Friday, November 7, 2014

Students learn resources management through Commons Game

Students in Natural Resources Management 101 play a game every fall. The sessions are more than fun and entertaining; rather the game is a way for students to experience the frustrations and dilemmas associated with managing "common resources."

NRM 101 students play the Commons Game.
Associate Professor Susan Todd has incorporated the game into this course for years because it's a great way to impart an important message to students in a memorable way.

A commons is a resource whose ownership is shared by several people, such as public rangeland, forests, fisheries, water, and air. "Economists say that when everybody shares ownership of a resource, everyone has access to its benefits but no one wants to be the first to incur the costs of maintenance," Todd said.

“Why should I plant trees here when someone else may be the one to harvest them? Why should I
remain within the sustained yield of fish, when Jane over harvests and makes a huge profit? Why should I be the first country to lower carbon emissions, when others are still using them and contributing to global warming?"

The “Tragedy of the Commons,” a term coined by Garrett Hardin in an article of the same name,
is essentially that the benefits of the resource are shared by everyone, but unless there are some
regulations, the costs of maintaining the resource, if maintenance is done at all, are born by a few.

The Commons Game simulates an unregulated commercial fishing industry. "Ask yourselves what the analogy would be for other resources, such as timber, air or water," Todd said.

"You are fishing for pollock in the Big Open Sea and there is great demand for your harvest," she announced. "There are lots of boats out here, a low chance that you’ll be caught if you catch more than your quota and a good chance that you’ll make big profits if you do."

Students are divided into groups of about 10 students, with each group representing a different country. Each round is a fishing season, with 60 rounds played. Students keep track of revenues and costs with the objective being to make as much money as possible, or as much as participants can live with in good conscience. While lively discussions, shouts and laughter ensue, several times everyone stops what they are doing for two-minute summits, when new rules are created.

Emmie Van Wyhe learned from the exercise that managing resources is extremely  hard. "People did what was best for them," she said. "We all learned from it."

Zane Campise-Hampton said he noticed it's easy to make maximum profits by being selfish. "My group was bad," he said. "I earned over a million dollars. Some people sandbag the whole group, which makes progress impossible."

Calum Morris Macintyre was surprised at how well his group worked together. "If everyone cooperates they all benefit," he said. "If two don't, it descends into chaos quickly. It would be hard to picture all the problems without experiencing the game."

 Zach Robinson said, "If you're into conservation you're going to gain more profits and have more commons."

Lively discussions ensued during the Commons Game.

No comments: