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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

This article is available online (PDF format) from Ingenta Journals. Access is free if your institution subscribes to Environmental Values. Reprints of this article can be ordered from ingenta or the British Library

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