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  • For 400 million years, sharks and other fish have been living in our oceans.

  • Us humans have been around for just about 300,000.

  • Plastic came along only very recentlybut if we were to continue to pollute the oceans at the current paceit will take less than 30 years before there is more plastic in the waters than there is fish.

  • To put this into perspective: Imagine sharks have been on this planet for one full year.

  • Just within the last 15 seconds before midnight on December 31st, we would've managed to pollute their natural habitat.

  • To sharks this is a tragedy, a tragedy of the commons.

  • The tragedy of the commons is a situation in which individuals acting in their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all others by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action.

  • The theory originated in an essay written in 1833 by the British economist, William Forster Lloyd.

  • Lloyd argued that if a herder led a large herd of cattle onto a plot of common land to grazealso known as commons, overgrazing could happen.

  • For each additional cow, the owner of that cow could receive additional benefits, while all other herders share the resulting damage.

  • There are three possible solutions that could help with this.

  • Social norms and a common understanding of what's right and what's wrong is probably our best bet

  • The Swiss Alps region for example has been run by a collective of farmers for hundreds of years

  • As it is in the interest of all the farmers to keep the commons functioning, complex social norms emerged, and over time became traditions.

  • But when people don't share the same valuesor new people arrive, such social contracts often fall apart and other solutions can help.

  • Privatization

  • Turning common property into a private one can give the owner an incentive to ensure its sustainability.

  • If that happens, it's important that the party who now owns that common, or rights of access, pays the full price for its exploitation.

  • Privatization works well for things that can be fenced off, such as land, but less so for water or air

  • If someone creates negative externalities on private land but doesn't pay the full price of such externality, we need to turn to the third solution.

  • State Regulation, such as farming permits, can limit the amount of commons available to everyone and thereby protect them.

  • Fishing quotas can ensure that those that takealso pay the bill.

  • Taxes can create financial incentives by increasing the costs for creating negative externalities, such as polluting the air.

  • Regulation can make exploitation not only more costly, tax incomes can also be used to invest in initiatives that help reverse the damage done

  • For complex problems, such as the plastic in our oceanswe probably need a combination of all three.

  • We can help create awareness, so we all feel morally obliged to reduce our personal use of non-recyclable plastics.

  • We could ask large producers of single-use plastics to take full responsibility for the mess their products create by dedicating resources to help clean up.

  • Countries could commit to local and international agreements that regulate the production of single use plastic and other pollutants.

  • The grazing rules which were established in Switzerland in 1517 are still enforced today

  • They state that "no one is permitted to send more cows to the Alps than he can feed in winter."

  • Applying the same rules to plastics, would mean no state ought to produce more plastic than they can recycle within the confines of their own borders.

  • What do you think? Would a similar solution work for the oceans

  • And if not, what else can we do to protect the commons from the tragedy that's unfolding

For 400 million years, sharks and other fish have been living in our oceans.

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