Smog pollution has been around since the start of industrialization, and there are many cities that suffer from its consequences. Among them, Beijing is singled out as the hotshot these days. In the past winter, an unprecedented amount of smog cloaked Beijing, filling the city with noxious air and causing convulsive coughing among the local residents.
Not only does smog cause inconvenience in transportation by reducing visibility, but also, according to a study at US Berkeley, smog has a huge impact on people’s health: “people living in the smoggiest cities were 30 percent more likely to have succumbed o lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia. ” In his essay, “The Tragedy of The Commons,” Hardin suggests that problems like environmental pollution have no technical solution and that they could be solved effectively through mutual coercion.
However, I believe that, besides methods like mutual coercion, technical solutions do exist In general, technology solves the problems by pushing the limit of the “commons” towards infinity. In “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin proposes that the problem of the commons is caused by the conflict between he individual interest of a rational self-interested man and the limit of a commons.
His reasoning works in the following way: each individual taking a certain amount of resources from/dumping a certain amount of wastes (let’s call this amount A) into the commons brings an individual gain of G to him or her, and a collective loss of L to the whole commons. If the total population over the commons is P, then his or her individual loss becomes roughly L divided by p, which, in most cases, is smaller than his or her gain, G. Therefore, any rational and self-interested man will keep using resources from/dumping wastes into the commons.
However, the total available resources/affordable wastes of a commons are limited and let’s call the limit L. If each person uses more and more resources or dumps more and more waste, the increasing A, when multiplied by the total population p, may go above the limit L, resulting in depletion or pollution of the commons. He, furthermore, proposes that there exists no technical solution because the equation always hold and that the resource consumption/waste generation A should be limited by mutual coercion so that A is less than UP.
However, there have been many examples of technology solving problems of he commons. For instance, to our ancestors, the Homo sapiens, who lived in the forests of Africa together with many other animals millions of years ago, the commons was the forest around them. The forest had limited food, putting a limit on the population. This limit still holds for the animals: there are still a very limited amount of them living in the same forest now due to food limitation and diseases. However, the offspring of those Homo sapiens, human beings, has grown to a size which is several million times more.
With technology for farming, they were able to walk out of the forests. With technology for animal husbandry, they could get food more efficiently without spending too much time to hunt for animals. With tech oenology for shoe making and cloth making, they walked out of the forests and reached every part of the world. In fact, it was the technology that helped them overcome the limitation of the commons. The same thing happened several hundred years ago. In the sass, people in the Europe were suffering from poverty and religious intolerance.
Not only did they have very limited resources but also various contagious diseases, such as the Black Death and mailbox that made the growth of population and agglomeration of people huge problems. However, with the advancement of technology in sailing and shipbuilding, Columbus discovered a new continent, North America, which is about the same size as Europe. This has enlarged the living space of human beings. Moreover, improvement in medical technology eliminated several lethal diseases such as the Black Death, which was estimated to have killed 30 to 60 percent of Rupee’s population.
Technology helped to improve the population limit from around 60 million in the sass to more than 700 million in the sass. Now, the world is crowded. Billion people might seem to be a big number compared to the available space On the earth, but it is negligible compared to the whole universe. With the advancement of technology, people might be able to expand the commons further to other planets. This is not unreasonable. 100 years ago people were not able to send man to the sky using airplane. But 40 years ago, the first man was sent to the Moon.
Who knows if people are going to reside on Mars 50 years from now with the help of technology? As history demonstrates, Harden’s idea is problematic in that he treats the commons as something static and immobile. To him, the total population is limited by LILA, and the more each person consumes, the less population the commons could afford. This is only true if L and A are constants, but unfortunately they are not Technical solutions do exist because technology could enlarge the commons (increasing L), and increases the efficiency of utilizing the commons (reducing A).
With the ceaseless advancement of technology, the limits of population, pollution, and anything that could be categorized as a “tragedy of the commons” is pushed to infinity just as P=L/A approaches infinity mathematically when L keeps increasing and A decreasing. The recent smog pollution in Beijing, according to reports from various institutions, is attributable to two reasons. First, Beijing has a “yeah. NY reliance on coal power” for both electricity generation and central heating during winter. Besides its major ingredient, carbon, sulfur also exists in a relatively large amount in coal.
Therefore, burning coal generates a lot of sulfur dioxide, one of the main components of the smog. Moreover, since there was “a lack of wind in dispersing the haze”3 this winter, the smog cloaked Beijing for several days and did not dissipate as quickly as before. Secondly, the smog pollution is also a result Of increased car ownership in Beijing. The total number of registered motor vehicles in Beijing has reached 5 million in 201 1, and “an average of 15,500 new cars go on the city’s roads every week. The noxious air emission by motor vehicles largely pollutes the air of Beijing. In fact, “the motor vehicles are blamed for nearly a quarter of the capital’s PM. 5, or airborne particles measuring less than 2. 5 micrometers in diameter”, according to Wang Yuckier a researcher of Chinese Academy of Sciences. The fact that the sulfur content of China’s standard oil is 15 times rater than that of European oil made the pollution worse. Therefore, 15 times more sulfur dioxide is generated when the same amount of oil is consumed.
The low quality of oil and explosion in number of cars contributed a lot to the smog in Beijing. Technical solutions will prove effective in solving the smog pollution in Beijing by creating clean energy reducing the emission of cars and factories. First of all, new technology in reducing the sulfur component of coal and oil would reduce the emission of sulfur dioxide, which is the main component of the noxious gas in Beijing. For example, normally crude oil contains sulfur. The standard sulfur content is 0. 001 % in America, and 0. 015% in China.
As a result, the Chinese oil companies need to improve the equipments in their oil refineries. If the standard sulfur Content in China is the same as that in America, then the sulfur dioxide emitted to the air will be 15 times less. Furthermore, with new generations of technology, the sulfur content for refined oil would be reduced even more and approach zero. At that time, very little sulfur dioxide will be emitted by cars. Secondly, new technology such as electric cars and bodiless cars could totally eliminate the problem of noxious air emission.
In fact, these ewe technologies produce nothing but carbon dioxide. Some people would argue that noxious air emission still happens during the production of batteries; nevertheless, that emission is much easier to control than the car emission. The noxious air emitted by battery production, instead of being sent to the open air, is emitted at a chosen location. Using effective filters would ensure very low noxious air emission. Thirdly, technology for new energy, especially controlled nuclear fusion, might permanently solve the smog pollution problem.
The resource of nuclear fusion comes from sea water, and ideally nuclear fusion produces no smog at all. If one day there is a breakthrough in controlled nuclear fusion technology, and all the factories could use power generated by nuclear plants, then clean air all around the world will not be a dream. Technology could also effectively solve the smog pollution problem by “enlarging” the commons. Of course, new technology in aerospace engineering would allow people to reside on other planets, therefore literally enlarging the commons.
On a more tangible and realizable note, new technology in transportation, such as highway systems or subway systems, enlarges the commons by spreading a congested and crowded city over a large area. Therefore, the same amount of smog would also be spread and dissipated over a larger region, and the pollution problem would be less serious. This approach of creating highway systems is largely applied in the U. S. And it has been very effective. For example, Both Beijing and Los Angels are huge, metropolitan cities.
Beijing has a population of 20 million, and the total area of Beijing is 1 6,800 km. The Greater Los Angels Area has a population on the same scale, 18 million, but the total area of the Greater Los Angels Area is 87,smoke. The population density of Beijing is more than 5 times that of the Greater Los Angels. As a result, smog in Los Angels is dispersed over a large region whereas the smog in Beijing is cloaked within a smaller area, causing big pollution problems. That explains why the PM. 5 in Los Angels is usually from 5 to pig/mm, but the PM. 5 in Beijing is around pig/mm.
Also, subway systems, together with other technology of transportation, may also help improve the air condition by increasing the city size and reducing the population density. Some people might argue that, sometimes, technical solutions seem a little far from us. In other words, it is almost impossible for some of the tech Nicola solutions mentioned above to come true within 10 to 20 years. Therefore, we need methods like mutual coercion to act as temporary remedies to the problem. One manifestation of mutual coercion is to rely on economic means to protect the environment, and the Beijing Government has already been on the march.
As stated by Lu Jungian, the head of the legal department of the Beijing Environment Protection Bureau, “A highlight of the legislation is a limit on the total amount of emissions. We will first have an evaluation on the required amount of emissions by each company, and then issue emission permits. If companies fail to follow the permitted amounts, they will be punished. ” Another manifestation of mutual coercion is in the form of political means. In certain cases, influence induced by political means could come much faster than that induced by economic means.
For example, although Beijing is known for having a bad air quality, the air quality of Beijing was excellent during the Olympic Game in 2008. This was because the government shut down a lot of factories around Beijing, and launched an odd-even license plate number system that allows driving cars on alternate days. As we saw, these measures took effect immediately. The government could take similar measures especially in winters to lower the pollution. We human beings are faced with various issues today – population explosion, air pollution and etc. ? just like a man trapped in a huge desert, who is thirsty and desperate.
Mutual coercion, as proposed by Hardin, is an effective way to limit the resource consumption/waste generation of each individual and thus help avoid the depletion/pollution of the commons. But that’s just a temporary remedy, an oasis for the man in the desert. The oasis has food and water, and it is a comfortable place as well. However, our ultimate goal is to alkyl out of the desert! Human beings should have the ambition and courage to walk out oftener comfort zone and reach out to a more wonderful instead Of being frightened by various crises and coming up ways to limit themselves.
In fact, it was such courage that pushed the first Homo sapiens to walk out of the forest. Otherwise, we would be no different than the animals today. There will be difficulties awaiting us, but with the courage built into our genes, the intelligence to invent new technology, and the diligence to create a promising future, we will conquer all the obstacles and solve the problems of the moons by pushing the limit of the commons to infinity.