Thursday, December 17, 2009

A cautionary tale

Imagine 100 families owning property around a lake. Five of them are mega-rich and have enormous mansions and estates while the rest have very little and some have nothing but the land they live on. For years, the owners of the mansion had enormous gardens where they grew everything they needed and even enough to sell to others. The plants in the garden were difficult to grow and took years to establish themselves but once they were established they were amazingly productive.

The secret to their successful gardens was a rare fertilizer that was found on the land of one of the families. They quickly also became rich selling the fertilizer to the wealthy families. These gardens were so successful that all the families living around the lake wanted to grow one and be rich just like those living in the mansions. Some started their own while others were desperately trying to get the means to buy the seeds, clear the land, and of course buy the amazing fertilizer that had made gardens so successful.

Only later did the community discover that the fertilizer was actually poisoning the water in the lake. Local scientists who studied the lake exhaustively for years determined that soon the water would be undrinkable and the fish (which was the sole food source for many who lived around the lake) would all be dead unless the gardens could be grown without the use of the dreaded fertilizer. Everyone knew that gardens could be grown without the fertilizer but no one really knew how to do it.

What did the community do about it? People from all the families around the lake sent someone to the town hall only to end up arguing incessantly for days. Finally, they all came to an agreement. The rich families would start reducing their use of the fertilizer immediately with the promise that they would stop by the end of the year. The families who had just invested all their savings in planting a garden for the first time that year were allowed to continue using the fertilizer only so that their gardens could get established with the understanding that they would stop as soon as they could. The poor families who didn't have gardens or fertilizer asked the rich families if they could help them learn how to start their own gardens without using the dreaded fertilizer.

Agreed, they all went back and told the rest of their families how they were going to fix the lake so that the water would not be poisoned and the fish wouldn't die. Unfortunately, the richest family was not at all impressed with the agreement and decided that they wanted no part of it because they were afraid the garden would never be the same without the fertilizer they had used to grow the plants generations ago.

Everyone else decided to go through with the agreed upon plan but the scientists reported that the lake water was still being poisoned and if they could not decide on some way to stop most of the fertilizer from getting into the water, the lake was doomed. In fact, based on their recent observations, the water was already killing the fish in one part of the lake where most of the poor families lived. Sobered by this news, all the families once again sent someone to the town hall to solve the problem once and for all.

The poor families were very vocal and spoke out because they already were getting sick from the poison. The family that owned the fertilizer mine tried to explain that the best way to solve the problem was to develop a way to capture all the fertilizer not used by the plants and bury it deep underground where it would not get into the lake water. Some families argued that the easiest way to solve the problem in the short term was for everyone to only use exactly the amounts of fertilizer the plants need instead of just spreading it all around.

But the biggest disagreement was between the richest family (who insisted that everyone, not just the rich families stop using the fertilizer immediately) and the family that had a huge garden they had recently planted (who refused to stop using the fertilizer because they were afraid their plants were not well enough established yet and would die). As they continued to disagree the poorest families plead that this was a life and death issue for them. The lake continued to get worse and was, according to the scientists, quickly approaching the point where it could not be fixed without permanent damage. But the two families had a long and complicated past where trust was difficult to come by.

You write the end...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.