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Certainly, there are not enough people interested in doing that to allow real change in a community where smog levels are concerned (Carle, 2006). Since smog is mostly made by cars and trucks, a much-reduced number of these vehicles would be required - and asking a commuter to give up his or her car is asking a lot. Still, there are options. Hardin (1968) talked of the need for a wide-scale adjustment to morality. This would be the easiest and best solution: everyone just wakes up one day in a collective mood to "do the right thing," and then they actually do it from that day forward, happily and without any wavering.
That might sound like utopia, but it is also completely unrealistic. The people in California and in Central Valley have absolutely no interest as a collective group in doing things this way. Their group morality is mostly set where it is, and it is not going to change simply because it would easier on their lungs and better for the planet. With that in mind, there are only a few, very limited other ways to provide solutions. One of those ways would be through a crack down on how much people can drive (Jacobs & Kelly, 2008; Miller, 2002; Schwartz Cowan, 1997). This would, however, turn the area into a police state - a situation that would cause many people to fight back and to vigorously defend the rights that people were attempting to take from them. Fewer cars and trucks on the road and fewer miles driven would, over time, reduce the level of smog in the area, but it would come at the cost of a lot of people who were forced to give up their individual interests. A solution that solves one problem but that causes other serious issues within that same population is no real solution at all, and should be avoided.
Another possible solution is to make vehicles that do not produce any kind of pollution (Schwartz Cowan, 1997). If these can be created, there is a possibility that the people of California and Central Valley would be able to continue to drive wherever and whenever they liked while still helping the planet - the commons - to remain healthy and in balance. There is a catch, though. Actually, there are two catches. These vehicles would have to be built to do the same things and meet the same standards as current vehicles, and people would have to buy them. Right now there are "alternative" cars, but they cannot go far just yet without using fuel. When cars can go hundreds of miles on electricity or battery power, that will be a real advancement and a step in the right direction for California's pollution problem. Additionally, having these cars available does not mean that they will be purchased. Not everyone wants that type of car, and right now they are more expensive than their gasoline-using counterparts. The individual interests of having a good, fast, reliable car that can be purchased relatively inexpensively is going to severely outweigh the collective interest of having a smog free area (Jacobs & Kelly, 2008).
There are no easy solutions to the problems faced by California, and Central Valley is only one of the places where smog is a serious issue about which nothing is being done. Since vehicles on the road are not the only smog producers, solutions that would work properly would have to incorporate business and factories, as well, along with people who heat their homes with anything that can produce smog, such as fireplaces and propane or heating oil. Such a large scale endeavor would be quite difficult, and would also run into many of the issues that Hardin (1968) pointed out. In other words, people simply do not want to make changes and do what is difficult. They want to do what will benefit them and not have to make sacrifices. As a whole, people are selfish and the collective interest does not matter to them as much as one would hope it would. Until people start seeing themselves and their world differently, and until they realize the finiteness of the resources they have, nothing will change.
One can attempt to impress upon people the seriousness of the issue, but most people simply will ignore that and focus on the kinds of things that matter to them. The collective interest often gets pushed to the side in the wake of individuals and their "needs" that are actually only wants. If the individuals in California and Central Valley would all realize this, they could make changes that would lower the level of smog in their community. Smog is made up of many dangerous particles, and it has been shown that people who live and work where the air is not as clean have a higher chance of having heart attacks, strokes, cancers, and other problems (Bell & Davis, 2004; Carle, 2006; Miller, 2002). While people know this on a logical level, they seem to follow the mentality that those things only happen to other people.
By looking at things from that standpoint, they only reinforce the idea that the individual interests are more important than the interests that are collective in nature. Each and every person would have to change his or her ways in order for the smog issues to be corrected, and then the changes would have to be permanent. While it is very important to reduce the level of smog and to understand that the planet has finite resources (like clean air) that are being damaged, there is not enough honest concern from a large enough number of citizens for change to take place. The story of the commons, eventually, will end in tragedy.
Bell, Michelle L. & Davis, D.L. (2004). A retrospective assessment of mortality from the London smog episode of 1959: The role of influenza and pollution. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112(1): 6 -- 8.
Carle, D. (2006). Introduction to the air in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162: 143-148.
Jacobs, C. & Kelly, W.J. (2008). Smogtown, the lung-burning history of…[continue]
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