Will our beaches become an example of the Tragedy of the Commons?
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The Tragedy of the Commons

The term "Tragedy of the Commons" was coined by Garrett Hardin in a 1968 article in Science magazine. The concept, however, dates back to the days of Aristotle. Briefly, it states that a shared resource is inevitably ruined by uncontrolled use.

The metaphor that Hardin uses to explain the concept is that of a community common or park on which the town’s people bring their cows to be fed. In the back of everyone’s mind is the fact that the common is going to be ruined because the grass is going to be eaten to depletion. Still, everyone wants to get grass for their cows. No one thinks or cares about the consequences of so many cows eating the grass, and the Tragedy of the Commons occurs.

Human actions that many categorize as examples of the phenomenon include human-created air pollution; the hunting of the American buffalo to near extinction in the 1800s; the widespread abuse and destruction of rainforests and our oceans’ coral reefs; and human-induced climate change due largely to the burning of fossil fuels for energy use.

Some people believe that the Tragedy of the Commons can only be averted by making most commodities private property. But how does someone own the air or the ocean? And can either the air or ocean stay unpolluted with populations of 10 million or more in the world’s megacities? Others believe the "Tragedy of the Commons" can be avoided through laws and taxing devices which make it more costly to serve one’s self interest over the common good.

What almost everyone can agree on for now is that such vital resources need some form of control so that the world’s natural resources can be sustained and the Tragedy of the Commons can be avoided.

Last modified February 19, 2006 by Teri Eastburn.

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