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The Tragedy of the Commons.

The essay The Tragedy of the Commons makes many points that all lead up to a central idea. These points all revolve around the central idea that there is only a finite amount of land and resources available on the Earth. And that the population of the earth is either approaching or is already at the Earth’s carrying capacity. The essay brings up the view that there is no technical solution to the problem of overpopulation and we need to try to develop other ways to limit the population growth instead of relying on technology to save us. Tragedy of the commons also touches on the point that “we” as a people want the maximum good per person. The debate however is over what that “good” is, for some it is wilderness area for hiking or fishing and for others that good is a housing development. The essay states the necessity for the population growth to near or become 0 (where births per year equal deaths per year). There is no prosperous population that has and has had a growth rate or zero. The comparison that the essay uses that of the commons to the earth. The common is a pasture that is open to herdsmen with cattle. At first the commons are fine because there are not enough herdsmen or cattle to approach the carrying capacity or the land. However after a while the carrying capacity of the land is achieved. The herdsman thinks to himself “what would happen if I added 1 more cow?” There is both a positive and a negative result to the herdsman for doing this. The positive component is nearly +1. This is because the herdsman does not have to share the cow with others. The negative component is only a fraction or -1 to the herdsman. This is because the negative repercussion of having another cow on the commons is shared by all other herdsmen. The essay relates the activities of the commons to what is taking place on the earth today. Many might argue that this tragedy only occurs on grazing land and has no relevance anywhere else. The essay however has another example that makes it apparent that this situation still pertains to common day situations. This example has to do with parking meters. In Leominster, Massachusetts parking meters were covered with bags that said “Do not open until after Christmas, free parking courtesy of the mayor and city council.” This of course led to another situation of the “commons”. Everyone used the parking more frequently and for longer periods or time and when someone needed to park there for shopping or business there were no spots available. The examples of the commons shows that too many people trying to use a set amount of resources leads to a severe problem. The key is the control the breeding rate and thus the population growth.

Hardins results do have a few weaknesses however. His idea that there is no technical solution to the problem is rather narrow minded. Although I agree with Hardin that we should look for ways to lower the population through incentives or possible tax breaks to have fewer offspring or to have them later in life. I also believe that necessity is the mother of invention and the rate of progress in technology that we have made in the last hundred years or so probably rivals or exceeds the growth or the population. We cannot fathom what techniques or developments that we might develop. I also disagree with Hardin when he states that “unfortunately” the united nations agreed to “the universal declaration or human rights , describing the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size or the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else. Hardin believes this only further condemns the human population but I believe this is one of the many things that makes the population human.

This essay was written in 1968 and so much has developed since then. Many of the predictions made have come to be. For instance the essay discussed the fact that pollution will invade the air and water that everyone uses and that they cannot be readily fenced as private property can be to escape the problems. This had become the case in much of the world. However some of his views have not come to be. For example the belief that “no good has ever come from feeling guilty, neither intelligence, policy, nor compassion. The guilty do not pay attention to the objective but only to themselves, and not even the their own interests, which night make sense, but to their anxieties.” This is untrue today there are many cases where once polluters realize the impact that their pollution has been causing and feel guilty enough about it to change their ways.

Although I do disagree with Hardin on many issues I do agree with the premise of his work. He is simply trying to find a solution to one of if not the most pressing issue of tour time. Some of his beliefs might be a little outlandish but his analogy to the commons and belief that the population growth must be controlled are viable.

Hardins common analogy still pertains to modern day situations. An example of this is the George’s bank fishery, which was once one of the most productive fish banks in the Atlantic. No regulations were imposed on the fishing bank since it was believed to have an endless supply of fish. Due to its reputation as such a great fishing bank more fisherman and boats came to fish the bank and it became excessively crowded. The fishing became very scarce in comparison to its previous output. Not enough fish could be caught to allow for so many fishing boats and many fishermen had to retire. This is a classic example of the commons and shows what can happen. This shows the need for fishing regulations to keep the number of fishing boats down to a level that is below or even to the carrying capacity of the fish population. This is the same thing that needs to be done with other resources in the world the only problem is how?


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