Importance of Natural Resources

Tragedy of the Commons │ The Problem with Open Access


This is a model called the tragedy of the
commons. Which should be called the problem with open access, since it has little to
do with a commons. And tragedy is a kind of dramatic.
Let’s say there’s some land with grass on it that people use as pasture for their animals.
Nobody owns it and anyone can come and graze their livestock here. We’re assuming that
people don’t communicate or work together. So we would call this an open access field.
Let’s assume the number of animals this field can feed is based on the quantity and quality
of the grass, which is based on the health of the soil and it can only hold this many
animals. This is the carrying capacity.
If animals are added beyond this, the grass can’t re-grow fast enough to support them
all. Also the grass protects the soil from erosion.
If too many animals are around eating the field may decline in productivity lowering
the carrying capacity. The animals will be less healthy and provide
lesser quality products lowering the profit each animal provides.
So it’s in this group’s best interest to keep the number of animals on the field at or below
the carrying capacity. But every herdsman that puts animals on the
field will get the direct benefit that that animal provides for them. But they would only
share a portion of the costs of the degraded field.
If the field were at carrying capacity and a herdsmen decides to add an extra animal.
The added animals takes some of the food that would have gone to the others. This reduces
their value. The owner of that additional animal comes out ahead because even though
all his animals also are less healthy, he has more of them. But each herdsmen acts under
these incentives and will keep adding animals to their herd or let their animals graze longer,
so long as it’s profitable to themselves. But really they are all losing out. Kind of
like the prisoner’s dilemma. Contrast this to a situation where one person
owns it. If they add extra animal, they’re only hurting themselves so they don’t do
it. Since new people can’t be excluded from using
the field, there’s almost no point in boycotting use because someone else could just come in.
None of the herdsmen own the field and they can see the field may not be around forever.
They see no point in conservation and just try to use it before someone else does.
OK so we go on to can apply this model to unregulated open access fisheries, open access
forests, an unregulated college dorm dish sink.
But the problem with applying this model to the real world, is that we have to assume,
among other things, that people don’t communicate or work together.
Which isn’t true…. With a field like this, people will generally
get together and make plans together and make plans about its use. They may act as a single
unit, or just partition it sections, and they’ll regulate the number of people that can use
it. And if people are working together and communicating
then it’s not really open access. It’s not like every management situation
is open access until somebody does something about it.
So you don’t tend to see the open access problem because people don’t work together.
You tend to see it in situations where people can’t work together.
The open access problem tends to appear not where people don’t communicate or don’t
work together, but where they can’t communicate or can’t work together.
Sometimes people are forced into a situation where they’re not allowed to work together.
Check out this video. Also the larger the management area is the
more difficult communication and influencing each other becomes. For example the global
management of greenhouse gas emissions tends to take on some open access properties.
Basically this model is a way of communicating that: when people can’t work together
on a resource you call it open access… and it’s bad. Which is why the model should
have been called, the problem with open access. This episode is brought to you by, Hardin’s
canned animal meat. Now orphan free.


Reader Comments

  1. Your channel is filled with so many high quality content. I have no idea why you don't have more views and subscribers. Do you write and animate all of these videos yourself? If so, that's incredibly impressive. Keep generating content! This us good stuff. 🙂

  2. Why did you delete your newest video? I finished watching it, refreshed the page after 2 hours and it was gone! Are you reuploading it or something?

  3. I was a little confused by the terminology of this video. By 'Open Access' are you using those words in the way they are most commonly used toady, especially in scientific circles? Were you referring to Open Access to scientific publishing resources? I think you probably were not, since you didn't address them directly and it seems from your other videos like you would rather than trying to be sly about such a thing.

    Applying these ideas to Open Access journals, and to other Open Access online resources, like YouTube, though, leads somewhere interesting! Instead of one person either owning the field, or managing it for others (what I'd expect to happen… either the local community would 'own' the herd of animals or investors would own shares, having the field be shared but the animals totally private isn't consistent and is the source of the problem, a self-contradicting system generates its own fatal flaws), what happens when you just let everyone do what they want ONLINE? Luckily we've got a great solution for the online world. Machine learning tends the field. If YouTube, and other similar online resources, were both totally open AND had no one or no thing tending the collection, users would simply be drowned in content. They'd be incapable of finding the things which interest them, because no matter the quality, the number of things which do not interest them vastly outnumbers those that do. With machine learning systems, we can simply let a bit of software take a look at what we watch, what things we 'like', and (for now) what other people with similar tastes also like, and bingo, a fully verdant, fertile field for everyone! It might not work so well to have a computer dictating to the shepherds when and how many sheep they could graze though…

  4. I don't know, people managed very well in England with commons for millennia before everything was stolen by the aristocracy.

  5. This also assumes that the tragedy is one of a desirable consumable resource. What if it is just unintended like Orangutan population or acid rain or DDT? or carrier pigeons? Whales? Buffalo or birds eye maple trees? Water sheds? Air in China? Aquifers.

  6. wait i always thought that the "commons" referred to the commonality of the animals that are overgrazing the land. as in the animals are the common factor that cause the tragedy of land destruction. i think that's how i was taught this model in AP environmental science back in high school. can anyone clarify?

  7. Did you ever watch the Richard Dawkins – "Nice Guys Finish First" – Documentary? It also covers the The Prisoner's Dilemma and the Tragedy of the Commons and is very interesting to watch. these videos do a great job of summarizing the topics in concise, understandable and enjoyable way. However, the Richard Dawkins documentary is worth a watch if you want a more lengthy and in depth take on the subject.

  8. Thank you for the video, this is very digestible material for students learning about the commons, also sends out a positive message.

  9. This is the myth that is perpetuated by the new capitalism – that individual ownership is the superior way to treat the world. It's premised on the false, archaic liberal assumption that humans are solitary animals. We are definitely not. Even in situations of the most tenuous personal connection we form groups and support each other. For thousands of years before the present, we maintained the natural world's resources at only a slow rate of decline through these group interests. With modern technology and ingenuity, we might even be able to reverse this slow rate of decline, with the right systems in place. However, present modes of living divide us into individual units, because as individuals we are less capable of resisting market forces such as advertising, labor exploitation and the rent trap.

    In reality, those who are rich and super-rich do not rely solely on their own faculties. They have broad networks of advisors, skilled friends, confidantes, people who owe "favours", family relations – connections, basically. It is only as you go further down the chain of consumption that we lose these connections. The inspiring "individual" stories of wealth and success are replaced by single parents, homelessness, broken and dysfunctional families, and people working dehumanising jobs for long hours.

    The best way to cure the planet and live well is not to retreat further into our now technologically individualised worlds. It is to reach out to those around us, and to seek solutions to common problems based on the expertise of the many rather than the few. Revitalising common ownership is definitely a worthy goal for this reason.

  10. grass is love for livestock grass is life (what I sead) (NO NOT THESE!!!) there no more noobs (YAY!) (NO NOT AGAIN!!!) (AHHH!!!)

  11. This is what is happening with the population in my country, India. We breed far too many and expect all of us to survive.

  12. I have been seeing your videos for more than a month and yes it is the most interesting video.I felt proud when i saw nepalease flag in this video..good job mate.?

  13. i remember hearing about this concept applied to California and the limited water reserves. Farmers use up all the water they can or someone else will anyway, so there's no conservation.

  14. In great britain, they had commons. Then they fenced the land off, sold it to rich people, and now instead of being feuding shepherds, they were now beggers or wage slaves.

  15. Here is a challenge for you on organizing a society.

    If you live on an isolated island that has just enough trees to feed the current population, would you cut some trees to build a house knowing that some of the population must be reduced (i.e. left to die from hunger)?

    (The trees are like the wealth and the Wall street is like the capitalist house-builder, i.e.   "Wall street" concentrate wealth under one ownership)

    Wealth before people or people before wealth???
    What say you???

    [Naturally, In real life there are much more sources of wealth, but eventually it all comes to the emergence of Wealth scarcity (natural or artificially created). In that moment it becomes exactly as in the "island" example.]

    !!!! God, I must be a genius for coming up with these things !!!! … Somebody pay me, please!

  16. Hey Jesse! been following you for a while and i was happy to see my professor used this video for a class on global issues! Keep 'em comming!!!

  17. There is also Tragedy of Private Property. Under this system land is bought and sold. It generally leads to collectivism and war.

  18. Open Access is now a marketing word for "no fees access to scientific articles in science journals", so… there's that too

  19. college dorm sink was 2 real!!!! There was literally no point in taking my own responsibility. Even if I washed my own dishes, the sink would be full, and on one else would admit which dish they used. 🙁

  20. So the government plan restricts planning and freedom of cooperation encourages cooperation? I think you have it backwards. The government plan offers the opportunity for restricting the short-sighted actions of individuals through incentives and enforcement.

  21. Your topics are relatable, your style is universal and easy to understand as is your voice. The production quality is above average for this type of youtube video. I do not see why you are not allready at like at least 300k subscribers. Good luck ad keep producing your videos.

  22. The name "tragedy of the commons" doesn't make sense to you? "Tragedy", meaning something bad; "of", related to/happens to; "the commons", the common goods that they share, as in, they are the same type of good.

  23. The ending sponsorship jokes are very reminiscent of the sponsorship jokes the "The technical difficulties". And you do seem like the kind of guy that would watch them.

  24. No individual or entity may hold the deed to this (or any) field, but there is some level of control of access, ideally the community. How should access to the land be awarded? The fairest way is to hold an auction, not for purchase but a leasehold interest to the land for a limited period of time and with certain restrictions to protect sustainability.

  25. Your definition of Open Access is skewed. People communicate with how they are going to use someone's discovery in open access situation. The video link also is a "limited" access problem. The government limited the access to resources and ownership values. People couldn't value their home anymore like they once used to.

    This is a really misleading title name. "When you can't work together, we just call it open access." It is limited in the sense you cannot access the resource of communication and planning.

  26. This is a model. There is next to no evidence that degradation of resources ever occurs in a way that matches the model (or is solved by communication in the way described). It is then says something about ideology that the model keeps getting spread by teachers and video makers. Instead, pay attention to the ways people have unequal access to resources and information and the real world starts to get illuminated.

  27. Wow, it's like you did not actually read the essay where this name was coined. So let's see… the problem of climate change is not a tragedy, and our climate is not a commons? Or did you fail to realize this is an analogy about larger issues?

  28. Need a solution to greenhouse gasses? Allow suicidal people to terminate their lives. Not ethical and I wouldn't advocate for it but allowing people who don't even want to be alive to die would reduce carbon emissions greatly. Not only that but stopping hounding people for grandkids and instead encouraging adoption. Less babies, less resources used.

  29. The Customer is also a resource !WOW ! I JUST REVOLUTIONIZED THE WORLD'S ECONOMIC THOUGHT  ! BANG, BANG !
    You should feel privileged for being exposed to this idea.

  30. I don't know why people try to make simple concepts so mysterious and esoteric. It's as simple as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Its built into our social and economic system. If you are poor eventually you will end up dead or on the street, if you are rich you will make more money.

  31. I have a uni exam tomorrow and wow I wish I had found this sooner. It's all clicked because of this video! Super easy to understand. Thank you!!!!

  32. I have often thought that this whole theory was invented after the fact: the fact that some feudal Lord was stuck explaining to his child why the locals were protesting their annexation of formerly common grounds by erecting hedgerows to keep everyone else's sheep off what they no considered to be "their" private property.
    I think that the locals would have fallen to regulating each other long before law-makers had to come in and fix this. I could be wrong, but I think this has always been an after-the-fact justification.

  33. To summarize the video, it’s basically just saying that open access systems ( they used a field as an example ) are bad. This is because people will sometimes tend to abuse the system by taking more than they should ( they used the idea of Shepards taking more carrying capacity on the field than what’s due to them ) for a variety of incentives such as money or more resources.

  34. Interesting to note the (open access) commons were successfully run for hundreds of years, until the enclosure movement. The tragedy of the commons was a postulation and idea assumed to be right but in actuality wasn’t the case.

  35. The problem with this is that it supposes separated individuals and presupposes that workers at the commons are not cooperating. Also it's presumption is profit motive which wasn't true for commoners. This tries so hard to be a argument for privatization and capitalism but it fails because it presumes commoners are participating in capitalist economy and are stupid individualists.

  36. That whole idea is wrong. You can't say they are worse off. In their context they are better off and it will always stabilize itself. You can't have less that the carrying capacity when adding more. Even if you are alone, you can add an extra sheep as long as the total worth of the sheep (plural) is more than before.

    An example:
    If you have 3 sheep, and adding an extra sheep makes the worth of each sheep 25% lesser (including the new sheep) then the total would be the (75%*4=100%*3). Since we are talking about a perfect world, we can ignore things like taking care the sheep or having any other inconvenience and this making the 3 original or +1 options equally viable.

    This model only collapses when you have a breaking point prior to the equilibrium edge point. So even if we didn't have communication, the system would be stable unless we had this special case. That's why capitalism works.

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