15 April 2012

Tidepooling in Ecuador

I have recently learned how enjoyable and rewarding it is to discover everything that goes on within tidepools. Unfortunately I have only visited one site, but there is so much life there that I have been more than busy trying to photograph the variety of flora and fauna there. I am excited to do some tidepooling in other sites all along the Pacific coast in Ecuador.

I Googled tidepools Ecuador and all that came up were a couple of pictures of reflections in tidepools and then pictures of my own children, cousin and aunt taken by my own mother when she visited a few years ago!  I guess tidepooling hasn't really taken off as a massive tourist activity in Ecuador quite yet.

I hope this blog post contributes to changing that! I have taken these 20 pictures over the past year on a little beach called Chulluyupe, in the province of Santa Elena, Ecuador. I have no idea what most of these animals are called, or even what some of them are, so any help would be be greatly appreciated!

Getting pictures of the animals that live in tidepools has its challenges. For starters, they are almost all under water, so the reflection gets in the way as does any water movement. I have learned that I have to take an umbrella along to eliminate the sun's reflection in the water to get the right exposure for the pictures. The other challenge is that they are so small that you have to get within a couple of inches, and use macro, to get a good picture. This is not always possible because of the depth of the pools and the formation of the rocks. You have to be a contortionist to get close enough. And don't get the lens wet!

Tidepooling opens one's eyes to worlds unseen. The animals that live in these pools of water have become accustomed to 12 hours of violent movement and 12 hours of relative calm, although it is very difficult to imagine how such delicate animals can live through high tide. I imagine that they all have their little caves where they hide until they can see the sun again. So much diversity exists that it is clear they have evolved into this environment over hundreds or thousands of years. A case in point is the crab that finds places where the waves crash against the rocks and stands right in the most dangerous place. It looks like they will be swept away, but they come out victorious over the waves every time.

This starfish is amazing. The legs don't move at all, but the entire animal creeps along by moving the small filaments. The following picture shows another type of starfish, living alongside urchins.

The underside of this animal is pink and slimy, like a slug. It curls up into a ball in a most amazing way, becoming perfectly spherical.

The next two pictures are the best shots I could get of this kind of crab. It hides when you approach, but its caves are not very deep so I could get the second shot much to his chagrin.

The following picture shows an octopus that likes to hide among the intertidal rocks. It can grow quite big as you can see. This speciman fetches approximately $5 in local markets. This octopus hunter goes through this area every day and catches 4 or 5 a day, but most are much smaller than this one.

This shows the hundreds of hermit crabs that climb all over the seaweed, each with its own shell perfectly suited to its activities and needs.

22 February 2012

RIP Community Composting

One day early in 2012 a petition arrived in my mailbox with 12 signatures of my neighbors demanding that I dismantle our community composting project. It turns out that there were 4 ladies behind the initiative, while the others didn’t really understand what they were signing. They sighted two reasons: infestation of cockroaches, mice, and rats; and that the project made the neighborhood unsightly.

The homeowner’s association called us to a meeting and most of my questions about vermin were left unanswered. Like, why did the rats recently appear when the community composting project has been running for nearly two years? And, why were there rats all over the housing development, and not just on our block?

That unsolved they turned to their surefire argument about how ugly all that “garbage” was in our park. Here they had ready answers: decomposing leaves are ugly, decomposing organic matter is ugly. After explaining things like decomposing leaves make good dirt and getting nowhere, I realized that I had touched a raw nerve. These same ladies had previously cut down three medium sized trees in the housing development because “they made too much garbage.” Garbage is anything that does not belong in the house and it needs to go “away” immediately. Anybody who does not comply with this is dirty.

Although many decades away now, Ecuadorians, and especially Guayaquileños act as if they still collectively recalled the days of the muckrakers, the men whose unsightly job it was to pick up and haul away feces from homes lest it lie in the streets. The fight against infectious diseases scarred generations. There are also more recent memories before the land fill was built of garbage piled in dumps around the city, and even more recently of a protracted garbage worker strike during which people built huge piles of waste in the streets. Infestations of rats, powerful odors and infectious diseases, each associated to varying degrees with these episodes of the city’s past, are burned in people’s memory as natural consequences of not “getting rid” of garbage.

Having dismally lost that argument, I appealed to what I thought would surely stir them to reconsider their demands. People in more modern cities pay to participate in community gardens, in which composting is a central element. There are many reasons for this: to feel a stronger bond with the earth, to cultivate healthy vegetables, to diversify their diet, to build a community of friendly neighbors, to make their neighborhood greener and more beautiful, and to teach their children to value taking care of the earth, to comprehend how food waste eventually generates healthy soil, to appreciate the commitment it takes to sow, cultivate and harvest, and on an even more basic level, so they simply know where food comes from.

I related to them that I have a junior youth group in the neighborhood and that the community service project they chose was to make a community garden with the soil harvested from the compost, and I talked about how transformative this action will become for these youth’s lives.  I even asked them about their own children and their attitudes towards the earth, related these attitudes to the woeful state of the environment in the city and how this awareness is directing the future of more advanced cities and countries. Passionate and sporadically eloquent as it was, my plea fell on deaf ears. “If all of these things are so important to you, then why don’t you buy yourself a piece of property in the countryside and do all of these things there?”, they answered.

I don’t mind dealing with ignorance, as I have plenty of my own, but these ladies had come to the meeting to “win”, and not to learn anything. A closed mind cannot be reasoned with. When I realized this and I had said my piece, I felt that any further arguments or fighting would only kindle their ignorance into a flame of belligerence. For fear of smear campaigns and more aggressive petitioning, I desisted.

Over the next week I dismantled the project and asked the administrator of the homeowner’s association to direct the gardeners to put the humus in sacks so I could use it to make a garden either there or in my own backyard. She agreed but within the week I found that it had been taken “away”, presumably thrown into the garbage. People capable of throwing commercial quality humus to the garbage, ignoring even its monetary value, wear blinders so powerful that the mind and heart are eventually crushed under the weight of their own intellectual isolation.

Other participants in the project expressed their sadness at what happened so weakly that I began to wonder if anything at all had been accomplished through the project. Perhaps a bit more distance is required to properly answer this question. Until I glean worthwhile lessons from this episode, I will detach my heart from it all, make peace with my neighbors and learn to accept them as people who rose up to express their beliefs to improve their neighborhood. For now, their version of the status quo has been restored, fears have been assuaged and control over a “chaotic” situation has been regained. My perspective is not compatible with theirs in the way it was presented and this is my failure. I am the foreigner, and my intention to educate has failed. As an educator, I should have known better.

They certainly have not heard the last from me, though. I will regroup and launch a new and improved initiative that will incorporate all of the valuable lessons I have learned through this turbulent episode.

30 December 2011

Composting to Lighten our Carbon Footprint

There are a variety of ways to calculate your carbon footprint. Online calculators ask you for all kinds of information about your household, flights and car use. On carbonfootprint.com they even ask you about food preferences and how much of your waste is recycled. Composting is mentioned in one of the recycling options. However, I think it deserves more prominence if we want to make decisions about how to tread lighter.


I looked around the Internet to find out how much organic waste people produce on average and I found very little information. One survey reported that “households taking part in the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District's Bin & Cone Pilot diverted an average of 345kg (760 lbs.) of food scraps per year,” while the Austrialian government reports that Australians generate an estimated 361 kilograms (794 lbs.) of food waste per person per year or approximately  936 kilograms (2059 lbs.) per household per year. The Environmental Protection Agency in the US asserts that North Americans throw away an average of 214 kg. (474 lbs.) of food scraps per family per year.

In summary:

Household Food Waste Generation per Year
Source 1: Central Vermont
345 kg.
Source 2: Australia
936 kg.
Source 3: EPA (USA)
214 kg.

These figures are wildly inconsistent, they come from developed nations and I don’t trust surveys about kitchen waste production. Think about it, if somebody asked you how much your daily compostable kitchen waste weighs, what would you say? So, I decided to find out for myself.

I did what any respectable scientist would do: I weighed our compost before taking it to the compost pile every day for six months (May to November, 2011). Here are the results:

Scoggin Household Food Waste Generation
Average per day
2.64 kg.
Average per week
18.36 kg.
Total for the year
954.80 kg.

Pretty high, no doubt. Six people live in this house, similar to the average Ecuadorian household.  Also, I am vegetarian, and we consume a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables.  Further, our maid composts all leftovers, and they tend to be pretty heavy. When I say that these figures are high, I am not only comparing them to the reported results from other countries, but also to our neighbors who participate in our community composting project. Based on daily observations, my household contributes approximately one third of all compost to the project, even though seven families participate.

Why are these results significant? According to Wikipedia, Ecuadorians emit 3,090 kg. (6,800 lbs.) of carbon per capita per year, considering all sources of carbon emission (compared to 22,182 kg. per American!) Also, each kilogram of food waste emits the equivalent of 6 kilograms of CO2 in a landfill, under anaerobic conditions, and 0 when it is composted in aerobic conditions.

This means that taking into account only CO2 emissions from food waste, my family saves 5728.80 kg. of equivalent CO2 emissions per year, or 955 kg. per person per year. In other words, my family saves 31% of the average CO2 emissions for Ecuadorians only by composting.

Of course the average Ecuadorian household would save considerably less by composting because of the average diet composition and how much food is consumed at home. But even if it turns out to be 20% or even 15%, the effect of composting on greenhouse gas emissions would still be significant.

The fact that my family saves nearly one third of the average CO2 emissions only by composting deserves attention by any authority keen on making this country greener.

13 August 2011

Las Iguanas Landfill

Recently I took a tour of our local landfill, expecting to find a complete disaster of a place like I saw while I lived in Cali, Colombia. Guayaquil’s landfill, however, is better organized and run than most any other local or national government agency! I couldn’t believe it. I am not going to get into specifics about the landfill in this post, but suffice it to say that I was very surprised at what I saw. Everything in the following video is true!

I learned a lot through the visit. For example, here in Guayaquil recycling is strictly prohibited because there are no recycling trucks, so it makes garbage trucks fall behind their schedules and because informal recyclers make a mess of curbside garbage after rummaging through it all and leaving what they can’t use all over the sidewalk. So, everything goes to a single landfill.

The landfill struggles with two big problems on site. First, is the huge quantities of methane that escapes from the garbage. To deal with this properly, tubes are installed to channel the methane out into the atmosphere because otherwise it accumulates underground and becomes quite explosive.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Significant methane production typically begins after approximately one year of disposal and continues from 10 to 60 years.1 Landfills are the largest source of U.S. methane emissions and emitted ... 37% of total U.S. emissions in 1997 (EPA, 1999).

The other major problem is leachate.  This is a liquid produced when rain falls on and moves through garbage and drains off extremely contaminated. It is also produced without rain when organic waste decomposes anaerobically, as you can see whenever you take the garbage out and there is some liquid left at the bottom of your garbage can.

Through a series of pipes and drainage areas made with thick plastic liner, the leachate is channeled to an evaporation pond like the one above where it is supposed to evaporate. Much of the leachate is pumped back up and sprayed over the garbage so that it will evaporate in that process. There is no other way to get rid of it. If it is not collected in this way, it will find its way down into the groundwater and contaminate it at lightening speed. This stuff is so toxic that the guide told me of the hives that broke out all over one worker that accidentally touched it once. This makes me wonder about the composition of the rain that comes out of the clouds formed though its evaporation.

What stayed with me the most is that both of these problems originate either exclusively or mostly from food scraps. Diverting food scraps from landfills would resolve the methane issue completely and reduce leachate production significantly. There are many, many other benefits from doing this that I will look at in depth in later posts.

In “developed” or industrialized countries, food scraps make up approximately 30% of all municipal waste by weight, although in the United States it is much lower at 14.1% as shown in the following figure.

However, in “developing” countries the percentage of landfill made up of food scraps is much higher, making up approximately 60% of all municipal waste. This is true for our local landfill where 56% of the landfill is organic matter.

This makes recycling food scraps a much more significant issue for developing countries like Ecuador. This is one of the reasons that I will now embark on a series of posts about how I have taken steps to contribute to resolving this problem in Guayaquil.

1. http://www.iowadnr.gov/portals/idnr/uploads/waste/ecosec7.pdf

12 June 2011

Our Third Harvest!

I haven't needed to harvest bin 3 until now but it worked out fine because I was able to confirm a hypothesis of mine. I had put too many leaves in to make sure there would be no odors, and that just made everything decompose slower. So, letting it sit longer, I assumed would produce dark, rich humus unlike what we got from previous harvests. We let the first bin sit for 19 weeks, and the second for 20 weeks, while this one had been sitting for 35 weeks since it was filled. It worked! We got loads of perfect humus.

Also, as you will see in the pictures below, we sifted the compost finer this time, which gave us better final results too.

So, the lesson is put fewer leaves in the mix and you won't have to let the compost sit so long. If you put too many leaves in, then let it sit longer. Simple.

Here are some pictures from today's harvest.

24 May 2011

Community Composting One Year On

Our little recycling project has completed its first year of life. It has been the subject of a two-page article in a local newspaper, the topic of a small project for some Master degree students in a local university and the object of two talks to environmental education classes in a local high school. Conversely, it has survived workers stealing the bamboo infraestructure, smear campaigns from neighbors, being associated with an infestation of rats and a long, wet rainy season. After all of this, it seems to be emerging stronger than ever, ready to prosper and grow.

The project languished for about two months when many neighbors associated it with the infestation of rats and as the rains kept the whole place wet and somewhat muddy. During that time, only two families contributed regularly, down from seven during the rest of the year. Then, it occurred to me that instead of fighting their erroneous notion about the rats, it would be better to solve it beyond any doubt and allay their fears.

On the Internet you can find lots of compost projects, but they are all either for one family (in an enclosed bin) or huge, industrial deals inside large areas. Very few are outside, and those are mostly for leaves, cut grass and small branches, with very little kitchen waste. Putting the whole operation within an enclosed area would be too much work and expense. So, I figured that rats only like the fresh stuff and if we could decompose the fresh waste in a closed environment, then they would have no reason to come around. Once it gets hot enough and the waste decomposes beyond recognition, then it can be poured out into the open air bins to be finished.

So, we bought several new garbage bins and drilled holes all around them. The procedure is to fill up one bin with waste and leaves and once it is full (which takes 1 to 3 days), then put the top on it tightly and start filling up the next bin. Once they are all full, then the first one is emptied and it is ready to be filled again. Because there are 7 families participating and we only have 4 bins, each bin stays full for a little over a week until it has to be dumped into the outside compost area. Of course, one week is not quite enough for the kitchen waste to become unrecognizable, so we need more bins. However, during that week, the waste inside each enclosed bin really heats up and the volume is reduced by approximately 30%, so a lot of action takes place in there.

The bins in the back are full and so are waiting their turn to be emptied and filled again.
The grey bin in the foreground is getting filled up.

Here are the 4 spaces for compost.
The second one, where the rake is,  is currently being filled up.

This is how the garden area looks now.

This has convinced some of the sceptical neighbors and they are participating once again! With this resolved, I see no reason the project can’t start growing considerably. For this second year, I would like to double the number of families participating (from 7 to 14) and double the amount of kitchen waste and leaves we recycle this year (from 320 to 640 bins). Further, I would like to consider this as a model method for enclosed housing developments around the city and the country. If this idea comes to fruition, I would like to make an introductory video in Spanish, put it up on youtube, and use it to see if other housing developments would be interested in starting small projects. Of course, this is just an idea, we will have to see how things unfold this coming year.

Soon, I will post news about our third compost harvest, about the little vegetable garden that has been started up with our soil and some amazing statistics that I have been compiling about how much kitchen waste is produced in a typical house around here each week and month.

03 December 2010

Our First Harvest!

Aerial view of the project
Lots of exciting things have been happening with our community compost project recently. First among them was that a local newspaper published a two page article about it, detailing how it is a great way to combat contamination and bring neighbors together. I doubt if any of the neighbors read it because very few people read that paper, but I printed a pdf version and spread it around. The neighbors loved it.  Then about a week later, our neighborhood got suddenly invaded by rats, big, ugly ones, and everybody jumped to the conclusion that the compost project was to blame! Never mind that the project has been functioning for six months with nary a rat in site.  A bunch of neighbors went to the housing development administrator and demanded that he take the whole compost project away immediately and so he hired a truck and the project was doomed! I didn’t even find out about this until the truck was already hired! Of course I called him as soon as I found out and explained to him that the sudden invasion was due to a hole the rats had dug under the wall protecting the housing development and that he had better not take the project away without making a bit more inquiry into the matter.  With a little poison the rats disappeared and then I had to win back participants who had jumped ship!

Then a week later we harvested for the first time.  We got 14 bins of sifted dirt from the 84 bins of kitchen waste and leaves that went into this first section of the project, which means that the whole deal was reduced by 83% in the process.  It really puzzled me that there was no humus, no rich, black dirt.  It just looked like a pile of decomposed leaves.  This pile had been sitting for 19 weeks, which seems like it should be enough time for humus to form.  I think that the mix had too many leaves, too much carbon content, which slows its decomposition time.  I admit that I cover the kitchen waste with quite a few leaves every day to make sure the pile is well aerated and clean-smelling. A longer decomposition time is a fair price to pay to make sure the pile smells good. I would not want to give the neighbors any more reasons to complain! In any case, I will try to reduce the waste - leaves ratio as much as possible to get some humus for the next harvest.

When we harvested, we took the dirt around to the participants and gave each one a full bin or two for their potted plants or ornament garden.  They loved it and could not believe that their kitchen waste had transformed so much.  We even gave some to the lady who led the commission to denounce and eliminate the project, and she gladly accepted it! The whole neighborhood was outside painting the curbs and the driveways, so we really got some positive public relations in right when we needed it most. I hope this will encourage more people to participate.

The next harvest will be put into starting a small community garden, and I am sure that will get more people involved too. So far we have recycled 282 bins of kitchen waste and leaves, which seems like a good start.

20 June 2010

Our Community Garden

Many months ago I mentioned to some of our retired neighbors that they should take advantage of an empty space in the park at the end of our street to start a community garden. They finally hooked a hose up to the faucet there and started planting decorative and fruit-bearing trees pretty randomly around the garden space. When they mentioned that they would soon need planting soil if they wanted to grow vegetables, we devised a composting scheme.

So, we set up a compost area and then put these two bins near it. Kitchen waste gets dumped in the blue bin and then covered by some scoops of dried leaves from the red bin. Once a day I empty the blue bin into the compost area shown below. This photo represents approximately 5 weeks worth of composting.

The sticks you see on top of the compost are dead vines from my maracuya (passion fruit) plant that I put as a first layer to aerate the mix. On top goes the kitchen waste which is then covered with a layer of dry leaves.

The neighbors have done a nice job recruiting other neighbors to recycle their kitchen waste so now there are 7 families participating. Our goal is for ten families to participate so that we can learn how much waste a typical family collects per day, how often they dump their waste and how much that adds up to in all (measured in bins per day). We also have to learn how many dried leaves we can get the housing development gardeners (they prune people’s yards and trees and collect fallen leaves) to take to our garden as they can’t imagine why we would want such "garbage" and so they don’t collaborate very easily. After a few months we hope to have a better idea how it will work so we can get more families involved.

The garden looks like this right now, which is a huge improvement over the gravel-covered barren land that characterizes the rest of the park as you can see in the foreground.

04 January 2010


I took the following pictures to chronicle a physical process that can be highly allegorical.  If you look at it from the ocean's perspective, you can see how powerful waves are and how interrelated the sea is with human life.  I like to look at it from the boat's perspective, in which a decent boat motor malfunctioned one day and the fishermen had no way to prevent the boat from capsizing.  Once it capsized, the fishermen abandoned it completely, leaving it to be beaten by the relentless waves.  Sometimes I feel that our sanity is like this.  It goes for a minute and people get labeled and abandoned to slowly disintegrate.
Enjoy the pictures, even if you don't feel like interpreting anything beyond what is visible. The original album can be found here.

29 December 2009

Tragedy of the Commons (No More)

Garrett Hardin introduced the concept of Tragedy of the Commons 40 years ago, but it is more relevant now than ever in light of the multiple challenges faced in the recent climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

"Fishing is a classic example of a tragedy of the commons problem. The fish are a common resource, so [from a business perspective] it makes sense to catch as many fish as you can. If you don't, someone else will. As a result, we run out of fish. Everyone makes a rational decision but in the end we all lose."1

Viewed from an economic perspective, "the individual benefits as an individual from his ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, of which he is a part, suffers."2  Of course, the benefits gained by the individual are bittersweet as they lead to problems for the broader community from which that same individual cannot escape.

"Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase [his activity] without limit -- in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all."3

The problems caused by current climate are widely regarded to be among the hardest the world has ever had to confront in large part because they aren’t confined to a place that can be fenced off, nor can they be treated as a regional problem to be solved by a handful of nations.  Nor is there a clear technical solution that can be addressed by the natural sciences. Rather, the issue is so complex because it requires a complete rethinking of the two major concepts central to all tragedy of the commons situations: freedom and public administration. 


Collective temperance, especially if it is mutually agreed upon by the majority of people, has long been considered necessary to generate harmony in society. Temperance comes from understanding a problem and its consequences and voluntarily restraining from an action that may give benefits to the individual, but will harm the collectivity. So, raising consciousness that restricting one’s own freedom will lead to collective well-being seems to be one of the solutions to the tragedy of the commons. 

Mr. Hardin argues, however, that this apparent solution will never work.  Elaborating on the “Pathogenic Effects of Conscience”, he argues that “appealing to conscious creates a double-bind because people are asked to behave in a way that benefits the collective whole, but condemns them as simpletons who lose out while everybody else ignores their conscious and exploits the use of the commons.”4  In other words, if others are over-fishing or polluting, then why shouldn’t I?

“We are locked into a system of ‘fouling our own nest,’ so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free enterprisers."5

Mr. Hardin was right to claim that people will not change their behavior through simple appeals to their conscious.  However, what Mr. Hardin did not comprehend is that people will change their behavior once they see how mutualism characterizes the relationship between the individual and the collectivity. In this light, the only benefit for the individual is that which provides maximum benefit for the collectivity. 

The philosophical foundation of this concept does not come from any political, economic or technical strand of thought.  Rather it originates in a deceptively simple phrase:
"O people of the world, ye are all the fruit of one tree and the leaves of one branch. Walk with perfect charity, concord, affection, and agreement.”6
Implications of this statement are profound:

The bedrock of a strategy that can engage the world's population in assuming responsibility for its collective destiny must be the consciousness of the oneness of humankind. … In a letter addressed to Queen Victoria over a century ago, and employing an analogy that points to the one model holding convincing promise for the organization of a planetary society, Bahá'u'lláh compared the world to the human body. There is, indeed, no other model in phenomenal existence to which we can reasonably look. Human society is composed not of a mass of merely differentiated cells but of associations of individuals, each one of whom is endowed with intelligence and will; nevertheless, the modes of operation that characterize man's biological nature illustrate fundamental principles of existence. Chief among these is that of unity in diversity. Paradoxically, it is precisely the wholeness and complexity of the order constituting the human body -- and the perfect integration into it of the body's cells -- that permit the full realization of the distinctive capacities inherent in each of these component elements. No cell lives apart from the body, whether in contributing to its functioning or in deriving its share from the well-being of the whole. The physical well-being thus achieved finds its purpose in making possible the expression of human consciousness; that is to say, the purpose of biological development transcends the mere existence of the body and its parts.7

Human consciousness can only be expressed as a result of collective social harmony, not through empty appeals to a higher good. Freedom for a cell in a healthy human body has quite a different meaning than it does for somebody who considers overfishing or polluting rational behavior.  Freedom in a commons provides benefits for a collectivity working only within this context.

Public Administration

Because appeals to individual conscious aimed at changing people’s behavior have largely failed due to the lack of a proper philosophical foundation, it has been widely assumed that “the tragedy of the commons as a cesspool must be prevented by different means, by coercive laws or taxing devices that make it cheaper for the polluter to treat his pollutants than to discharge them untreated.”8 Although this may be true in principal within nations able to legislate and enforce rule of law, it has proven false when dealing with climate change and other global issues basically because no effective form of international governance is in place.

Relative failure at the Copenhagen negotiations will directly lead to intolerable human suffering for far too many of the world’s citizens.  The fact that the present structure of international law is incapable of preventing such suffering is proof sufficient of its obsoleteness.  The current international political structure represents “but a passing phase in the process of human evolution -- a social evolution ‘that has had its earliest beginnings in the birth of family life, its subsequent development in the achievement of tribal solidarity, leading in turn to the constitution of the city-state, and expanding later into the institution of independent and sovereign nations.’" Increasingly frequent attempts at tackling global issues have caused a partial elimination of the national sovereignty of States and “accordingly, humankind appears to be moving towards the establishment of a world commonwealth consisting of: (a) a true world legislature; (b) a binding world tribunal; (c) an effective world executive.”9

Humankind is at present living at a special time -- a time of the incubation of a world commonwealth that has as its main purpose the safeguarding of the well-being of all humankind. Such a world commonwealth represents the next step in the evolution of civilization in general, and of international law in particular.10

“The formation of a future commonwealth will, first of all, require a profound consciousness of the indisputable interdependence of all the nations of the world and the oneness of humankind. Subsequently, a strong, universal animus will be required to act upon this consciousness in order to bring humanity to its next evolutionary stage.”11 The struggle to prevent further global warming, and mitigate its current effects provide a golden opportunity to deepen our understanding of the oneness of humankind and activate this universal animus.

The principle of the oneness of humankind calls for no less than the reconstruction ... of the whole civilized world and the recognition of the concept of world citizenship. This pivotal principle does not, however, ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnic origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race. It insists upon the subordination of national impulses and interests to the imperative claims of a unified world ... Its watchword is unity in diversity.12


“Because the relationship between the individual and society is a reciprocal one, the transformation now required [to properly deal with global issues] must occur simultaneously within human consciousness and the structure of social institutions. It is in the opportunities afforded by this twofold process of change that a strategy of global development will find its purpose. At this crucial stage of history, that purpose must be to establish enduring foundations on which planetary civilization can gradually take shape.”13

"Only through the dawning consciousness that they constitute a single people will the inhabitants of the planet be enabled to turn away from the patterns of conflict that have dominated social organization in the past and begin to learn the ways of collaboration and conciliation. 'The well-being of mankind,' Bahá'u'lláh writes, 'its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.'"14

In this way, freedom in a commons does not have to bring ruin to all.  In fact, properly exercising freedom as would a cell within a healthy body, for a commons that is administered as patrimony of the entire human race, should prevent further tragedy from taking place.
1. NPR story "Climate Change is Victim of 'Tragedy of the Commons'
2. The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Abdu'l-Baha, A Traveller's Narrative, p. 42, quoting Baha'u'llah
7. Baha'i International Community, 1995 Mar 03, The Prosperity of Humankind
8. The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin
9. Baha'i International Community, 1990 Feb 27, Protection of Minorities

10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Baha'i International Community, 1995 Mar 03, The Prosperity of Humankind
14. Ibid.