The tragedy of the commons

The tragedy of the commons is a social dilemma first discussed by ecologist George Hardin in 1968. It discusses the fact that individuals tend to “act independently and rationally according to each one’s self interest despite the fact that they understand that depleting of a common resource is contrary to their long-term best interest”. (Wikipedia)

Although it is quite a shocking observation, there are a lot to discuss about this claim. To begin with, George Hardin assumes that individuals understand that acting irresponsibly is against their interest. However, in order to be so, individuals must have been educated accordingly. However, even in Greece, which is considered among the most developed countries of the planet, there is little, or no, education about ecological issues.

Moreover, there is the problem of analogy, meaning that individuals cannot understand that it is not just them acting irresponsibly, but there are also some millions more doing the exact same thing. Furthermore, individuals cannot understand the consequences of their actions, just because they have not witnessed them. And even if they have, they tend to forget as soon as they are tempted.

Finally the depletion of a resource occurs not only because of individuals acting irresponsibly, but also because individuals are too many to share that resource, no matter how responsibly they act.

The tragedy of the commons is not a recent phenomenon. People used to act irresponsibly towards their environment hundreds of years ago. The difference is that they did not have the means to cause irreversible damage to it. Unfortunately, we had such means before we could understand, let alone avoid, the damage we cause to our environment.

However now there is no excuse. We are aware of the dangers and we have the means not only not to harm our environment, but also to reverse the damage caused in the past. What we need is to differentiate ourselves from our predecessors and emphatically give an answer to this humiliating dilemma.


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