In a recent article in the New Scientist, Mark van Vugt suggests that the scenario painted by Garrett Hardin in his classic 1968 article “Tragedy of the Commons” is not really as bad as described.
Van Vugt suggests that proper management of our shared natural resources could be accomplished following the 4 i’s: information, identity, institutions, and incentives. Much of his argument hinges on the issue of trust – and as he points out, trust is built upon a sense of fairness.
One thing that van Vugt assumes, however, is that people will act rationally (whether with respect to their own well-being or for a common good) in response to greater information about environmental damages, strengthened group identity that encourages behavioral change, or added benefits to environmental stewardship. I’m not so sure.
This closely ties into our reading of Rawls’ ideas about justice. Rawls’ model of justice also relies on individuals engaged in rational, civil discourse about issues that confront a large aggregate of people like a community or nation-state. What do you think Rawls would say to van Vugt (or van Vugt would say to Rawls) about environmental social justice?
Read the original Hardin “Tragedy of the Commons” article from Science magazine.