Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tragedy of the Commons

Garret Hardin's argument is that the population problem has no technical solution, that to fix the problem of the finite resources we can't just "farm the seas or develop new strains of wheat." Hardin makes a very good point when he says that people are trying to avoid the consequences of overpopulation without giving up any of their luxuries. I don't think that this can be done especially if everyone lived how they wanted, sooner or later the most populated places on earth will want to industrialize, and it is not right to tell them they can't. Hardin makes a good argument that both population and good for that population cannot both be maximized. He says that for a man to live that he requires a certain number of calories. Anything he consumes after that is "work calories" work calories are defined as any kind of energy that is not required for sustaining life, such as enjoyment or passion. Hardin argues in many different ways that having a commons will eventually lead to tragedy. He uses the example of a common pasture where if the farmers would all collectivly restrain their cattle from overgrazing the field it would be enough to sustain all the farmers. But if one of the farmers would allow their cattle to overgraze then the other farmers would not have any green pasture to graze on. Due to this all of the farmers fear the pasture will be over grazed so the individual farmer maximizes his own personal gain by allowing his cattle to overgraze the field. Another great example that Hardin gives is the situation of the national parks, that are "open to all without limit." If every one can visit the parks as much as they want eventually the "values they seek will be eroded."
Hardin argues that technical solutions cannot fix the population problem because they require no change to human morality, but maybe that is some of the problem. like David Harvey he mentions the problem of welfare which in a way increases over breeding. He says that if each family was dependent on its own resources alone, that over breeding would create its own punishment, for example the children starving to death. this is a very good article, it is my favorite one I have read for this class so far.


  1. We do live in a society that believes a new technology will fix our problems. In addition, some of our luxury lifestyle mentalities make it more difficult to solve problems. People do not want to be forced to change the ways in which they live. Perhaps some don't believe anything will affect them. Hardin states "space is no escape" and that "a finite world can support only a finite population." It is not possible for both population and good for that population to both be maximized. What is the common good for people? It differs from person to person. They can't be compared because goods are incommensurable as Hardin states. No population has reached a growth of zero so it seems as though the problem will only continue and future generations may suffer to a great extent.

    The farmer example of continuously adding an animal to the herd sets a great mental picture for people. One can't have an unlimited number of animals on a limited amount of land. The same is true for our human population. It could create a tragedy. Hardin states, "Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all." People need to individually reduce their carbon footprint to help reduce future problems but the question is how to convince everyone to participate. Putting some limits on luxury lifestyles will be difficult for some to accomplish. We can't expect a new technology to take care of everything. It may, in the end, only create more complications.

  2. I agree with the statements above. As population grows the resources that this world has to offer continue to deplete. We keep on growing and harvesting the same foods for our selves such as cows for meat, we need to try something different. If farmers were to use the same fields for grazing their cows, and instead grow different types of vegetables in that field, then we would have more food for people, but sadly I dont think that will happen anytime soon. People like the little things in life that make their life easier. The more technology advances, and the more population we have, the more resources will deplete.