Commons Without Tragedy: The Social Ecology of Land Tenure and Demography
Garrett Hardin’s famous 1968 essay The Tragedy of the Commons inspired environmentalist predictions that population and industrial growth will exhaust our common heritage of natural resources. Seven essays on ecology, population and the future, including another by Hardin.
This book confronts a major contemporary problem – the fear of overpopulation. The classic analysis from which the population debate derives, Malthus’s “Essay on Population”, has largely been discredited by empirical evidence, but a new argument, not identical with the Malthusian analysis but related to it, has appeared in recent years. Thus it is now widely believed that the world’s burgeoning population will soon reach – may already have reached – a level at which it imposes an unsustainable pressure on the natural environment. Not only is it believed that it will be impossible to feed the population, but man’s desperate efforts to provide for himself are threatening the eco-system itself. While not denying the role birth control and other measures may have to play, the authors question whether overpopulation really is the main problem. They argue instead that the main factor is the inequitable distribution of the earth’s natural resources, nature’s gift to mankind. Thus a small minority of the world’s population owns and enjoys the benefits of the great majority of the earth’s natural resources, while the vast majority of the population is huddled together in overcrowded conditions (creating the illusion of overpopulation) on what remains, which is often poorer land, deteriorating with over-exploitation, thus exacerbating the situation, such as in the Amazon Basin or the Sahel. The authors argue that a new approach to property rights and taxation will have to be adopted if the apparent conflict between demography and ecology is to be resolved. This volume also goes beyond the conventional debate on resource exploitation. Space Age technology threatens the remaining commons – the oceans, the arctic regions and outer space – which dramatizes the urgency of the quest for a new approach.