The tranquility of a quiet, sunny afternoon by the lake is quickly shattered by the loud whine of a jet ski racing across the lake. Similarly, the tranquil rustle of dry leaves stirred by the autumn wind is lost in the background of leaf blowers making feeble attempts to take the work out of the annual round up of piles of fallen leaves. Out on my morning walk, I watched a leaf blower sending his front yard’s fallen leaves out into the street. Just last week, the city had made their pass to clean the streets of leaves in preparation for the snow that was sure to come.
How is it that we can so wantonly advantage ourselves of public resources without thought of our impact on others? Passing our workload off to someone else’s responsibility is not a way to tackle our mounting global issues. We need to make those extra efforts to monitor our actions for the common good.
I often referred to Garret Hardin’s 1968 seminal essay “Tragedy of the Commons” when I taught environmental education in my work with the School Nature Area Project at St. Olaf College. Hardin presents an argument stating that humans motivated only by their own self-interests will eventually deplete the resources of the community. We looked to the example played out in 1600 Boston. The Boston Common was set aside for all residents to collectively use for the grazing of their livestock. To gain the greatest advantage of this resource, each family sought to allow their cows to eat as much free grass as they possibly could. It wasn’t long before the land was overgrazed and no grass was left for anyone. One doesn’t need to look hard to see this play out in many similar situations. Blowing leaves out to the public street is one small example. To affect change we need to look to Hardins’ message and make a shift in our value systems and always act in the best interest of the common good.