Response to Prompt 2: Why Gassing People to Death is More Tragedy than Tragedy of the Commons.


While the example of gassing in Syria can certainly be applied to Hardin’s principle of tragedy of the commons, I think there are two factors preventing it from being a great example. First nerve gas isn’t polluting the air in the same way greenhouse gases or ozone-depleting chemicals do. Most of the major components of air pollution are byproducts of industrialization and once accumulated in the atmosphere can have catastrophic global effects. However, nerve gas is purposely released into the atmosphere to have catastrophic local effects. There is a specific target in mind and the pollution does not extend far past this target. Thus, the pollution is not extending to the global commons. My other issue with this example is that the purposeful killing of hundreds of people outshines the fact that nerve gassing could potentially be an example for Hardin’s tragedy. I’m less inclined to focus on “wow, someone is really polluting the global air supply with this nerve gas” and more likely to think “wow, how could someone kill so many people in such an atrocious manner”.


The most obvious example of Hardin’s tragedy is the heavy reliance on coal in countries like China, USA, India, Russia, and Japan, which account for 76% of world coal consumption. These countries don’t just contribute to localized increases in smog, particulate matter, and CO2, (among other gases),they are increasing these levels on a global scale. These five consumers continue to burn coal in an effort to increase their economic benefit, while ignoring the cost that burdens the almost 190 other countries around the world (not to mention, themselves); textbook tragedy of the commons.


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