Green Economy Sparks a Modern Tragedy of the Commons

Displacement in Bajo Aguan, Honduras, illustrates how green economy initiatives like carbon cap and trade can create a modern Tragedy of the Commons.


| May/June 2013



A young girl stands amidst Afican palm trees with soldiers in the background in Bajo Aguan.

This is the modern Tragedy of the Commons: an international system that rewards social inequality in the name of saving the planet.

Photo By Nora Bluhme

Carmen* watches as steam rises from the coffee mug between her hands and dissolves into the cool morning air. She leans against the clay walls of her family hut and sighs, tired from a dawn spent pounding dough into breakfast tortillas. Her husband and their six-year-old son left for work on the African palm tree plantation about an hour ago. In a few more hours, the boy will return to Guadalupe Carney, their rural Honduran community, to collect lunch for himself and his father. Carmen is eager to bask in the morning quiet while it lasts.  

Suddenly, her son skips back through the door, chewing a blade of grass. “Weren’t you going to help Daddy today?” she asks, her eyebrows knitting with concern.  

“Nope,” the boy shrugs. “He sent me home.”  

Her cell phone rings. Carmen begins to feel faint as she registers her husband’s words: “Things are getting ugly here. I don’t want any of you on the plantation today. I’ll see you tonight.”  

It is November 15th, 2010. Shortly after she hangs up the phone, Carmen’s husband and at least three other farm workers are shot to death.