Tragedy of the Commons


Written By: Ron Groves – Manager of Education and Outreach – Plug’n Drive

Wikipedia: Tragedy of the Commons – “An economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users act independently and rationally according to their own self-interests and behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting the resource.”

I want to give a nod to an article I read in CleanTechnica describing a social behaviour known as the “tragedy of the commons”. This term was being used to describe Tesla owners who abused their ability to charge for free at Tesla Superchargers that are close to home.

The idea of the Superchargers is, of course, to enable long distance travel, not to provide free local charging that could be done at home or the workplace. Just because a Tesla owner can use a local Supercharger, it doesn’t mean they should. This behaviour is “contrary to the common good of all users” which, in this case, is limited parking spaces at the Superchargers, not to mention the extra electricity being paid for by Tesla. Tesla knows who the abusers are and sent out politely worded letters asking these owners to charge at home.

Letter to Tesla Owner

As I read this article, another example of behaving contrary to the common good came to mind.

This past March the auto industry had it’s best sales month EVER! And what led sales? Pick-up trucks. Specifically, the Ford F150.

Now, I’m not knocking Ford. They’re building what customers demand, but step back for a second and ask yourself, do people really “need” these trucks? Are there that many contractors and farmers hauling tools and materials on a daily basis? Of course not, but people still aspire to buy a pick-up truck anyway.

For as long as anyone can remember, the automotive marketing machine has moulded our aspirations to believe that bigger = better. More horsepower, larger wheels, more towing capacity, seats more people, on and on. If you have more, “you’ve made it”. When you drive your truck down the road everyone knows that you can afford the biggest, baddest vehicle on the planet.

Back to the tragedy of the commons, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should. Seven passenger minivans with 4 people in the family…  two ton all-wheel drive sports utilities that never go off road… pristine pick-up trucks that never work a day in their life… The list goes on.

The carbon footprint created by these massive vehicles is off the charts.  The raw materials, energy and time needed to build and maintain them is astronomical. All so that one person can get around the planet at their leisure.

The terrible impact burning fossil fuels has on the climate and our health is crushing. Those who who buy these ego-enhancers just to get around shouldn’t be cast as successful and ambitious social climbers, but as a greedy and ignorant socio-paths who refuse to acknowledge the damage they cause for the rest of us.

It once was cool to smoke. Not any more. It was once was cool to drive home drunk and brag about it the next day. Not any more. It once was cool to drive a pick-up truck. Well, I hate to be a killjoy, but not any more.