This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
A tragedy of the commons occurs when what is individually rational is in direct opposition to what is collectively rational. Human population growth occurs when worldwide breeding exceeds replacement level fertility, which happens when individuals have a large number of children. I will argue that human population growth is a tragedy of the commons because it is individually rational for a human to have a large number of children and it is collectively rational not to have a large number of children. It is individually rational to have a large number of children There are a number of reasons why this could be true. From a biological/evolutionary standpoint, it is in an organism’s best interest to produce as many viable offspring as possible. Those beings who had a stronger desire to reproduce were the ones whose genetic material and characteristics were passed on to the next generation. Today’s humans are no exception and are thus hardwired with the desire to reproduce often. This desire is seen and manifested all over the world. Poorer nations have additional incentives: “With high child mortality rates in some areas of the world an individual woman might bear seven or eight children but only have two survive to adulthood” (Willott 277). Additionally prevalent in developing nations is the desire to have more children who can contribute to the family by working for either subsistence or income. For example, a small farmer in the third world may benefit from having more field hands, but may not be able to afford to hire laborers. Therefore it would be rational for him/her to have many children who would work the farm without requiring salaries. In these areas as well as others throughout the world, culture, tradition, and religion also play an important role. Many of these belief systems encourage or reward large families and/or denounce the use of birth control: “Many of the more populated developing countries were nominally Catholic or had other traditions that, theoretically at least, worked against the acceptance of practicing birth control” (Willott 278). One of the most universal reasons why individuals would seek to have a large number of children is the individual preference to do so. Within or without an encouraging social framework, individuals may still find it personally fulfilling to have and raise children. Many people simply enjoy parenthood and find it rewarding and thus are apt to continue to have children. Any one or combination of the aforementioned reasons could defend the claim of individual rationality favoring a large number of children. It is collectively rational not to have a large number of children As Willott’s article illustrates, although world population growth may have slowed since the 1960’s, it has yet to stop increasing. As more and more people come to be, demands on the finite natural resources, ecosystem services, and other
environmental products and mechanisms for meeting human needs increase and in some cases become unsustainable. The loss and depletion of such resources could have devastating effects worldwide. Adequate nutrition, clean and safe drinking water, proper healthcare, and overall quality of life may all be compromised if we no longer have the resources to actualize them. Although these effects may be magnified in the poorest parts of the world, no individual is immune from them. Even in the most developed nations, dependence on natural resources is still omnipresent in society as well as the lives of individuals. Coal still powers our lights, and gas still fuels our cars. Our homes are built out of wood and metals and the food we eat still grows from the earth. Garret Hardin claims “To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action” (336). It takes resources to not only survive but to also thrive. We cannot expect this to happen if we keep increasing the number of people who demand the resources to do so. Our dependence on resources is, in many ways, undeniable. It need not take a dramatic population boom to reach the effects of resource depletion either: “Individual countries may still have population growth that outstrips the ability to provide basic resources while suitably respecting the environment. Even those countries with stable populations may find they are exceeding the long-term carrying capacity of the environment” (Willott 279). If every individual acts on the desire to have a large number of children, we will quickly approach the carrying capacity for our species. The earth will not be able to sustain us. The natural resources on which we depend will no longer be able to replenish themselves fast enough to support the amount of human life. This is by no means rationally desired by any human and most would agree that it is in the best interest of collective humanity that each person cooperate and refrain from having lots of children. Thus, it is collectively rational to not have a large number of children. Objection Says Hardin, “A fair defense can be put forward for the view that the world is infinite; or that we do not know that it is not” (332). Perhaps the natural resources on which we depend are not limited and can, in fact, replenish themselves fast enough to meet the demands of a growing human population. Natural resources are available to us because of countless biological, geochemical, and physical phenomena which are continuously taking place and have been doing so for millions of years with or without human interference. Perhaps it is anthropocentric of us to think that nature is no match for us and we will soon run her dry. Science and technology are perpetually advancing and we may soon discover new resources that have not yet been used by humans. There is no way to predict what could someday be useful and to say that the only resources that will ever be available are those of which we are currently aware is an assumption that may be false. If we are not at risk of running out of resources, we do not need to do as Hardin does and
prescribe coercive mechanisms for population control which will undoubtedly meet pushback from those who find it abrasive. Response to Objection For most natural resources, it is simply not the case that the natural processes that supply them are capable of replacing them at the level they are extracted/utilized. For example, it takes millions of years for fossil fuels to form, but only a few weeks to be extracted, shipped, sold, and consumed by humans. Also, the law of conservation of energy dictates that energy may neither be created nor destroyed, so the amount of energy in the universe is finite. However, the amount of useable energy is not. As we consume energy, it becomes transformed into an unusable form, most of which is lost as heat. As Hardin explains, “given an infinite source of energy, population growth sill produces an inescapable problem. The problem of acquisition of energy is replaced by the problem of its dissipation” (333). Also, it is unlikely that a technical solution will be able to replace or resolve the issue of natural resource depletion: “In terms of the practical problems that we must face in the next few generations with the foreseeable technology, it is clear that we will greatly increase human misery if we do not, during the immediate future, assume that the world available to the terrestrial human population is finite” (Hardin 332). For example, it is unlikely that we will find a new global source of freshwater any time soon, given that current technology is able to explore the entire globe. Conclusion Given that it is individually rational for an individual to have a large number of children and that it is collectively rational not to have a large number of children, human population growth is a tragedy of the commons. Humans may stand to learn from this: As Carol Rose explains, “We can see that environmental problems really are problems, in the prosaic sense that overuse of environmental commons can decrease social well-being” (348).
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.