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Tragedy of the Commons

  • By: Martin Köppel
  • In: Green Politics: An A-to-Z Guide
  • Edited by: Dustin Mulvaney & Paul Robbins
  • Subject:Environmental Sociology, Environmental Technology, Policy & Management, Environmental Policy & Law (general)

The “tragedy of the commons” describes a social dilemma in which rational human behavior in using a resource as an unmanaged commons leads to overuse and, consequentially, to the destruction of that resource. It has proven a useful concept for understanding how resources are ruined not by some outside forces but by the inherent behavior that can be expected whenever a number of individuals own a scarce resource in common. A famous article in the journal Science by Garrett Hardin (1968) introduced the concept to common parlance.

Central to the tragedy of the commons is a metaphor: Imagine a common parcel of land (the commons) used by farmers. As a rational being, each herder will try to keep as many cows as possible on the ...

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