This is the second of a series of six essays by Professor Burns Weston and me, derived from our book Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons, published by Cambridge University Press in January 2013. The essays originally appeared on CSRWire.
Is it possible to solve our many environmental problems through ingenious interventions by government and markets alone? Not likely. Apart from calls for eco-minded behavior (recycle your cans, insulate your house), ordinary citizens have been more or less exiled from environmental policymaking.
The big oil, coal and nuclear power companies have easy access to the President and Congress and expert lawyers and scientists have privileged seats at the table. But opponents of, say, the Keystone Pipeline are mostly ignored unless they get arrested for protesting outside of the White House.A New Kind of Law to Underpin the Commons
That’s why we believe it’s important to talk about a “new” category of law that has little recognition among legislators and regulators, judges and lobbyists. We call it “Vernacular Law.” “Vernacular” is a term that the dissident sociologist Ivan Illich used to describe the informal, everyday spaces in people’s lives where they negotiate their own rules and devise their own norms and practices.
In our last essay, we introduced the idea of commons- and rights-based governance for natural ecosystems. We turn now to Vernacular Law because its matrix of socially negotiated values, principles and rules are what make a commons work.
Vernacular Law originates in the informal, unofficial zones of society – the cafes and barber shops, Main Street and schools, our parks and social networking websites. What emerges in these zones is a shared wisdom and a source of moral legitimacy and authority. Colonial powers frequently used their formal law to forcibly repress the use of local languages so that their controlling mother tongue could prevail.