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Practical Spirituality That Heals
World Religions Conference
November 2, 2002
Let's begin by defining sustainability. It can mean different things
to different people. I am thinking of it as the ability of a resource
or an ecosystem to provide services today without losing the ability
to provide those same services for future generations. We could
be talking about soil, a forest, a stream, the ocean, or a farmer's
field. Today we are confronted with enormous waste and exploitation
of our planet's resources, often without regard to the future. So
this is a very important topic to consider prayerfully.
First let's play a game called "Tragedy of the Commons"
so we can find out for ourselves how sustainable use works. You
will develop strategies for harvesting a common resource with mutual
benefit. We'll get in groups of 4. Each group gets 16 peanuts. The
tragedy of the commons dilemma is based on a historical practice
in England where a town pasture, or commons, was open to everyone
with livestock to graze. Over time, it was in the best interest
of an individual to graze as much livestock as possible to get the
most profit, even though the shared resource, or commons, was eventually
destroyed and could no longer benefit anyone. The benefits of overuse
go to individuals, but the loss of a common resource is shared by
We will take turns "harvesting" in four 20 second rounds.
We will pretend this common is a rainforest. The peanuts will represent
resources from the forest. The object is to take as many peanuts
as you can without destroying the rainforest. Four peanuts are worth
one imaginary dollar. The more you harvest, the more you receive.
But for each peanut remaining in the "common" at the end
of the 20 second harvest a new peanut will be added. If four are
left, four will be added. The total number can never exceed 16 because
that is carrying capacity for this forest. Each person has 20 seconds
to harvest some, none or all of the peanuts. Keep track of how many
peanuts each one in the group harvests each period.
At the end we will find out which individual and which group got
the most points. We'll ask why peanuts are replaced only if some
are left. This models natural reproduction. What was the best strategy
for harvesting from a common resource? (We will discover that harvesting
8 peanuts each round is the best strategy because we can replace
8 and keep a constant replenishment forever. That is sustainability!!
You will probably discover that the two biggest problems in gaining
a sustainable solution are the overcoming of greed and blame.)