The Tragedy of the Commons


Garrett Hardin first wrote about the tragedy of the commons in the journal Science in 1968. In this seminal work, Hardin described the dilemma created by our instinct toward self-interest when when we live in a community of shared resources. The herdsman in the article are driven to maximize their individual gain by grazing as many cattle as they can on the public pasture. Even when they see that their collective actions are destroying the commons for everyone, they have no incentive to stop.

The SMUS Parents’ Auxiliary brought speaker Russel Horwitz to the school this week to talk to students, parents, and community members. Titled “Systems Thinking for Our World,” Russel spoke about the state of the environment and the interconnectedness of all that we do in an engaging and dynamic way.

His message was a strong and compelling one. If we value making a positive impact on the environment and avoiding the trap of the tragedy of the commons, individuals and families need to shift behaviour to reflect those values.

Here are his suggestions for changing the world.

Medium Impact

  • Decreasing meat consumption
  • Staying off aircraft or carbon off-setting
  • Buying only what you need
  • Taking transit / biking
  • Driving a fuel efficient car
  • Avoiding disposable products (reduce, re-use)
  • Bringing a cup, bowl, spoon
  • Recycling
  • Eating organic
  • Eating seasonal, locally grown food
  • Conserving energy at home
  • Composting

High Impact

  • Activism,  influencing others
  • Voting for ecologically literate candidates
  • Small family size
  • Getting our kids outside to connect them to nature
  • Contributing to environmental charities


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