I’m compelled to comment on a recent column citing the “Tragedy of the Commons” in relation to escalating threats to the ecologically vital Amazon Forest.

As a life-long environmental planner and policy advocate, I am well-acquainted with Garrett Hardin’s concept of the “commons” and its insights about the tragic degradation and collapse of life-supporting ecosystems.

Since reading Hardin’s book soon after its release in 1968, I’ve witnessed five decades of willful, destructive negligence by decision-makers in both the public and private sectors, despite worthy efforts to apply environmental science in public policy.

Not only has the commons concept been ignored, but similar concurrent warnings were cavalierly cast aside as inconveniences in the ravenous pursuit of economic opportunities, as if cumulative consequences were negligible – or, legitimately, someone else’s problem.

Rather than prudently heeding warnings of “limits to growth” by the Club of Rome (1972) or Hardin’s commons-protection principles, over the past half-century avid proponents of the so-called “free market” have brought us to the brink of global environmental catastrophe.

To suggest that “free markets” could be, or should be, part of the solution is both foolhardy and dangerously misleading. First, given billions spent – or forfeited – annually on special tax-breaks, industry subsidies, and public-resource giveaways, “free markets” are long extinct.

Moreover, profit-makers are rewarded for disregarding longer-term, bottom-line constraining impacts of their activities, no matter how damaging. Tragically, such negligence is accommodated by financially conflicted political institutions and elected officials obligated to corporate sponsors. Consequences accumulate at alarming, accelerating risk to humanity.

David Kyler

Center for a Sustainable Coast

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