Tag Archives: Garrett Hardin

Just sustainability

The concept of sustainability is well described as “a big, sloppy term for a big, complex subject” (Prugh et al, 2000, p.2). The meaning of ‘sustainability’ is highly contested and subject to a wide variety of (often self-serving) definitions.

So how can this “big, sloppy” concept – and all that it tells us about global limits to resource consumption and waste production – be translated into recommendations for practical action?

One way of achieving this translation that appears in the policy documents of various green parties around the world is to work with the notion of ‘carrying capacity.’ In particular, carrying capacity features as a key principle of many green population policies.

Unfortunately there is often a serious defect in the way carrying capacity is applied, as explained in an article by Steve Vanderheiden (2008). Usefully, though, for those who wish to see sustainability policy become a reality, Vanderheiden also shows how sustainability policies be formulated differently, along lines that take proper account of issues of justice.

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The ‘tragedy of the commons’ forty years on: the tragedy of enclosure

Garrett Hardin’s ‘tragedy of the commons’ was first published forty years ago, in the magazine Science. The tragedy, for Hardin, is summed up thus: “freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” Many people will be aware of any number of dreadful eco-catastrophes that have occurred in the past 40 years and, seemingly, vindicated Hardin’s analysis: Exxon Valdez, the Aral Sea, the Grand Banks cod fishery, Chernobyl … Hardin seems to have been spot on.

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