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Book (Essay) Discussion: Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin
February 11, 2016 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Originally published in Science magazine in 1968, Garrett Hardin’s essay, “Tragedy of the Commons” was subtitled, “The population problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality.”
Hardin starts with an overview of population and the carrying capacity of the earth, but the short essay has morphed to provide something for everyone. It has been published in more than 100 anthologies, has been cited 40,000 times in published works and a Google search of the term lists more than 1.2 million hits. Both the right and the left have used the essay to further their arguments, and scientists have spent time both disproving his conclusions and acknowledging them as a fundamental contribution to ecology, population theory, economics and political science.
In Hardin’s writing, the commons are natural resources (land, water, air) open to all members of society. As the world population grows, the resources of the commons shrink in all cases—whether it’s too many people, too much pollution from too many people or too little food for too many people. As a solution to the limits of the commons, the private sector has used his essay to justify ownership of land to produce food on what were once public resources. Others have supported his suggestion of regulation of the commons, whether it is land, water, air or population. Hardin suggests that society develop standards of “mutual coercion” to limit population growth.
In 1998, 30 years later after its initial publication, Hardin said he should have titled his work, “Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons.” http://www.sciencemag.org/content/280/5364/682.full
Hardin’s influence is seen in Pope Francis’s encyclical with references to the global commons and unfettered capitalism.
Summaries of Hardin’s essay include: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons
http://faculty.wwu.edu/gmyers/esssa/Hardin.html this has an emphasis on the population topic and
http://oceanworld.tamu.edu/resources/oceanography-book/tragedyofthecommons.htm for shared world resources
A sample criticism of his work: http://climateandcapitalism.com/2008/08/25/debunking-the-tragedy-of-the-commons/
“Tragedy of the Commons” is available for free download at:
And thirty-five years after the essay appeared, Science magazine devoted five issues to Hardin’s work:
For more information on the discussions, contact Bill Hennessy, [masked] or call[masked]