Rachel Crandell Sustainability 
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Practical Spirituality That Heals

World Religions Conference
Grand Rapids, Michigan
November 2, 2002

by Rachel Crandell


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 everyone.

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.)

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