19 June 2006

The Tragedy of the Tragedy of the Commons

So through bribes the Japanese have bought the passage of a shameful resolution that flies in the face of science and commonsense. They argue that since whales are more plentiful, they can be hunted. But the only reason whales are more plentiful is because they have not been hunted for 20 years: start hunting them again, and they will be forced to extinction, and there will be no whales for hunting - or anything else.

There's a name for this: it's called the Tragedy of the Commons, and was articulated more than 30 years ago in a famous essay by Garrett Hardin. Basically, it says that selfish use of a common resource leads to the loss of that resource - exactly as Japan seems hell-bent on proving. If the commercial whaling ban is indeed lifted, history will rightly judge them and their allies - including, surprisingly, the previously civilised Denmark - harshly.

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