rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Dear Ryan: The tragedy of the Yukon's commons

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Ryan Leef, Member of Parliament for Yukon

Dear Ryan,

            The Tragedy of the Commons is a famous paper published in the magazine, Science, in 1968. In it, ecologist Garrett Hardin wrote about the finite resources of the planet and the impossibility of protecting those common resources without government intervention through regulations. Hardin was mainly concerned with the need for population control.  But he also believed that the same principles should be applied to the protection of the environment as a commons, from excesses by industry.

Hardin studied English feudal societies where groups of commoners shared unregulated access to pastureland or "commons." 

While this practice was beneficial in the short-term, problems arose as populations grew. There is a limit to how many cows can graze one pasture before it is ruined. Yet, who in a group of farmers will voluntarily reduce their use of a commonly held resource? The first to do so will suffer personal economic consequences while the indifferent will profit until such a time comes that all suffer. 

Hardin believed that the solution to this problem lay in politics and that commonly held resources must be protected by regulations to ensure sustainability and fairness.

Crown land is our commons.

This year a Haines Junction woodcutter was fined for throwing buckets of water on a hibernating bear.  This act of cruelty was a way to get around regulations that prohibited him from harvesting wood in the vicinity of a bear den.  He believed he was entitled to do this. Most Yukoners agree that the laws that saw the woodcutter fined are fair.

The controversy over the land use plan for the Peel River Watershed is broadly divisive.  First Nations with historic claims to the region wish to use this land for traditional cultural and harvesting practices. Outfitters say that their businesses will be ruined if large areas of the Peel are opened up to mining.  Both of these groups say that, while their own activities leave little or no footprint, intensive mining and oil extraction will permanently harm the animals, the land and the waters.  Many Yukoners, with no financial stake in the Peel, say that this special place warrants protection. They all insist that we should leave the Peel pristine for future generations.  

Some in the mining industry believe that they are entitled to mine this and all commonly held lands in the Yukon.  They claim that the Peel River Watershed Final Plan, which bans development in 80 per cent of the region and prohibits highway construction, will harm their ability to make a decent living and contribute to the Yukon economy. They dismiss environmental concerns as being of less importance than their right to make money.

It is clear that Hardin didn't foresee a world where corporations and industries could have so much influence that they literally own even so-called democratic governments.  Governments owned by industries will devise laws and regulations that have little to do with protecting the commons and everything to do with protecting the economic interests of their masters. 

Harden compared fair regulation of the commons to a game of Tic-Tac-Toe where all players understand the game perfectly. "I can win only by giving a radical meaning to the word 'win.' I can hit my opponent over the head; or I can drug him; or I can falsify the records." Cheat, in other words. 

That the Yukon Party government didn't intervene during the seven-year consultative process for the Peel River Watershed Final Plan reveals that they didn't believe they could prevail through honest negotiated means.  So they attempted to replace the Peel River Watershed Final Plan with their own mining-friendly plan after the fact. 

Bill S-6, designed to undermine both environmental protections and First Nations treaty powers, is another scheme by two levels of government to place the economic interests of the resource extraction sector over all others. This bill has nothing to do with fairness or sustainability in the commons. 

We have now reached the Rubicon with regards to climate change.  The international scientific community has told us that there will be unavoidable and severe consequences in the near future due to the burning of fossil fuels. Even worse is to come to the whole world commons if we don’t reduce our carbon footprint very soon.

Will Canada, under your Conservative government, voluntarily stand up to the powerful fossil fuel lobby and reduce Canada's carbon emissions?  

How apt that Hardin's paper on the commons is referred to as a "tragedy."

Image: Wikimedia Commons

 

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.