“The Tragedy of the Commons,” written by Garrett Hardin in 1968, describes how the world’s population increases without enough food to support the increase. Hardin argues that the world population in the next 50 years is expected to double, which will be a major problem since most resources humans depend on, such as clean water, oil, land, and minerals continue to deplete and be limited to the population. Therefore, according to Hardin, failure to curb population growth will result in resource scarcity, making life sustainability impossible. This study provides a preview of Hardin’s The Tragedy of the Commons offering the summary, critique, and application of the information in the text regarding how population growth can be curbed and the reasons for doing so.
In the essay “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin argues that the earth resources are being depleted by overpopulation. In the essay, Hardin warns that humans will face a hard time to survive in the future without probable countermeasures being put in place. Hardin’s warning reflects the Thomas Robert Malthus observation of 1798 that the rate of population growth outpaces the production food, which might lead to widespread starvation. Although many arguments have since challenged Malthus’s perspective, his observation has come true in some parts of the world, which have experienced famine. Some individuals against Malthus’s theory argued that technological innovations have played and continue to play a significant role in preventing starvation through advanced agricultural techniques. The debunkers provide that despite the population doubling, technological advances have been able to improve life quality across the globe. However, Hardin in “The Tragedy of the Commons” refutes the faith placed in technology as a solution for population problems. In the essay’s opening, Hardin indicates two superpowers that extend their power and protection of their people by building more missiles. Hardin uses the indication as an example of situations that new technology cannot solve and argues that instead, the new technology is being used to escalate the condition to a deadly extent. Hardin provides that new technology can only act as a short-term solution, and in fact, it will be used to support population increase that will drain the additional resources.
What Shall We Maximize?
Hardin believes that to achieve the solution, individuals have to assume that the world’s resources are finite and reject the colonization planet other as an alternative for the solution. He rejects the belief that the resources available on earth can support more people, through the argument of difference that exists between optimum and maximum population. According to Hardin, the maximum population involves having as many people on earth as possible while the optimum population means a quality level of life. Therefore, he provides that using the maximum population concept will result in fewer nutritional and natural resources per individual.
The tragedy of Freedom in a Commons
There is a high possibility of dire consequences when there is a limited resource shared with a population. Hardin provides that unless there are limits to guide how people use the resources, they will end up depleting the resources. To illustrate this concept, Hardin cites William Forster Lloyd’s essay of 1833. In the essay, a number of herders graze their cattle on a fertile community pasture, where each herder has to keep a smaller number of cattle on the land to preserve the pasture. However, after some time, each herder starts to graze a few more cattle with the consideration of the benefits they will gain. Eventually, the cattle competing for pasture overrun it, causing the grass to deplete and soil to erode. Hardin uses the essay to demonstrate the tragedy of commons, where lack of limits to use results to individuals to take advantage of resources being shared until it depletes.
Hardin considers various tragedies in the modern world conducted by commons that directly occur due to overpopulation. Some of the tragedies include oceans being overfished by maritime countries, causing the extinction of species. The environmental degradation and potential life destruction caused by industries without concern of the commons. Industries pollute water and air by releasing toxic chemicals, sewage, fumes, and heat uncontrollably.
How to Legislate Temperance?
Hardin argues that modern society’s moral concepts are mostly based on ancient ethics that take context into account, causing them to be poorly suited to contemporary society. He describes two kinds of laws, with the first being statutory laws which are passed by the legislature and the administrative laws that act as regulations for enforcing statutory laws. He proposes the use of administrative laws as they are more suitable for regulating temperance.
Freedom to Breed Is Intolerable
Hardin believes that human breeding should be restrained by refuting the belief that human breading is a right, which will result in overpopulation.
The solutions that Hardin proposes in the essay that should be adopted to resolve the population problem include implementing real sanctions on certain activities. He also proposes mutual coercion to be used to change people’s attitudes and behaviors. Mutual coercion provides individuals with the option of adhering to social agreements or sanctions.
Hardin’s debunks provided various critiques regarding his concepts. Elinor Ostrom demonstrates that it is not difficult to solve the tragedy of the commons, as stated by Hardin. According to Ostrom, locals have often developed solutions to problems facing them, and Hardin’s non-local suggestion means that the solution cannot be applied (Axelrod, 1984). Hardin’s theory is also criticized as it imposes strict management of common goods to the government, which means private property might be restricted as public property expands, causing an imbalance in the society. Others argue that Hardin, in his essay was criticizing “unmanaged commons” and tend to favor a “managed commons” by thinking that “managed commons” was a contradiction in terms (Anukwonke, 2015). Therefore, Hardin’s theory might only be justifiable under low-population density conditions. Population growth has resulted in abandoning the commons in various aspects. Therefore, Hardin’s idea of avoiding the “tragedy of the commons” can only be achieved by abandoning the commons.
Application in Science
Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” can be applied to environmental issues and how to sustain the environment’s resources. The essay provides the dilemma that faces the management of resources in modern society, including water, non-renewable energy, forest, and fish. Varieties of situations that exemplify “the tragedy of the commons” in society today include overfishing, deforestation, and negative externalities of driving, such as carbon emissions and air pollution. With the use of Hardin’s essay, various planet Earth ecology problems can be determined that require urgent solutions.
“The Tragedy of the Commons” highlights the need for social change and how it is possible. The text traces how humans, since the past, have relinquished certain liberties and applied coercion for avoiding the tragedy of the commons. Although humans have been applying a variety of solutions to protect resources, Harbin believes that agreements should be put in place to protect resources.
Anukwonke, C. (2015). The Concept of Tragedy of the Commons: Issues and Applications. ResearchGate. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4977.9362
Axelrod, R. (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-02121-2.
Hardin, G. (1968). The Tragedy of the Commons. Science, Vol. 162, Iss. 3859, pp. 1243-1248. doi: 10.1126/science.162.3859.1243