Since the reef, mangroves, clean ocean, and more “common areas” were all listed as needing protection, I remembered from my college years a paper called the "Tragedy of the Commons” and felt it was a good time to review it. A biologist, Garrett Hardin, suggested that when there is a public resource—a commons—which is limited (the world’s resources) and diminished by use (human population), but can be used by individuals with negligible individual usage cost, each individual will tend to increase their use until the resource itself is exhausted and that, in his particular example, without ANY change in population. According to his view, each person expects to gain greater benefit from increasing their own use rather than showing restraint, since they expect their neighbors will do likewise and show no such restraint. If the commons are going to be depleted anyway, why not get mine?
Garrett applied this to, among other things, the issue of human population in which he concludes “The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation.” In other words, absent a change to the status quo, people will continue to have has many children as they want because, individually, it furthers their desires more than it inhibits their lives and in the end the total human population will deplete the available world resources.
Now, although the worldwide rate of population growth has been declining since the early 60’s, even before Hardin’s paper (’68), the fear is there will come a day when the world’s declining resources will not sustain whatever population exists at that future time. With our dependence on petroleum, Hubbert’s “Peak Oil” theory added a real world model to the concerns of rising population.
The online discussion was, as many of them tend to be, a lose-lose because, beyond what we know, there is so much we don’t know and a lot of “not knowing what we don’t know”. So there is no real and handy answer. Are there too many people in the world now? In some places, absolutely. Will there be too many in the future? Depends…Once necessary resources are depleted, even one person might be too many (think oxygen).
Now I think Hardin was logically correct but missed the underlying nature of man which is selfish in the interest of preservation hence, in the case of population control, assured self-destruction. Will technology come to our rescue? Will we have the ability and means to replace those resources we deplete or cannot continue through sustainable use? Should we limit population growth or even, as some have argued, reduce the population now to allow for growth in the future? If we (you and I) are the responsible stewards of our world and come up with the right solution, can we convince everyone to think like us. If someone else shows us the way, will we believe and take the necessary actions or will everyone, for whatever reason, continue to plunder the commons?