The Commons as a Model for Ecological Governance
This is the fourth 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. The essays originally appeared on CSRWire. I am re-posting them here to introduce the paperback edition, which was recently released.
The overriding challenge for our time – as outlined in our three previous CSRwire essays – is for human societies to develop new ways of interacting with nature and organizing our economic and social lives. It’s imperative that we rein in the mindless exploitation of fragile natural systems upon which human civilization depends.
The largest, most catastrophic problem, of course, is climate change, but each of the “smaller” ecological challenges we face – loss of biodiversity, soil desertification, collapsing coral reefs and more – stem from the same general problem: a mythopoetic vision that human progress must be achieved through material consumption and the ceaseless expansion of markets.
State/Market Solutions Doomed to Failure
While most people look to the State or Market for solutions, we believe that many of these efforts are doomed to failure or destined to deliver disappointing results. The State/Market duopoly – the deep alliance between large corporations, politicians, government agencies and international treaty organizations – is simply too committed to economic growth and market individualism to entertain any other policy approaches.
The political project of the past forty years has been to tinker around the edges of this dominant paradigm with feckless regulatory programs that do not really address the core problems, and indeed, typically legalize existing practices.
Solution: Stewardship of Shared Resources
So what might be done?
We believe that one of the most compelling, long-term strategies for dealing with the structural causes of our many ecological crises is to create and recognize legally, alternative systems of provisioning and governance. Fortunately, such an alternative general paradigm already exists.
It’s called the commons.