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The Tragedy of the Commons

In 1968 a man named Garrett Hardin wrote a magazine article called "The Tragedy of the Commons." The common that he writes about is a park with a lot of grass. Someone in the town brings his cows to the common area to eat the plentiful grass. Other town’s people start to bring their cows also. No one thinks through what will happen to the grass if it keeps being eaten. As a result, it eventually is ruined. Hardin called this the Tragedy of the Commons. It is the idea that things that are free or available to everyone can be ruined by abuse or overuse.

There are many examples of the Tragedy of the Commons that are not fictional. People often pollute the air so much that it can be unhealthy to breathe. Sometimes fish become scarce because people over fish. Coral reefs are in danger due to human actions. Also, rainforests have been cut down, which has ruined the habitat of many animals, insects, and birds and contributed to the extinction of certain plants and animals.

How can we stop the Tragedy of the Commons from occurring? Some people believe that everything should have an owner and that nothing should be free to all. But how does someone own the air or the ocean? Others believe that laws and fines will work to make it costly for people to ruin things that belong to everyone. There is certainly no easy solution.

For now, almost everyone agrees that some form of control is necessary. Without controls, we may be unable to preserve the Earth’s natural resources, like air and water. Unquestionably, this would be a tragedy with equally tragic consequences for us all.

Last modified February 19, 2006 by Teri Eastburn.

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