“The house is on fire” is a faulty analogy in that it fails to incorporate the willing dismissal of an inevitable, destructive end. Undoubtedly, the end will come, as ends always do, and it will be destructive. But we are not nearing the end yet. The reality is that we still have time and resources to both avoid “the end” and create a sustainable solution.
A house that is on fire poses immediate threats to the safety of those inside. Falling scraps of wood and insufficient oxygen are two examples of how a house on fire is immediately dangerous. As I just said, we are not in immediate danger so the house analogy is insufficient.
Sadly, this duality of ignorance and lack of action is the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin of our world and its resources. Until it is the case that we both 1) realize the imminent doom of our world, and 2) still have time to change it, we are sure to perish.
Coming up with an appropriate analogy for this scenario is difficult because of this characteristic of the situation. The earth, as a whole, is a public good. Though it has been separated into various regions and countries, the earth is shared. It is also excludable. This means that by using a part of it, it becomes less valuable as a whole. For example, if I take a bite of an apple, the apple is less valuable to anyone else who is interested in it. These two combined cause the “tragedy of the commons” phenomena.
The most appropriate analogy incorporates the “tragedy of the commons” characteristic – recognizing that the “house” is not owned, it’s not on fire yet, but we are the reason it will be.
Imagine a bike were able to be used by a house full of people. You have rights to the bike to use it any time you want for a tiny fee of 1 cent. The bike is used frequently and the house gets all of their chores done because of it. However, the house of people also suspects that there are a limited number of rides before the frame cracks – a frame that is no longer produced. Once the frame cracks, no one gets to use it, yet no one offers to pay for an alternative because the 1 cent payed to ride the bike is much cheaper than paying for any alternative.
The biggest problem is once the bike breaks, the house has no transportation to purchase another means of transportation. Thus, the house uses the bike even more than they had before because they fear it will soon break. No one in the house pays to repair the bike and once it is gone, there will be no means to replace it.