Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Comment
  • Published:

Hardin’s oversimplification of population growth

Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons put forward underdeveloped arguments that continue to be reflected in simplistic debates about the drivers and implications of demographic dynamics. It’s time to embrace the complexity that Hardin lacked in order to develop better-informed policy.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1


  1. Hardin, G. Science 162, 1243–1248 (1968).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Ostrom, E. Governing the Commons (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1990).

  3. Dolšak, N. & Ostrom, E. (eds) The Commons in the New Millennium: Challenges and Adaptation (MIT Press, Cambridge, 2003).

  4. Westoff, C. Pop. Develop. Rev. 38, 169–178 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Mbacké, C. Pop. Develop. Rev. 43, 330–337 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Grace, K. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 479–485 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Shanley, P., Pierce, A. R., Laird, S. A., Binnqüist, C. L. & Guariguata, M. R. Tropical Forestry Handbook 2016 2713–2760 (Springer, Berlin, 2016).

  8. Dasgupta, P. S. Sci. Am. 272, 40–45 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Brauner-Otto, S. R. & Axinn, W. G. Pop. Environ. 38, 381–406 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Simon, D. H. Pop. Environ. 38, 407–423 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Americans see overpopulation as a bigger problem than underpopulation. Rasmussen Reports (7 June 2018).

  12. Gao, G. Scientists more worried than public about world’s growing population. FactTank, Pew Research Center (8 June, 2015).

  13. World Population Prospects (UNFPA, New York, 2017).

  14. World Bank CO 2 Emissions (Metric Tons per Capita) (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee,2014);

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lori M. Hunter.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hunter, L.M., Prakash, A. Hardin’s oversimplification of population growth. Nat Sustain 2, 78–79 (2019).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing