Sample Article Review on Tragedy of the ‘Commons’

Tragedy of the ‘Commons’


This is a concept that was brought forward by Hardin in his article of 1968 that explains that “commons” is natural resources that is used by many people in the society. “The tragedy is the absence of regulations and authority to regulate the exploitations of such shared resources” (Vugt 72). His point is that individuals would tend to overuse the shared resources for their own selfish benefits. When this occurs the common resources are depleted and ruined therefore exposing the other members of the society to environmental problems and catastrophes. This concept is not only an ideology of environmental science but rather a society issue as it brings out understanding on how nature works and how it can be exploited cautiously for the benefit of the entire society and its inhabitants (Angus 23).

Human and society

This concept put forward by Hardin makes it possible to understand the relationships between humans and the environment. It is asserted that population increase is one aspect that has been causing problems to the environment and in such a case the commons are likely to face tragedy. The relationship between humans and the environment is that of mutual as the natural environment tries to support the humans who reciprocate by conservation of the nature endowment. This concept and idea has been considered an economic problem by other scholars who have ascertained that humans would try to reap great benefits from the natural environment to an extent of harming others. It reaches a point that the resources offered by the environment are scarce to the extent of being unavailable to other individuals. This concept is important in making individuals understand the relationship that exist between humans and the environment. This is supported by the fact that individual members of the society will tend to neglect the well-being of others to pursue individual and personal interests. For example, a farmer increasing the number of cattle that graze on the neighborhood would eventually deplete the scarce resources and thereby becoming detrimental to all.

As pointed out earlier population growth has been contributing to the tragedy of commons as it creates more demand and overstretches the available scarce resource provided by nature. It is paramount to regulate the ever-increasing number of populace so as to balance the ecosystem. The ever increasing number of people needs to be addressed since it has the potential of creating environmental impasse for the commons. Malthus brought forward a principle of population that asserted that if people reproduce at a faster rate food production will be affected in addition to exerting more pressure to the delicate ecosystem. There is therefore the need to check the number of people and employ preventive mechanisms to avert the occurrence of problems now and in the future.

In his article, Hardin points out that the future population would experience problems if not controlled. This is attributed to the fact that as the population increases environment would be degraded thus accelerating climate change and global warming (Hardin 44). He goes ahead to challenge his audience to think on how humans have practically transformed the environment through clearing vegetation for agricultural use and polluting the oceans thereby endangering the lives of the creatures living in water. As the population increase people become selfish and in the process try to find more settlement for urbanization which comes with developing land for recreation purposes, extracting natural mineral resources and hence leading to environmental degradation. The relationship of humans and environment is not now mutual since humans tend to extract and use resources more than the nature can offer leading to extinction of rare species of living things offered by the natural environment. Statistics from Save Energy Future confirms that millions of living creatures are killed every year through releasing wastes into oceans and other water bodies. The scarce marine life in oceans has been depleted through careless waste disposal posing problems to commons who feed and rely on the marine creatures like fish for their survival.

As a matter of fact human-environment relationship can be well understood when humans show great responsibility in protecting and taking care of the environment. This will entail broad measures in cautious exploitation of the natural resources to fulfill their needs and benefit fully from the natural endowed environment. Those who advocate for this notion believe that human as components of nature should focus on the romantic value and is provided by nature. This will ensure that the aesthetic nature and spiritual endowment of the natural environment is upheld and protected for the future generations. Nature that is well protected will fulfill the ecological requirements that are required by the people and the society at large and for the generations to come. Moreover, nature that is well taken care of will sustain the biological diversity of plants, animals ensuring a balance in the provisions of the natural environment. This has the potential of protecting the commons from tragedy as the basic roles of the environment are reserved and kept afloat.

Tragedy of the commons understanding of nature and society

This idea is necessary for understanding both nature and society as it will help in bringing forth significant solutions to prevent the commons from facing tragedy. These elucidations are in the form of ways and contrivances of inhibiting the adverse impacts of human behavior that the constantly-increasing population inflicts on the environment. One way would be to reduce soil and water and air pollution since they threaten the existence of all the inhabitants of the ecosystem.

In his article Hardin believe that there is no real solution to the problems of humans and the environment and that morality would help prevent future problems to the commons. One broad measure that he suggests is to try to understand the relationships and interactions of humans and establishing the end results of such interactions to protect the environment from degradations (Hardin 97).  On morality humans should be economical with items like clothes; donating used clothes to others to reduce industrial processes that are aimed at manufacturing others and hence reduce the emission of industrial gases and effluents.

Knowledge transmission is another way of sensitizing the impacts of human activities to the environment. This will entail basic components like switching off lights when not using them to save the energy, knowledge dissemination will in the process help in reducing the tampering nature of the ever-increasing number of people in the society. He went ahead to recommend “Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon” as a principle that would help save the commons from perishing in future. This would be a principle of authority that would coerce individuals to co-operate on issues dealing with the environment so as to establish a mutual relationship. He gave an analogy of how people who have cattle grazing together can appoint one of them to safeguard and prevent others from increasing the number of cattle in their possession to protect the scarce natural resources. He crowned this principle by a quote “Therein is the tragedy, each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit–in a world that is limited.”

This concept will be necessary to understand more environmental issues in the society like sustainability. The problems affecting the society today touches on a variety of natural endowment such as water, coal, forest and fish among others. Issues that demonstrate the “tragedy of the commons” would encompass overfishing, destruction of rivers that navigate through arid areas. This idea will therefore act as an eye opener to the population to embrace cost benefits while using the natural resources thereby ensuring their sustainability for the future generations (Hardin 156).   Economists have even suggested that the government should adopt and implement policies that would take note of cost benefits analysis, when exploiting nature to ensure that such resources are sustained for the future generations.

This concept is a useful tool in understanding how humans have come closer to several environmental problems either long or short term in the society. It affirms the notion that threatening environmental situations are sometimes caused by the behavior of the people who occupy the society (Clayton and Myers 38). This idea is important in understanding that certain problems in the society are not caused by malicious forces outside the basic understanding of the people but rather honest and innocent decisions. As a point of reference, Hardin believed that it is easy to reduce and limit the destructiveness nature of the people in the society. According to his assertions frustrating certain behaviors of humans in the society is one way of preventing environmental catastrophe.


In conclusion, it has been affirmed that the rights of a person should end where the right of the society starts. Hardin’s assumptions and evaluations of the tragedy of the commons indicates that the world is finite and that natural resources shared are scarce to the point that when misused in selfish manner can lead to their extinction. “Overpopulation is an example of the tragedy of the commons as it will lead to more children, more cattle to compete for pasture and lead to air pollution” (Diamond 65). One way to assist in this problem is for people to accept and embrace coercion to reduce the impacts of humans on the environment. This idea is important in understanding the impacts that humans have on the environment and the society. It informs them that the environment should be preserved and used in a manner that everybody in the society would enjoy maximum benefits while protecting nature for the future generation.

This idea has also faced several criticisms from an economic perspective; critics have argued that at that time the urban populations were not bearing as many children as Hardin pointed out. A case has been put forward that toady Europe parents are bearing very few children and yet there is no steady growth in economy of such developed countries.


Works Cited

Angus, Ian. The myth of the tragedy of the commons, Socialist Voice. 2008.

Clayton, Susan D. and Myers, Gene Jr. Conservation Psychology: Understanding and Promoting

            Human Care for Nature. NY: Wiley/Blackwell Publishers, 2009.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to fail or Succeed. New York City: Viking, 2005.

Hardin, Garrett. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science, Dec. 13, 1968 (pp. 1243-8).

John P., Holdren. Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being. Science, 319.5862(2008): 424-434.

Vugt, Van. M. Triumph of the commons: Helping the world to share. New Scientist (2722): pp.

40– 43. 2009.