Causes of the Tragedy of the Commons

As addressed in the definition, the tragedy of the commons involves the usage of a public good. The public good that I refer to is a common pool resource, one that anyone can use, but usage of this good by one individual reduces the quality or quantity of the good for the others also using this good. Examples of such goods would be our forests, freshwater and atmosphere.

The cause of any tragedy of the commons is that in using the public good, the individual does not bear the full social cost of their actions. That is, the cost to an individual in their use of the public good is very low, yet the benefit is high. In addition, individuals will act out of their own self-interest and continue to exploit the good despite knowing the consequences, since for an individual, the choice is either self benefit from using the good or watch someone else benefit from using the same good.

This dilemma has existed on smaller scales throughout history, and has been solved in natural ways in the past. However, the current state of our global common pool resources renders the scale of the global tragedy of the commons larger than ever encountered before, and thus cannot be solved by natural means.

How then, as stewards of the earth and as people directly affected by this tragedy, should be begin to change our ways and contribute to a more eco-friendly and sustainable environment?