There is pattern, and a common trend in the way that we abuse the environment for profit; something that was written about almost 200 years ago.
In 1833, William Forster Lloyd published an article in which he described the effects of the overuse of a common resource. In the early 1800’s, common land was used by herders to graze their cattle, for which they derived a free benefit. A herder could get more benefit from this arrangement, if more of his cattle were moved onto the land. However, there was a tendency for herders to graze too many cattle, which resulted in overgrazing and the destruction of the common resource. In this scenario, the land was degraded and rendered unusable beyond recovery.
Further to Lloyd’s article, in 1968, ecologist Garett Hardin wrote a paper entitled ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons”. In his paper, Hardin re-conceptualised the “commons” to be any kind of free, shared and unregulated resource, illustrating how mankind damages these resources through exploitation and greed. Modern examples of free resources that succumb to the tragedy of the commons include:
- Human health.
Tragedy of the commons can be described as having your house broken into many times by a thief. The first time, the thief breaks into your house and steals the most valuable and easily removed items. Your TV, jewellery, cash, cellphones and cameras. The thief noticed other items of value, so a few weeks later, he breaks in again, and steals these items. The third time the thief breaks in, he steals yet more items. Eventually, all the items of value have been stolen. This process of taking the most valuable items first, and then moving on to the next most valuable items, is called serial depletion.
In some instances, complex social schemes such as the Kyoto Protocol, Paris Climate Agreement, United Nations, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), marine reserves and national parks have been implemented to protect the environment from exploitation. Public interest groups may lobby governments into taking action against guilty organisations. The rise of social media and monitoring organisations such as Greenpeace, Oceana, World Wildlife Fund and Wikileaks are powerful platforms to express contempt and expose how some organisations do business when they think no one is looking.