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Environmental Values

Ethical Obligations in a Tragedy of the Commons

Baylor L. Johnson

Environmental Values 12(2003): 271-287. doi: 10.3197/096327103129341324

When people use a resource without a co-ordinated plan the result is often a tragedy of the commons in which the resource is depleted. Many environmental resources display the characteristics of a developing tragedy of the commons. Many believe that each person is ethically obligated to reduce use of the commons to the sustainable level. I argue that this is mistaken. In a tragedy of the commons there is no reasonable expectation that individual, voluntary action will succeed. Our obligation is not fruitlessly to reduce individual use, but to support a collective agreement to reduce everyone's use to the sustainable level.


KEYWORDS: Commons; ethical obligations; collective action; environmental ethics

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles:

Different Perspectives on Cross-Compliance. Stefan Mann

Climate, Collective Action and Individual Ethical Obligations. Marion Hourdequin
Climate Change and Individual Responsibility: A Reply to Johnson. Marion Hourdequin
Bystanding and Climate Change. Carol Booth
Bearing the Weight of the World: On the Extent of an Individual’s Environmental Responsibility. Ty Raterman

Environmental Stewardship, Moral Psychology and Gardens. Marcello di Paola

Radically Non-Ideal Climate Politics and the Obligation to at Least Vote Green. Aaron Maltais

Addressing Needs in the Search for Sustainable Development: A Proposal for Needs-Based Scenario Building. Catherine Jolibert, Jouni Paavola and Felix Rauschmeyer

Game Theory and the Self-Fulfilling Climate Tragedy. Matthew Kopec

Sharing Responsibility for Divesting from Fossil Fuels. Eric S. Godoy


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