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."
Walking into any “court” of late one might have a distinct impression that one has walked into a monarch's domain. The rule of law only applies at the discretion of the monarch. And that would be the judge sitting in that particular court.
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