Environmental Studies: Tragedy of the Commons

Table of Contents


In the modern world, environmentalists are divided over the best way to conserve the environment. Some claim that the corporate world or the private sector should be given the responsibility of ensuring that the environment is safe while some are of the view that the government should always take full control.

In this regard, the corporate-led environmentalists suggest that the commons should be privatized meaning that the taking care of the water bodies, the air, and the natural resources should be the role of the designated companies (Yacoumidis 16). On the other hand, some environmentalists have put up a spirited debated to ensure that the commons are taken care by the government since it has people’s mandate, which would mean that the commons would be managed in a more democratic way.

The main concern of those suggesting that the government should take full control is the issue of equity and sustainability. It is claimed that private organizations would be concerned with profit making, but not preserving the resources for future generations. The tragedy of the commons means the destruction of assets that are owned collectively, including the eco-system.

In the modern international system, the issue of environmental degradation is considered one of the major issues affecting both state and non-state actors in the global system since its effects are uncontrollable. The global agencies set up to check issues of environmental degradation are weakened while private organizations are being urged to take up the role of overseeing environmental conservation through corporate social responsibility.

Analysis of the Tragedy of the Commons

In the early 1980s onwards, the issue of environmental conservation was reinvented after it emerged that the state of affairs was terrible since pollution was in the air, some of the rare species were under threat, and the depletion of the ozone layer was inevitable. Many governments demanded that private organizations follow the laid down rules and regulations to protect environmental degradation.

However, states were divided over the best way method to be applied in conserving the natural resources. Countries in the developed countries claimed that developing countries had to forego their developmental ambitions by ensuring that forests are not interfered with since this would worsen the situation.

On there, the developing countries claimed that the west or the developed countries were to blame for the deteriorating environment; hence, countries from these regions had to fund programs aimed at restoring the environment. This saw the convening of various meetings to address the issue, including the Rio convention, the Geneva Convention, the Kyoto protocol, and the Durban deliberations.

The debate regarding the best way to resolve issues related to the environment is still ongoing, but the major issue is who should be given the responsibility to implement the rules and regulations. Some scholars and policymakers claim that the government should intervene since it has efficient machinery while others are opposed to this move since it would hurt economic development.

Scholars are claiming that the private sector should be given a chance to claim that economic development would be attained while at the same time preserving the environment. Those claiming that the government should intervene in the view that the private sector is to blame and in this case, it should not be involved in the programs aiming at preserving the environment.

Therefore, the tragedy of the commons could be interpreted from two perspectives, one of them being the private property perspective while the other is the governmental perspective. This paper will discuss the two interpretations in detail.

Why Interpret the Tragedy of the Commons in two Ways

The tragedy of the commons could be interpreted as the argument for private property or government intervention because of several variables. One of the variables is the discourse on the environment and the economy whereby the two differ greatly. Advocates of private property started their activities in the mid-1960s and ended in mid-1970s.

These activists were of the view that environmental protection is harmful to economic development. In this regard, they advised that individuals had to be allowed to own property without considering issues related to the environment. This means that the environment had to be polluted for people to grow to reach. This was a zero-sum game since the environment would lose for societal members to grow rich.

On the other hand, the second wave of activism was concerned with the way the environment was being destroyed. Such activists are always concerned with sustainability, meaning that the way resources are used should take into consideration the demands of the future generation. Based on this, it is always argued that what is environmentally sustainable is profitable. The main aim of these activists is to arrive at a win-win situation as opposed to playing a zero-sum game (Krajnc 78).

Another major variable is the issue of governance regime whereby the private property advocates suggested that each company should ensure that it controls environmental degradation through regulation of pollution. This means that sophisticated technologies ought to be employed in releasing harmful gases that have the potential of affecting human and animal life.

On the other hand, those advocating for governmental intervention suggest that policies aiming at preserving the environment should be integrated into overall policies whereby precautionary measures should be taken to prevent weather pollution. This would imply that companies would have to change their production modes to facilitate environmental cleanup and preservation.

Advocates of private property and governmental intervention differ greatly over the major issues that affect the environment. This means that they both underscore the fact that the environment is under threat. For private property activists, the major concern is pollution of water bodies in urban places, which come about because of nuclear power, increased population, shortage of natural resources, and increased human activities.

For those agitating for governmental intervention, their major concern is the issue of climate change, which is closely related to the depletion of the ozone layer. The issue of biodiversity is of great concern to these activists because the natural forests are under threat, the tropical forests are invaded daily, and some of the rare species of animals are under threat.

Apart from the problem issues, those advocating for governmental intervention are concerned with waste recycling procedures, landfill siting, presence of hazardous waste products in the air, the issue of carcinogens, poor urban planning, pollution from cars, and the way land is used in the urban areas (Gibson 28). The main features and emphasis of activists characterize them into two major categories, as early noted.

Those advocating for private property suggest that environmental issues are related to alienation and detachment from socio-political and economic orders. Moreover, the lack of technological methods is another cause of environmental degradation. Based on this, people should change their attitudes towards environmental degradation.

The group calling for the government to intervene in a different opinion since it suggests that society should accept the challenges facing it, particularly environmental challenges. Through this, the political elite would be forced to come up with measures that would serve to preserve the weather.

Based on this, private property advocates observe that the key actors in preserving the environment are the ministry of the environment, which should always hold talks with concerned organizations and other stakeholders in the private sector. However, supporters of governmental intervention suggest a different strategy.

They claim that the issue of environmental degradation is a multi-sector problem, and all stakeholders should be consulted, including those in business, labor unions, environmental bodies, academicians, and locals. This means that the government should participate in the drafting of the environmental bill that would regulate the behavior of all actors, as far as environmental preservation is concerned.

The last variable touches on policy instruments meant to regulate weather pollution. Private property advocates and those urging the government to take action agree that the environment should be preserved to guarantee development, but the instruments to be applied are different. For private property advocates, stakeholders should come up with regulations that would provide adequate usage of technologies.

However, the regulations should be implemented gradually to pave the way for adjustment. Interventionists claim that the government ought to come up with standardized laws that would be applied uniformly in all sectors (Wilson 87). However, the laws should be flexible to allow entrepreneurial innovation.

The main difference between the two advocates is that interventionists advocate for the law enactment, which would be employed successfully in controlling environmental degradation while the private sector advocate for uneven enforcement of laws.

Works Cited

Gibson, Bob. Voluntary Initiatives: the new politics of corporate greening. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1999. Print.

Krajnc, Anita. “Whither Ontario’s Environment? Neo-Conservatism and the Decline of the Environment Ministry”. Canadian Public Policy, 26.1(2000): 111-127. Print.

Wilson, Edward. The Future of Life. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. Print.

Yacoumidis, James. Ontario: Open for Toxics: Hazardous Waste Disposal Becomes a Growth Industry for Ontario. Toronto: Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, 2000. Print.

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