Though currently on holiday (kitesurfing – or rather flushing copious amounts of water up my nose) it is difficult to switch off my thoughts.
We’re staying at a hotel ten minutes walk down the beach from the kitesurfing center that we’re using (a substantial way in 35 degrees of heat). The beach by the center is perfect (hot) smooth sand. At our hotel the beach is also lovely (though less frequented by us). But in between the two places, in no-man’s land, the beach resembles a rubbish dump.
Two places, both very proud of their beach, are quite happy to let the stretch between them pile up with debris. Why? Because it’s not their beach. I guess it just goes to show that sometimes coarses’ theorum (of ownership being the way to solve externalities such as rubbish) seems to work. If someone owned the beach in between the hotel and the center, then they would probably clean it up.
Or would they? Just because someone owns something it doesn’t mean that they will have the means or the inclination to look after it. Surely then the problem starts much further up with the people on the boats or upwind who throw their rubbish overboard. But the whole concept of ‘rubbish’ is perhaps the culprit. We buy something that we want and with it comes other things (packaging, a carrier bag) that we only want temporarily. And perhaps it’s this temporariness that causes the eventual problem of a stinking beach full of rubbish. If people didn’t take such a short term view, then maybe we wouldn’t throw things away so thoughtlessly. But this is an attitude that is difficult to combat and I don’t know how you go about changing these attitudes except by increasing the price of packaging and such like. And the price of oil may already be doing this whether we like it or not.