If I waste water on my lawn I suffer the consequence of a higher water bill. That is personal waste in which the infraction and recompense are matched to the one responsible. If my poor diet gives me Type II diabetes, then the costs of my errors are born by America’s taxpayers through Medicare making me a “free rider,” on society--the theme of this column.

If I waste water on my lawn I suffer the consequence of a higher water bill. That is personal waste in which the infraction and recompense are matched to the one responsible. If my poor diet gives me Type II diabetes, then the costs of my errors are born by America’s taxpayers through Medicare making me a “free rider,” on society--the theme of this column.

Hurricanes are more severe now because global warming has warmed the atmosphere giving it greater moisture-carrying capacity which makes hurricanes more devastating. Hence, we who use power electricity produced by fossil fuels [oil, coal] and who drive cars are collectively responsible for the greater severity of hurricanes.

Some individual behavior having public consequences is beneficial to the public e.g., e.g., Billy Graham sermons, MLK actions, etc. Conversely, some individual actions have detrimental consequences for society making them immoral e.g., terrorist’s actions. Here I focus on individual actions that in the aggregate are harmful to the public and thus collectively immoral by shifting an individual’s costs to society. My maternal grandfather worked as a stillman in the Deep Rock refinery in Cushing about 1920 that polluted the soil there leaving taxpayers to pay for the Superfund to clean it up.

It’s hard to assign responsibility and assess costs to past waste. When politicians do this they label it “IBGYBG e.g., I be gone, you be gone.” “When sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.”[Eccl.8:11] The folks and firms that left piles of lead and zinc tailings that destroyed Pitcher, Oklahoma shifted the costs of their pollution to taxpayers.

In the beginning, God made the earth and created man. He gave man the authority and responsibility to “subdue or rule over the earth,….and to take care of it.” We were given responsibility to “take care of the earth.” [Genesis 1-2] An individual’s contribution to large manmade disasters isn’t calculable. As a polluter, should I pray or pay for forgiveness of one-billionth of a collective sin?!

For individuals to not shift the costs of their personal profligacy to the public requires placing society’s interests ahead of their own which is hard in a divided nation.*

Bishop, Bill, The Big Sort, NY: Houghton-Mifflin,

Petrecca, Laura, Harmony gives way to a great divide, USA Today, Sept. 11, 2017.