William Forster Lloyd first introduced “the tragedy of the commons about unregulated grazing” on common land. A century later, Garrett Hardin changed the scope of “the commons” to include regulated land and air beyond just open access areas. The tragedy was their fear that this would be a problem for open access “commons”, but later it developed into problems for regulated areas as well. Hardin states in the Tragedy of The Commons, “The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.” This point of tragedy has plagued China for years via overpopulation and overuse of land resources, stemming from industrialization.
Population problems and control, is a good starting point to see how China has managed to have such high levels of air pollution. Over the years, China’s industrialization and economic growth has brought millions out of poverty, and continued to attract citizens to find work and start families. This was good in the government and citizens’ eyes at first. Everything was growing, and the largest middle class in the world was emerging. To keep in mind, China is roughly the size of the entire United States and has plenty of room to hold all the industrialization and population growths, right? This is where the tragedy of the commons occurred for China. Population was growing so rapidly they had no choice, but to continuously build industries and cities to sustain their increasing population levels.
Lloyd and Hardin’s expression, tragedy of the commons, started in China when industries were polluting at such high rates, regulations had to be created. This is an example of an open access to air “tragedy”, which of course nobody can take away, but can become harmful when pollutants enter. China is the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, which stems from their vast, and still increasing, industrialization. Areas north of the Huai River, life expectancy has dropped 5.5 years less than areas to the south due to pollution. Water quality is diminishing, with 65.6% of the water considered “poor and considered not fit for human contact.” The steel industry has provided much of this pollution, and its current operating capacity is twice that of the total steel making capacity in Britain. These are just a couple example to put into perspective the amount of industrial pollution that China creates. The harmful effects have forced China to create regulation, most recently being their Five-Year-Plan. The need for these regulations is a way to show how Lloyd and Hardin’s theory of allowing open access areas (air in this case), leads to an ultimate collapse. The only way the “commons” survive is if a regulatory agency intervenes.
Another aspect of both Lloyd and mainly Hardin, was the need for a form of population control. Hardin, in response to an attempt to deny families their right to produce, stated, “It is painful to have to deny categorically the validity of this right; denying it, one feels as uncomfortable as a resident of Salem, Massachusetts, who denied the reality of witches in the 17th century.” So, then, what are we to do about the overpopulation problems that China is facing? Well, China is attempting to create a form of population control. The government created policies to limit the number of children born into Chinese families. China first introduced the one-child policy in 1979 (has phased out since 2015), in hope to limit the population to under 1.2 billion by the year 2000. According to the Chinese Health Ministry, doctors have performed 336 million abortions, 196 million sterilizations, and inserted 403 million intrauterine devices since this policy enactment. For comparison, there have roughly been 50 million abortions since 1973 in the United states. The entire effect of the one-child policy has claimed to have reduced population by 400 million, but several other factors fall into reasons for declines. What stands true, is that one solution to the tragedy of the commons was in fact to control the population.
For China to save their environment and economy, regulatory agencies on pollutants and forms of population control seem to be possible solutions. China has recognized the need for some control, and that needs to be happening in the political arena. Actions made by the government is the only chance for a remedy to the increasing industrialization and population levels. If policies are implemented that manages to control these issues at a sustainable level, the tragedy of the commons can be reversed, and potentially save the land and even the nation.