Public vs. Private – the Commons

Elements of our environment are often referred to as "the commons" – resources such as land, air and water that are shared, used and enjoyed by all. In 1968 scientist Garrett Hardin first published an influential article titled "The Tragedy of the Commons". This term signifies a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen.

Examples of such occurrences abound – factories polluting the air and water are profiting by avoiding the cost of purifiers, but in the long run are poisoning their workforce. Farmers that overgraze public land are depleting it severely, so in the long run it may not be able to sustain any cattle – but in the short run, the more cattle they manage to graze on the land, the more profits they can earn.

It is clear that in many cases, this approach is unsustainable in the long run, and people need to understand and act upon their joint responsibility for environmental resources.

Click here to view the lesson plan.

This lesson plan is part of a series of curriculum units developed by the Galilee Foundation for Value Education in cooperation with the Melton Center for Jewish Education for Bialik College in Melbourne, Australia. Other lessons in the course are:

Lessons in the full course:

1-2 Two creation stories
3 Tower of Babel
4 The mitzvoth dependent on the land
5 Blessings
6 Introduction to projects fair
7 Biodiversity
8 Cruelty to animals
9 Vegetarianism
10 The commons (reshut harabim)
11 Water conservation
12 Family size
13-14 Global warming
15 Sustainable development
16 Wealth, consumption
17 Conservation
18 Advertising, materialism
19 Importance of life
20 Genetic engineering
21 Nuclear energy
22-23 Israeli case study – Hula Valley
24 New ten commandments

For access to the full curriculum, please contact the Galilee Foundation for Value Education.

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