Aug. 30 Tragedy of the Commons – Climate Change

GabeBell Ringers, Economics(BR)

On Aug. 30, 2006, California Senate passes Global Warming Solutions Act.

If you ask the average American what the greatest issue the country is facing today is, you would get a variety of responses. According to a Gallup poll from July 2017, many would say poor leadership, or healthcare, or immigration, or even terrorism. Only three percent would say the protection of the environment/climate change.

While the climate research community disagrees, arguing that it is a serious threat which requires action, there has been little to no legislation dealing with the issue. President Obama, even with strong Democratic majorities, was unable to pass a strong carbon policy, and the current White House’s official view is that although climate change may be happening, there is no consensus that it is caused by human activity.

The market is also ill equipped to deal with the issue of climate change, as property rights are hard to establish, and blame assigned, when CO2 emissions have a world-wide impact; no one owns the environment, and so the normal market processes for dealing with undesirable activity don’t work. Failure to care for the environment is an example of what economists call the Tragedy of the Commons.

Recognizing the federal government’s unwillingness or inability to act, the California legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act. California already had stricter fuel emissions requirements than the federal government, but the act went further to call for a 25 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. The ability of California to regulate fuel standards, however, is also being challenged, and California may soon not be prohibited from setting separate standards from federal.

  1. Is California’s action an example of competitive federalism, or something else?
  2. Do you think the government should regulate carbon emissions in the say way it regulates pollution? Or is carbon somehow different?
  3. What are some other examples of a Tragedy of the Commons?

Image Citation:

31 July, 2018, Temperature Data from Four International Science Institutions. [Digital image]. Retrieved from <>.