Politics 4D - Environment 'Tragedy of the Commons'

The Tragedy of the Commons

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  • Created by: Abs
  • Created on: 05-05-11 20:24

The Tragedy of the Commons

Garrett Hardin (1915-2003) US Ecologist 'freedom in a commons brings ruin to all' 

. . . 'Tragedy of the Commons' (1968)

. . . creating parallels between global environmental degradation + fate of common land before introduction of enclosures.

  • If a pasture is open to all
  • everyone will put as many cattle on as they can
  • yet this will eventually end in tragedy due to the carrying capacity of the land being exceeded.

each person calculates positive benefit (one more animal) . . .

. . .will exceed negative impact on pasture

Leads to importance of  'Global Commons'/'Common Resource Pool'

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threats to Global Commons posed by:

  • overpopulation (Jonathon Porritt, 2007; Population: Boom and Bust)
  • pollution
  • resource depletion
  • habitat destruction
  • over-fishing

An unsolvable problem?

Hardin in favour of strengthened political control, restrict popluation growth, sympathy for idea of Global Government

Liberals - abolish commons by extending property rights, allowing the price mechanism to control resource usage 

However capitalism expanded, common land became privately owned, more difficult to see how privitization could be applied to the 'Global Commons'.



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Ostrom (1990) - some societies have succeeded in managing common pool resources through developing diverse, bottom up institutional arrangements

Socialists + Anarchists - reject 'Tragedy of the Commons' historical evidence says common land was successfully managed by communities (Cox 1985), argument is circular, conclusions have the assumption human nature is selfish and unchanging.  Selfishness, greed and wanton use of resources are a consequence of the system of private ownership not their cause.  Community ownership engenders respect for environment. 

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