In Garrett Hardin’s popular essay on “The Tragedy of the Commons”, he presents a model of a shared commons where herdsmen graze their cattle to illustrate the tension between group and self-interest that characterizes so many social dilemmas. However, Hardin is not explicit that consumption can actually vary widely among herdsman, although later, when discussing population growth, he clarifies that “people vary”. People do indeed vary, and here we explore further the prevalence of asymmetrical contributions to the tragedy of the commons. We also provide several examples to demonstrate that asymmetries have been frequently underappreciated by conservation initiatives. Given that many of today’s major environmental problems, such as climate change, freshwater shortages, and overfishing, are problems of users or groups of users over-consuming common resources asymmetrically, we believe identifying patterns of consumption is a necessary first step in solving any social dilemma, and can help elucidate priority areas for conservation.
Jacquet, J., D. Frank, C. Schlottman. (2013) Asymmetrical contributions to the tragedy of the commons and some implications for conservation. Sustainability 5: 1036-1048.