tragedy of the commons

In the town where I live the city council is considering whether or not to adopt a pay as you throw trash program. I attended my first city council meeting the other night and spoke, somewhat nervously, in favor of this plan. I think it would encourage more people to recycle and in so doing, reduce the strain on our already overcrowded landfill. But the issue of recycling is much larger than what can be solved by the political process. It takes an inner transformation as well. Aristotle said “That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.” I am reminded of an article I read in college by the ecologist Garrett Hardin entitled “The Tragedy of the Commons.” It was originally published in the journal Nature in 1968. You can read the full article here. He asks us to imagine the grazing of animals on a common pasture, open to all. Each farmer makes a personal calculation that if he adds to his flock, he can increase his personal wealth, but every animal added degrades the commons by a small amount. If every farmer decides to increase his flock, then the common pasture is ruined for everyone. Hardin used this parable to talk about the environment. Small, individual actions, like throwing your recyclables into the landfill don’t seem that dangerous. But if everyone thinks this way, then the “commons”, our earth, are degraded for all of us. Read the full article if you like and please tell me what you think.

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