In 1968, an environmental scientist named Garret Hardin, wrote an essay called “The Tragedy of the Commons”- which sparked a decades long discussion about the environment and our property rights. This was a discussion of an economic theory that contemplated the use and/or overuse of what is otherwise known as common or public property. Specifically, this theory looked at property that was not regulated by any government nor owned by any individual and how this property could be easily overexploited.

To make sense of the use and possible overuse of this public property, Hardin’s essay used the analogy of shepherds grazing their herds in a public, unregulated field. He argued that because each shepherd would use the pasture for their own personal benefit, without any consideration for the conservation of the resource, it would eventually lead to overuse. He used this example as an analogy for any environmental common area and argued that it could be applied easily to the wider environment. [1]

In more general terms, the concept behind the tragedy of the commons raised issues of how best to manage our environmental resources – whether that is our land, water, or air.

Environmental law, alongside property law, exerts significant effort into figuring out how best to manage public spaces. This section will explain some of the ways that Alberta has sought out to manage the use of our resources and what needs to be done better.  Hopefully, this section will help you understand the strong and important connection between environmental law and how we own and use our resources.

The Tragedy of the Commons >>

[1] Garret Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1968) 162:3859 Science 1243.




Managing our Environmental Resources: A modern take on the Tragedy of the Commons

Lesson Plan: Fundamentals of Environmental Law
Lesson Plan: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Lesson Plan: Tragedy of the Commons
Lesson Plan: Climate Litigation

Curriculum Connections


Join our new Alberta Environmental Laws 101 Facebook group to ask questions, participate in discussions and keep up to date on environmental news. Please share this widely so that the high school teachers and students in your circles hear about this great new resource for supplemental online learning. Alberta Environmental Laws 101 Facebook Group