Early exploration of environmental problems often cast them in terms of the inescapable tragedy of the commons. The “tragedy” refers to the subtle challenge associated with a fundamental disconnect between what is good for the individual and what is good for the group. The tragedy is a sad irony: in trying to serve their own self-interests, individuals end up hurting themselves—and the public good—in the long run. This “commons dilemma,” a core puzzle in the social sciences, is ubiquitous in both social and natural systems. Elinor Ostrom, who died June 12, 2012, at the age of 78, challenged the assumption that communities were incapable of developing their own strategies to avoid tragic outcomes.
Anderies JM, Janssen MA (2012) Elinor Ostrom (1933–2012): Pioneer in the Interdisciplinary Science of Coupled Social-Ecological Systems. PLoS Biol 10(10): e1001405. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001405