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December 05, 2016
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Competing values

Finally, there are the environmentalists, who are leery to rely on people to do the right thing voluntarily to protect precious natural resources. In “The Tragedy of the Commons,” a classic 1968 essay that helped lay the groundwork for the environmental movement, ecologist Garrett Hardin theorizes that people acting independently in furtherance of their own self interests are unlikely to show restraint for how they use the commons, i.e. lands held in common for all to use. Even as the commons begin to degrade through overuse, Hardin argues, it is human nature to exploit the commons, which eventually, tragically will be destroyed.

So here is the dilemma: the Lackawaxen River is a public resource that is free and open to all to use without limit, including Jones. Any number of outdoor enthusiasts may launch their boats on the river; is Jones different because he wishes to launch many boats? Surely he values the river and its beauty as much as anyone and one assumes his own self-interest is in preserving and protecting it.

But there are other questions, too. Is the Lackawaxen an inexhaustible resource? Will the proliferation of many more boats put its natural beauty at risk and disturb the very peace and quiet that draws all kinds of people to enjoy it? What will it take to have a sustainable river not only for now, but also for future generations?

In the end, weighing competing values is always difficult. People tend to take sides and dig in based on strongly held, preconceived ideas. But it is possible to pursue a process that seeks mutually satisfactory solutions through open discussion, where people come to the table with an open mind and willingness to listen.

In the case of the old Threshman property, can environmentalists, neighbors, interested fishermen, other stakeholders and Jones hold a civil conversation seeking an end solution that all of them surely want, namely preserving the natural beauty of the Lackawaxen River? Or does everybody just want to fight about it?

We encourage the conversation.