Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Garrett Hardin was a Texas ecologist (b. 1915, d. 2003), whose most widely read work is called The Tragedy of the Commons. In it, he discusses population, and lets population stand for any human choice that affects the environment's carrying capacity for humans.
His metaphor is a pasture (a "common") upon which a community of herdsmen feed their families' flocks. Each herdsman, as a rational being, will try to maximize the common's benefit to him by increasing the number of animals he runs. Any one of these pastoralists would be responsible for only marginal wear and tear on the pasture, but together, the community overgrazes it, and reduces the number of animals it can support, ultimately wrecking it.
This is parallel to human overpopulation, and to various other issues in which the interests of communities, or humanity as a whole, are different from those of individual, rational, economic beings. Hardin urged us to arrive at and regulate a consensus to regulate population, and those other issues.