We Must Heal the Commons

The Tragedy of the commons, by Garrett Hardin, makes clear that environmental issues like that of the nuclear arms race are national and global security issues. Hardin places a strong emphasis on the fact that the nuclear arms race “has no technical solution.” Could this also be true about the environmental crisis as well?

The commons is a public plot of land that no one person has ownership or dominion over, but rather it is shared by every person in a community and owned by the government. This common place was not good enough for farming but was good enough for pasteurizing animals. There are many problems that arise when multiple individuals share a common space.

The main ideas of this article:
• Overpopulation: the individual impacts are small but the impacts of a group are huge and no one person is responsible.
• Over consumption: a technical solution would be to stop consumption of a certain substance. The problem is that people will find a way around it and consume that substance anyway. This leaves seeds of problems unseen.
• Economics and human behavior: The tragedy of the commons is presented as a mathematical equation. On an economic level, each individual will act to maximize his utility. For example, each individual increases his herd without limit.
• Pollution must be prevented by coercive laws or taxing devices. Pollution is a consequence of overpopulation.
• Temperance is self control or limit. This would involve an individual and collective movement that has to do with some type of morality to prohibit a certain behavior.

The commons serves as a metaphor for the planet. The commons problems of depleted natural resources, over fishing, over hunting, et cetera have resulted because no one has an economic incentive to limit their fair share. The problems that the commons caused mentioned in the main ideas above, such as over population, do not have a technical solution. Looking for the answers through science and technology will only make the situation worse. Rather the solution but be a nontechnical one and I feel the same way about our current environmental crisis. In order to improve the crisis one must look to nontechnical solutions whether that be in religion, education, government or any other area of life.

To heal the commons, we must first heal ourselves.


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