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By Garrett Hardin
The concept of the Tragedy of the Commons is extremely important for understanding the degradation of our environment. The concept was clearly expressed for the first time by Garrett Hardin in his now famous article in Science in 1968, which is "widely accepted as a fundamental contribution to ecology, population theory, economics and political science." Hardin: University of California Santa Barbara. The Basic Idea If a resource is held in common for use by all, then ultimately that resource will be destroyed. "Freedom in a common brings ruin to all." To avoid the ultimate destruction, we must change our human values and ideas of morality.
Garrett rephrased his idea in 1985:
As a result of discussions carried out during the past decade I now suggest a better wording of the central idea: Under conditions of overpopulation, freedom in an unmanaged commons brings ruin to all. From Hardin (1985) An Ecolate View of the Human Predicament.
Examples of Common Resources
Some History The concept that air, water, and fish are held in common for use by all was first codified into law by the Romans. In 535 AD, under the direction of Tribonian, the Corpus Iurus Civilis [Body of Civil Law] was issued in three parts, in Latin, at the order of the Emperor Justinian: the Codex Justinianus, the Digest, or Pandects, and the Institutes. The Codex Justinianus (issued in 529 AD) compiled all of the extant (in Justinian's time) imperial constitutions from the time of Hadrian. It used both the Codex Theodosianus and private collections such as the Codex Gregorianus and Codex Hermogenianus. From: The "Codex Justinianus" Medieval Sourcebook: The Institutes, 535 CE. Here is the pertinent text:
Codex Justinianus (529) (Justinian Code), Book II, Part III. The Division of Things: 1. By the law of nature these things are common to mankind---the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea. No one, therefore, is forbidden to approach the seashore, provided that he respects habitationes, monuments, and buildings which are not, like the sea, subject only to the law of nations. 2. All rivers and ports are public; hence the right of fishing in a port, or in rivers, is common to all men. 3. The seashore extends as far as the greatest winter flood runs up. ... 5. The public use of the seashore, too, is part of the law of nations, as is that of the sea itself; and, therefore, any person is at liberty to place on it a cottage, to which he may retreat, or to dry his nets there, and haul them from the sea; for the shores may be said to be the property of no man, but are subject to the same law as the sea itself, and the sand or ground beneath it. ... 12. Wild beasts, birds, fish and all animals, which live either in the sea, the air, or the earth, so soon as they are taken by anyone, immediately become by the law of nations the property of the captor; for natural reason gives to the first occupant that which had no previous owner. And it is immaterial whether a man takes wild beasts or birds upon his own ground, or on that of another. Of course any one who enters the ground of another for the sake of hunting or fowling, may be prohibited by the proprietor, if he perceives his intention of entering. From: The "Codex Justinianus" Medieval Sourcebook: The Institutes, 535 CE.
A General Statement of the Tragedy of the Commons The philosopher Herschel Elliott states that there are four general premises that entail the tragedy of the commons:
From A General Statement of Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons by Herschel Elliott. Some Consequences The large and rapid increase in population since the beginning of the anthropocene has altered the global commons. Will our atmosphere, rivers, lands, and ocean ultimately be destroyed because they are held in common for use by all? Will we place ever stronger restrictions on their use? Or will we limit the population of the world?
Its message is, I think, still true today. Individualism is cherished because it produces freedom, but the gift is conditional: The more the population exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment, the more freedoms must be given up. As cities grow, the freedom to park is restricted by the number of parking meters or fee-charging garages. Traffic is rigidly controlled. On the global scale, nations are abandoning not only the freedom of the seas, but the freedom of the atmosphere, which acts as a common sink for aerial garbage. Yet to come are many other restrictions as the world's population continues to grow. – Hardin (1998): Extensions of "The Tragedy of the Commons."
Jared Diamond in his book Collapse describes in detail the collapse of civilizations that failed to solve the problem of the Tragedy of the Commons. He writes of Pitcairn and Henderson Islands in the Pacific (page 120):
Many centuries ago, immigrants came to a fertile land blessed with apparently inexhaustible resources. While the land lacked a few raw materials useful for industry, those materials were readily obtained by overseas trade with poorer lands that happened to have deposits of them. For a time, all the lands prospered, and their populations multiplied. But the population of that rich land eventually multiplied beyond the numbers that even its abundant resources could support. As its forests were felled and its soils eroded, its agricultural productivity was no longer sufficient to generate export surpluses, build ships, or even to nourish its own population. With that decline of trade, shortages of the imported raw materials developed. Civil war spread, as established political institutions were overthrown by a kaleidoscopically changing succession of local military leaders. The starving populace of the rich land survived by turning to cannibalism. Their former overseas trade partners met an even worse fate: deprived of the imports on which they had depended, they in turn ravaged their own environment until no one was left alive.
Solutions Tragedy is not inevitable. Jared Diamond described how some societies avoided tragedy, at least locally. The people of Tikopia, Japan, and the New Guinea highlands saved their forests and the agrarian economy which depended on forests. All limited their population to what could be sustained by their economy. There Is No Technical Solution Hardin points out that the Tragedy of the Commons is an example of the class of problems with no technical solution, where:
A technical solution may be defined as 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 or ideas of morality. Hardin (1968).
We Must Change Our Values: Mutual Coercion Therefore, any solution requires that we, as a society, change our values of morality. For example, we may decide that unlimited use of air is no longer morally acceptable. Hardin states one solution is "Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon." We, as a society, agree that some actions are not allowed (the mutual agreement), and that violations of the agreement leads to fines or prison terms (the Coercion). Thus, we have some restrictions on what can be put into the air. The US Environmental Protection Agency regulates the amount of pollutants that can be released into the air. Failure to comply with the regulations leads to fines or prison sentences. Hawaiian Islanders protected their environment and fisheries for a thousand years by a unique system of local ownership extending from the sea to the headwaters of streams feeding into the sea. Violations of the rules (taboos) could lead to the death penalty. This was "mutual coercion mutually agreed upon" in the extreme.
More General Solutions
In addition, morals or ethics can lead to changes in use of the resource. How can this be done? Ostrom et al (1999) provide a possible answer.
"Solving [commons] problems involves two distinct elements:
Both changes are needed. For example, access to the north Pacific halibut fishery was not restricted before the recent introduction of individual transferable quotas and catch limits protected the resource for decades. But the enormous competition to catch a large share of the resource before others did resulted in economic waste, danger to the fishers, and reduced quality of fish to consumers. Limiting access alone can fail if the resource users compete for shares, and the resource can become depleted unless incentives or regulations prevent overexploitation." From Ostrom et al (1999), "Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges."
Restricting access ultimately involves limiting population, especially when the common being accesses is a global system.
Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to fail or Succeed, Viking. Hardin, Garret. (1969) "The Tragedy of the Commons." Science. 162: 1243-8. Hardin, G. (1998). "ESSAYS ON SCIENCE AND SOCIETY: Extensions of "The Tragedy of the Commons." Science 280 (5364): 682-683. Ostrom, E., J. Burger, et al. (1999). Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges. Science 284 (5412): 278-282.
Until April 5, 2013 the 1984 American science fiction-horror film, directed by John Carpenter could be streamed or downloaded from a number of websites. They Live (Full movie)" was in the playlist below created by Buddy Huggins.
These days you can’t swing a cat or open your mailbox without being hit by a flood of emails about the memorials, tributes, condolences, and donation sites for the victims of these tragedies that the conspiracy theorists say were created -- not right after the event, but right before the event.
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