Posted by: mesabimisadventures | August 25, 2010

Tragedy of the Commons – Hypocritical JL Style

In 1968, Garrett Hardin published an incredible, thought-provoking article titled “The Tragedy of the Commons” in the journal Science.  This article, more than any other perhaps, has shaped my way of thinking about environmental issues.  The concept is simple (and often heatedly debated) – people are inherently selfish and cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the community.  Now before I get lambasted for this simplification, remember that it is just that, a simplification of a very complicated subject.  If I was a journalist, I would go into depth because I’m fascinated by this concept, but I am a mere blogger and not even a very good one at that, so simplifications are what you three readers get from me tonight.

I like to think of this concept as “I want what’s mine and some of yours too because I don’t want you to potentially benefit unless I do too.”  Picture an apple tree with 40 apples and 20 people wanting apples.  Ideally, each person would get two apples.  However, if no one is watching, there’s a better than average chance that someone will take more than their fair share.  Why?  There are a few reasons – 1) the person is simply a jerk who thinks they are better than others in the community and deserve more, or 2) they think “I know so-and-so will grab more than two, so I’m going to also.  Why should they be the only ones to get more?”  And that’s the tragedy – humans aren’t too great at sharing common resources.

(Stands up) My name is Julie and I drive a truck. (Sits back down)  A truck that on a good day, with warm temperatures and perhaps a tailwind gets 18-20 mpg.  I know better.  I really do.  I know about peak oil and the environmentally-unfriendly shenanigans related to that fuel getting into my gas tank and the plethora of evidence in support of global climate change. 

“Et tu, Brute?”

Here’s the deal – I love my truck.  I love the freedom that it gives me.  Snowstorm you say?  4-wheel drive.  Moving?  6-foot box with a tonneau cover.  Hauling garden supplies or my kayak?  See the previous answer.  Can’t you borrow a truck for those occasions?  Yeah, I reckon I could, but then I’d have to rely on someone else and let’s just say I have issues with that.  There’s a reason I call my truck “Freedom ’07.”  But are those reasons enough to be so environmentally irresponsible?  Apparently so and for one simple reason.

I want to (stomps foot and pouts) and there are others who aren’t giving up their trucks so be damned if I will. 

Now, if I had to actually live with the environmental impact of my transportation means, I would probably be walking to work still.  But luckily for me (snark), my impact to the air gets diluted, so I don’t have to breathe in my emissions directly.  If all humans acted as selfishly as me and drove trucks, then we’d be in trouble.  But some of you don’t, so thanks for sharing the air with me!

All sarcasm aside (yes, this is possible for me, highly unlikely, but possible), we really do need to remember to respect the commons if we ever have a chance of not destroying what is so far the only planet that will allow us to call it home (I’m becoming convinced that the theory of the universe’s expansion is really the result of the other inhabitable planets wanting nothing to do with us humans and trying to slowly sneak away).  Like it or not, most resources are not renewable and there aren’t technological solutions for every problem we may face.  It may not always be easy to do so, but at some point we have to think community-first, self-second. 

As I tell my nieces… “sharing is caring” or as the Youngbloods sang to all those crazy hippies in 1969, “C’mon people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”



  1. I would like to say I drive a Focus because I care about the environment, but the bottom line is I care most about my pocket book. Now, even though I might be best suited for a full-sized SUV or truck, I must resign myself to something less thanks to our small garage that will forever limit my driving prowess. So be it. I can continue to operate under the guise of environmental concern.

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