Ending the Tragedy of the Commons

It is becoming increasingly common knowledge that our world is on the brink of an unprecedented environmental crisis. However slow the reaction has been, it is beginning to take tangible form and, from petroleum to water, the need to preserve and reduce is becoming a mainstay of the global conservation. One of the essential—and painfully under-acknowledged—factors in this discussion is the question of just how collective societies deal with a scarcity of resources. As the work of Big Think’s recent guest Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel laureate for economics, demonstrates, our understanding of this question appears to have been woefully misguided.

The common assumption in the field is that humans, when faced with a dwindling resource, will continue to act out of a sort of Hobbesian self-interest and consume it until depletion—all eventually having to suffer the dire consequences. Dr. Ostrom, whose research incorporates political theory, economics and field work in a variety of resource-starved regions, believes this theory, commonly known as the “tragedy of the commons”, to be fallacious, arguing instead that humans can carve peaceful solutions to effectively manage shared assets.


Not only is the theory erroneous, its totalizing approach to ecological problems is also deeply flawed. As Dr. Ostrom explains, there is no universal way to understand or cope with shared resources, as the dynamics underpinning a culture's interaction with its resources varies greatly between realms and societies.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less