Asymmetrical contributions to the tragedy of the commons and some implications for conservation

Jennifer Jacquet, David Frank, Christopher Schlottmann

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    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.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1036-1048
    Number of pages13
    JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - 2013


    • Asymmetry
    • Conservation priorities
    • Proportionality
    • Public goods
    • Social dilemmas
    • Tragedy of the commons

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
    • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
    • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
    • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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