What is the “tragedy of the commons”?



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    The Tragedy of the Commons is a term given by Garrett Hardin to describe a phenomenon of human greed. He uses a commons, or a shared pasture used to graze animals, as a metaphor for what he believes humans will do to a common resource. In the commons, every rancher receives the individual benefits of the land for their animals, yet no one person acquires the negative consequences of overgrazing. This is the Tragedy of the Commons-the individualistic nature of humans means that we will continue overusing the resource until it is gone because we receive the benefit as an individual but share the consequences among many, lessening the harsh blow in the end. Hardin was using this metaphor to describe the fate of common resources on Earth. As humans we individually gain from using up natural resources, for example cutting down a forest for wood. But in the end, the negative consequences of depleting a forest are shared by the whole population. Therefore, it is in a loggers best short term interest to cut down as many trees as he can, because his own gain outweighs his loss. This greed, Hardin argues, will eventually lead to the overuse and depletion of our shared natural resources.

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