in the unexamined depths of good intentions. Mathew Arnold put our present political climate in memorable words years ago:

    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night

    Novels, good stories, provide a lens to see life, including our beliefs, without camouflage. As an example, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the finest Bible commentaries ever written. Progressive political ideals may lack in recent electoral success, but have undisputed possession of today’s moral high ground. And while death and taxes may be the only sure bets, the eventual victory of those holding the high ground have very good odds in any battle.
    And so fiction provides a look at eventual victories. There is no question that the outlines of today’s progressive agenda can be clearly seen in other times and places. William Ryan takes us to a time and place fondly imagined, idealized at the time, by the forefather’s of todays progressive leadership. In The Twelfth Department, we see a police captain in 1930’s Moscow. Captain Alexei Korolev is just a man trying to be a good father, a good citizen, a good police officer. In many ways Alexei is a fortunate man, with a good reputation and many more material advantages than the average citizen. But a high profile murder brings him into ambiguous circumstances. The tone of the book is respectful of life in Moscow, with no axes to grind. It is just a portrait of a man trying to do his job, bringing a gruesome killer to justice, among ordinary human beings seeking only to live normal lives in a progressive paradise.

  • Recent Comments