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It’s called the tragedy of the commons when people use shared resources for their own benefit, which leads to the depletion of the resources. If a group of people shares something, it is called the “commons.”


The tragedy of the commons is a theory in economics. This is a way to think about things. It talks about how people tend to make their own decisions without thinking about how they might affect other people or the environment. (Research source:

tragedy of the commons

This theory defines how individuals use shared resources in the community or globally. The British writer William Forster Lloyd came up with this idea in 1833. While the idea and the term “tragedy of the commons” has been around for a long time. However, it was first used by an American ecologist named Garret Hardin in 1968. When Hardin wrote a scientific paper called “The Tragedy of the Commons,” he went into great detail about this idea.

The ideas of the theory:

  • The tragedy of the commons can happen when a person focuses on their own needs instead of the needs of a group.
  • The main thing Garret Hardin worried about was overpopulation and what it would do to the environment.
  • Hardin used the example of sheep grazing on pasture land. They would overgraze their flock, which is how the tragedy of the commons can happen. Instead, private landowners should use their grazing fields in a way that works with the needs of the community and environment. 
  • In Hardin’s opinion, private lands are less likely to become overgrazed. This is because the owner takes good care of them. People who own land aren’t careful they can easily overgraze it. Basically, they want to get the most out of it.
  • Each herder will only think about growing their herd.  Unfortunately, they won’t think about the land or other herders. This, in turn, will make the pasture look bad, which will lead to a tragedy.

Why the theory is important:

  • When people don’t pay attention to the health of the environment, the common resources will be overused. This is especially true when the demand for the resource in question is greater than the supply.
  • The theory of the tragedy of the commons comes into play when there is a shared environmental resource that can’t be taken away. Since the resource is limited people will compete for it.
  • There are public resources that we can’t stop people from using. Scientists call these “non-excludable resources”.
  • Resources are said to be “rivalrous” if other people can’t use them. When there is not enough of a resource, scientists call it “scarce”.


Ecologists use the term “sustainability” to describe how to use natural resources in a way that doesn’t cause them to run out. Ecological sustainability is the preservation of soil, water, and other resources that are shared by everyone. Keeping the environment in balance is very important.

Misuse and Overuse of Common Resources:

Hardin’s book, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” shows how people can misuse resources that are shared by many people. This can lead to the question of how long things can last in a certain environment.

  • There are a lot of problems with environmental sustainability because we don’t use our natural resources properly.
  • Most of the natural resources in the world are common because they can be found easily.
  • In the world, people can go to the oceans and forests and lakes. They can also get the air, soil, and water. It’s all about fixing, preventing, and mitigating environmental disasters when you use common resources like water and land.
  • People, on the other hand, use these resources in different ways and don’t think about the possible consequences. They often put their short-term needs ahead of the needs of the environment and other people, which can be bad for the environment and other people.
  • It’s a tragedy of the commons when people misuse and overuse natural resources, says Hardin. Environmental sustainability can be hurt when people use resources for their own benefit.
  • Sustainability can only be achieved when people use common resources properly and care for them.  People should use natural resources with limits in order to keep them. 


In order to understand global problems, you can use the idea of the “tragedy of the commons.” Most of the problems that people have with resources happen when they use logical reasoning instead of collective reasoning.

tragedy of the commons theory
  • Climate Change

-There has been a big change in weather and temperature over time. Scientists call this “climate change.” This is an example of the tragedy of the commons. 

-Human activities have a big impact on the climate in a lot of ways. People are a factor in the production of greenhouse gases. These gases make the air dirty. Because all humans have free access to air, it is a resource that everyone can use. Still, some businesses do things that cause a lot of pollution in order to make money.

– People are more concerned about making money than they are about the effects of climate change. They often don’t think about them. As businesses release more and more harmful gasses into the air, the planet will get worse. 

  • Overfishing

-For a long time, people thought that the resources in the ocean could never run out. The development of technology has led to a huge rise in the number of people fishing in the world’s oceans. In addition, the world’s population keeps growing. This means there’s more demand for food. Unfortunately, more people leads to overfishing because fishermen want to meet the high demand for fish.  Also, fishermen can make a lot more money.

– Overfishing will lead to the loss of ocean resources. This is an example of the tragedy of the commons. Unfortunately, it can lead to the death of valuable fish and other marine organisms. Additionally, it can damage the ecosystems of the sea.

  • Destruction of Rainforests

-This means that everyone on the planet benefits from the rainforests around the world. Rainforests provide oxygen and also maintain the climate.

– Illegal loggers have been cutting down rainforests for their own profit. These actions have led to less forest cover. Next, the timber industry also impacts rainforests through the regular harvesting of trees.  Overall, deforestation is an important example of the tragedy of the commons. The rate at which loggers cut trees is higher than regrowth.

This will lead to the gradual destruction of the environment if countries lose too many rainforests.


It can be hard to avoid the tragedy of the commons because people don’t think about things together. Everyone only thinks about themselves when they use common things.

Hardin came up with two ways to solve the problem of the tragedy of the commons:

Solution to the tragedy of the commons

Hardin came up with two ways to solve the problem of the tragedy of the commons:

(i) Privatization of Resources

  • Privatization is when someone or a group of people takes charge of resources that the general public doesn’t use. These new owners will take care of these resources because they belong to them.  

(ii) Resource Regulation through Government Restriction

  • The government can put rules on how people can use some common resources. There should be a set amount of fish that each fishing vessel should take from the ocean.


Hardin’s theory can be used when a resource that was once abundant is used by a few people for their own benefit. But the theory of the tragedy of the commons has come under fire over time.

American economist Elinor Ostrom disagreed with Hardin’s idea. She said that communities can manage their common resources well. According to Ostrom, people can work together to manage shared resources in a reasonable way. Is this true?  Can people manage their own resources? Or will they be selfish?

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