top of page

Commons Care: How Wrong Was Garrett Hardin?!

This is the second of a five-part, weekly series celebrating Earth Day.

Honduras watershed management, Photo by EcoLogic

The biggest question facing our planet might be this one:

How do we protect, not what we own individually, but those indivisible goods we inherit, share, and yearn to pass on unharmed or enriched to our children? You know... those things we take for granted but can’t survive without: like air, water, soil, forests, oceans, and diverse species — treasures many call our “commons.”

The “commons” comes with a lot of baggage, though.

As a young woman just beginning to think about the big questions, the whole idea of the commons had just been slammed. At the time, a framing metaphor capturing a lot of imaginations was the “tragedy of the commons,” the title of a 1968 Science Magazine article by ecologist Garrett Hardin. What stuck was the idea that, because each of us is motivated to pursue our immediate self-interest, anything held in common gets trashed — even though the effect is to mess the whole thing up for everybody.