Tragedy of the Commons

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In 1968, many believed that a free-market will self- regulate. Individuals will compete with one another, which will benefit the consumers. However, Garrett Hardin believed otherwise. No outside regulations will cause a depletion of the resources. At this time, Hardin created the term “The Tragedy of the Commons”.

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Tragedy of the Commons describes a problem where each person will try to benefit themselves using a public resource. The common is the public resource that is shared by everyone. Since the resource is public, it is not controlled or regulated by anyone or organization. The tragedy is that the resource will eventually all be used up. In the pursue of their short-term goals, in the future, everyone will be impacted and lose the resource. However, individuals do not care of the consequences as they get to personally benefit, while the consequence is shared amongst everyone. There is a disparity between present and future rewards, and between individual and collective interests.

One of the most common examples of tragedy of the commons is sea life being overcaught. In Defining a free market: drivers of unsustainability as illustrated with an example of shrimp farming in the mangrove forest in South East Asia, the article begins with the idea of growth and sustainability. There is a limited amount of resources, which will soon run out due to the exponential growth of the population. The limited amount of resources cannot keep up with the population. However, due to the advancement of technology, many were not worried. It gave societies the illusions that there are no problems with resources. The article continues on with the modern problem that aids in the tragedy of the commons. When people use a common, they gain the benefits; however, there is no punishment or consequence for taking and reaping the benefits of the common.

In section 4 of the article, it starts explaining the problem of Vietnam’s popular investment of shrimp farming. The typical way of shrimp farming is unsustainable. The action destroys the site, polluting the waters there and cutting down the trees at that location. The area becomes unusable, so they just continue on to another site. This means that the mangroves will continuously be destroyed. In the cases of storms and tsunamis, the lack of mangroves will decrease the stability in the costs and will increase the damage done to the area. Since shrimp farming is very profitable, it’s unlikely that many will stop. The loop of “investor-activity-profit-investor” only leads to more people farming. With the introduction of taxes, the loop can be broken. The tax that they have to pay could discourage some in farming, making them believe that the profit they make will be lost to the tax placed by the government. The article also discusses the idea of including new trading regulations that will also discourage many in continuing to farm. In the rest of the paper, they continue to discuss the requirements to prevent unsustainability and how democracy is needed to provide the “adaptive management” needed (Sverdrup, et al.).

A common does not just has to be something from the environment. A less common example is the internet. In A pathway to solving the Wi-Fi tragedy of the commons in apartment blocks, the common is Wi-Fi that is being shared between residents living near one another. With the increase of tablets and smart phone uses, Wi-Fi Access Points has also increased. With the saturation of these points, the “potential for co-channel and adjacent channel interference with nearby devices” increases. Wi-Fi uses an unlicensed spectrum, which is a common. This means that with the overuse of Wi-Fi by the residents in an apartment block, Wi-Fi gets congested and everyone ends up with a slow internet. The article describes the tragedy of the commons as only when the system is over- congested. This is because when the access points are over congested, most of the system’s data will be used to just control the congestion. Due to the individual use of the access point in their self-interest, the resource of Wi-Fi is decreasing (den Hartog, et al.).

Like the first article, the researchers devise a potential solution to the tragedy of this common. Both articles believe that the solution to the problem is by having all of the people involved in the common to collaborate and act in an unselfish way. This collaboration requires a regulator. For Wi-Fi, the researchers propose operators and a central controller to agree on a resource sharing policy. The article then describes the specifics of the experiment and the solution they propose. They used a model of a typical apartment block. Each building has four floors and a total of 75 apartments. The experiment proved that Wi-Fi over congestion is currently a problem in over populated apartment blocks. Adding Access Points does not solve the problem, rather, it has little to no effect. It also proves that collaborations are needed between AP operators. New algorithms can be used to equal out the resources used by every resident (den Hartog, et al.).

Tragedy of the commons do not only occur between humans. They frequently occur in nature. In Phylogenetic patterns of tragedy of commons in intraspecific root competition, the researchers observe plant species that do and do not perform tragedy of the commons. Plant root competition is important as the placement of their roots greatly impacts the plants. If their roots are too close to the surface, the plant will not be able to gain any nutrients; however, if the root is too deep into the soil, the resources that is needed for reproduction of the species could be taken up for short term benefits. Research has shown that “many plant species follow the “tragedy of the commons” rooting strategy”. The article describes an experiment done by O’Brien et al. in another paper. The result of the experiment showed a case of tragedy of the commons.

Between plants of the same species, individual plants obtained more nutrients than necessary instead of letting all individuals take their necessary amount. This experiment showed that the plants abandoned the future by decreasing their effort placed into reproducing. In another experiment, instead of taking every nutrient for themselves, individuals shared the nutrients between each plant, maximizing the amount of nutrient taken from the soil. In their conclusion, the article states that for root competitions, tragedy of the commons is not random for plant species. Using current and past data, the researchers have only found root overproduction, and therefore a case of tragedy of the commons, between the same species of plants in legumes. Since there are numerous plant species, a definitive conclusion that encompasses all plant species cannot be made. More research has to be done (Smy?ka, Jan, and Tomá Herben).

The three articles all prove the existence of tragedy of the commons in nature and in human society. For humans, people are not responsible for the resources they use. They do not care about the consequences that will impact everyone since they alone will benefit. If an individual alone stops farming shrimp or using Wi-Fi, they will be the only one suffering. They are the only ones losing profit or benefits while everyone around them continue to exploit the environment. For the plants, they, like human, focus on surviving in the present. At the expense of future generations, the plants that perform in tragedy of the commons used up all of the resources for themselves. Since the cost of the production is not imminent, all three proves that humans (and plants) let the consequences be placed into the future.

Poaching certain animals for their body parts is illegal. Nevertheless, people continue to poach due to the immense profit it brings to them. Poachers overexploited many animals, making them endangered. It is possible that with the overexploiting of these animals, soon the animals will become extinct. This means that the animals that once brought them great wealth will no longer exist. This is a typical case of the tragedy of the commons. A more specific example is the poaching of tigers. Tigers are endangered due to loss of their habitat and killings. Some humans kill tigers for revenge (a tiger has killed someone they know or has killed their livestock) and others do it for profit. They are killed and then sold in the black market. Since the demand is immensely high, the prices of the parts greatly increase. In many cultures, tiger parts are very valuable. Tiger skins and bones are valuable in the black market because they are like status symbols, showing off the buyer’s wealth. They end up as carpets or some sort of luxury home decoration. Tiger bone are used to make tiger bone wine. Tiger bone wine is an expensive Chinese medicine that is believed to give the drinker a tiger’s strength and good health. The luxury items are sometimes given to higher ups within corporation so that they can get promoted (used for bribery).

This leads to the other reason for the demand of tiger parts. In addition to tiger bones and skin, tiger teeth and claws are also used in traditional Asian medicine. These parts are thought to be able to cure almost anything, such as fevers, headaches, laziness and heal the liver and kidneys. Tiger bones are thought to heal arthritis, and other diseases. Moreover, tigers’ whiskers, teeth, and their claws are thought to bring the owners protection and good luck. With these demands, poachers continuously kill tigers at an exponential rate. The tiger population is unable to support the poaching, so the population continue to decrease. Poachers are unwilling to stop since if they do, they believe that they will be the only ones to stop. This means that other poachers will continue to kill and gain all of the benefits while the people who stopped will get nothing in return. In this case, the commons are the tigers and the tragedy is the tiger’s population becoming endangered. If nothing changes soon there will no tigers to poach.

With the tigers, there is still time to save them and increase their population again, but in American history, there are plenty of animals (and plants) that are extinct due to humans. The dodo birds are another example of the tragedy of the commons that has cause the resource to never come back. The dodo birds lived on Mauritius, an island on the Indian Ocean.

Without any predators, they did not need the ability of flight. They did not need a method to protect their eggs, so their eggs were on the ground. However, this made them easy targets for the humans that arrived on the island. As the humans hunted the birds, the animals that the humans brought with them (rats, pigs, etc.) ate the dodo birds’ eggs. The dodo birds’ habitats were also destroyed. The forest was torn down and replaced with areas for crops. As the living population of dodo birds decreased for food, humans also eliminated the method that would have replenished the dodo bird population. This caused the dodo bird to become endangered. At that time, many did not think to preserve the dodo birds’ population. Humans only focused on the fact that they wanted to eat the dodo birds. Like poachers today, they most likely thought that if they did not hunt the birds for themselves, others would hunt even more. This means that the same amount of birds would have been hunted, the only difference is who received the benefits from using the resource. As the humans continued to over- use the resource, it can disappear. That is what happened to the dodos. They were overhunted, and the last bird was eventually killed.

Not only did this leave the humans with no more dodo birds to hunt, the extinction of the birds also greatly impacted other species on the island. Calvaria major is a plant on the island that has a population count of 13. All 13 of these trees originated from more than 300 years ago. The trees were producing well-formed seeds; however, no new trees grew. The reason for the lack of trees developing is due to the nature of the seeds. The seeds have a thick outer layer that does not allow the embryo inside to expand. It turns out that the close to extinction of the plat is due to the extinction of the dodo. Calvaria major and the dodo has a mutual relationship, where both benefited. When the dodo birds weren’t extinct, they would have eaten the trees’ pits. In turn, the dodo bird would have swallowed the seeds and crushed the outer layer of the seeds. This lets the embryo break through the shell. When the seed leaves the birds’ digestive system, the seed would have been planted and germinated (started to grow). Without the dodos, the seed are unable to break the shell and therefore were not able to germinate (Stanley). Due to the tragedy of one common, another common was also close to disappearing.

Due to actions of the past and president, future generations will suffer. People are unwilling to use less of the resource as many believe that it will not change the situation. They think that they will do it, if and only if, others are doing the same. The tragedy of the commons describes the fact that for short term gains, many are willing to sacrifice the future. Without any regulations, our resources- water, land, animals, plants- will continue to get worst or disappear.

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Tragedy of the Commons. (2021, Mar 23). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from
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