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Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons

In: Science

Submitted By emraeh
Words 871
Pages 4
Emilee Hibshman
AP Environmental Science
09/11/15
Is “The Tragedy of the Commons” still relevant? The Tragedy of the Commons is an economic problem in which every person tries to benefit from a resource. “Commons” refers to resources that are shared, but not regulated, i.e. the atmosphere, oceans, rivers, etc. As the demand for the resource grows, and people overindulge in it, others are harmed because they do not receive enough. For example, if a village contains six families of four and one lake full of fish, if the villagers do not work together, then one family may get all of the fish while the others starve. The main focus of the Tragedy of the Commons is “supply and demand”, if the supply does not match the demand, then people go without. “The Tragedy of the Commons”, an article written by Garrett Hardin, focuses on the claim that there is no technical solution to some problems; a technical solution is one that requires “a change only in the techniques of the natural sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values of ideas of morality.” (1243). Hardin calls upon Wiesner and York because they insisted that the solution to the problem, in this case, nuclear war, was not a technical solution. This article is still relevant today, even though the data is outdated. Hardin expresses his opinions using an example. “Picture a pasture open to all. It is expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work for centuries… Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning… at this point, the incoherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy. As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain… more or less consciously, he asks, “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” (1244). What this quote says essentially is that even though what they were doing worked for so long, the herdsman seek personal gain and will thus upset the balance in order to receive the benefits they chase. Hardin then goes on to explain that the benefit of the extra animal would be the herdsman gain in income from the animal, but the negative impact would be the overgrazing caused by an extra animal. Because the negative impact is not as significant as the positive impact, the herdsman sees no reason why he should not continue to add animals. Each herdsman does this, thus bringing about the “tragedy.” The resources for the herdsman and their animals are limited, but the herds increase without limit. The resources run low and herds begin to die.
The views that Hardin expresses are still very relevant today. World population is now over seven billion. This is a difficult number for people to understand just how much that really is. Just 200 years ago, the population was less than one billion people. As population grows, resources decrease. The more people, the more the demand for food, clothes, shelter; but this becomes another issue of its own. As land is cleared for shelter, we lose space where farming is or could be done, causing a lessened food supply.
In addition, Hardin also explains the problem of individuals acting in self-interest by claiming the other members of the group using the commons do the same, for their own gain, without thinking of others. This way the resources will eventually be exhausted. Hardin argues against relying on morality as a way of monitoring commons, expressing that this favors the selfish individuals. Ultimately, Hardin says that each of us suffer from the presence of another individual, and we must limit our individual “freedoms” in order to solve the Tragedy of the Commons.
Hardin’s essay not only covers overpopulation as an issue, but pollution as well. Hardin defines pollution as putting something in the environment that does not belong there. Hardin believes that if a person is rational, independent, and is capitalistic minded, he will be a polluter. This is because he will discover that it is cheaper to discharge waste into the commons. There are two approaches that can limit this kind of action: private property and laws/taxes. People generally will not want to violate other people’s property by dumping their waste there. But it is difficult to define one’s property, especially when dumping waste into a river that runs through a property will also affect everyone downstream. Problems with defining property come with the increase of population. In conclusion, Hardin’s views expressed in the essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” are still very relevant today. The world still suffers with overpopulation, pollution, etc. due to the mere ignorance of mankind. The solutions presented are not ones that will actually resolve the issue; rather they are the lazier forms of technical solutions. Now more than ever, Hardin’s ideas should be embraced because, as we can see, from the past 40 years since he wrote this; he was absolutely correct. Humans are ignorant, and we need to embrace a very different lifestyle or we will end up ruining the commons beyond repair and possibly ruining our chances of survival as a species.

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