Environmental Commons

From P2P Foundation
Jump to: navigation, search


Discussion

How are the environmental Commons and the electronic commons related?

By Nathan Young in http://www.re-public.gr/en/?p=110

"The core difference between the notions of the environmental and electronic commons is that the former assumes that scarcity is the rule, while the latter assumes that the commons are greatly enhanced with ever greater participation and openness. In what ways, then, are they relevant to one another? My answer is two-fold. The first reason is that state and corporate responses to the ‘older’ issue of environmental commons have set the framework for current responses to the ‘newer’ electronic commons. For instance, ideas about ‘the tragedy of the environmental commons’ have long steered governments in two directions of profound significance for democratic theory and practice. First, it has been used as a justification for the worldwide movement to privatize environment and resources. The notion of ‘private stewardship’ of the environment is etched upon contemporary notions of democracy – as vast tracts of property and wealth have been set ‘off limits’ from (official) public contestation. The second direction has involved the establishment of authoritarian, top-down, and hierarchical legal controls over access and usage of the commons, often despite the prior existence of local systems to mediate these same concerns. As the burgeoning literature on the electronic commons illustrates, these remain the two great narratives in ‘official’ responses to commons old and new.


The second reason that environmental and electronic commons are relevant to one another because both are currently in a state of flux. In this respect, scholars of the electronic commons should take note that the privatization-centralization paradigm that has anchored Western environmental governance for centuries appears to be shifting. Specifically, there is currently a significant movement underway to restore, in very selective and limited ways, the notion of locally-regulated environmental commons. This movement is evident in increasingly common efforts in many countries to establish “cooperative” management of local fisheries , in the notion of “community forestry” that has found particular purchase in North America and Asia , and in efforts to re-open lands as agricultural “commonage” in Australia and South Africa . It is my argument, however, that while these developments are undoubtedly driven by commitments to the principles of the commons (such as autonomy and self-governance), they are also couched in larger movements of globalization and neo-liberalism. I contend that these forces, with their attendant pressures for ‘efficiency’ in economy and governance, are recasting the commons – extending exclusionary authority in some respects while creating new ‘islands’ of local autonomy in others.

The movement towards ‘new’ commons is occurring across many regions of the globe. It is important to recognize, however, that as with the British Columbia case these often proceed in conjunction with the consolidation of exclusive authority in other respects. Other important examples of this tendency include the Bush administration’s significant expansion of community forest programs on public lands in conjunction with radical reductions in environmental regulations of industry as a whole, as well as state efforts across North America, Europe, and Asia to encourage further capitalization in commercial fisheries at the same moment that governments pursue ‘cooperative management’.


This tendency is important for new discussions of the ‘electronic commons’ and for democratic theory more generally. First, it is telling that even the most rigid regulatory frameworks change and evolve with their political-economic context. The re-emergence of the ideal of environmental commons after centuries of privatization and centralization is a highly significant development. Second, however, it is also important to recognize the strategic aspect of these “returns to the commons”, as it is increasingly common for governments to devolve to community and to corporate actors in the same moment – to establish limited spaces for commons autonomy within the context of enhanced corporate rights to further enclose other (and larger) spaces. This, in my opinion, will be the next big front in the struggle over electronic commons – to ensure that the open spaces are large and not sequestered, central and not peripheral." (http://www.re-public.gr/en/?p=110)


The responses of the state

Nathan Young:

"The core difference between the notions of the environmental and electronic commons is that the former assumes that scarcity is the rule, while the latter assumes that the commons are greatly enhanced with ever greater participation and openness. In what ways, then, are they relevant to one another? My answer is two-fold. The first reason is that state and corporate responses to the ‘older’ issue of environmental commons have set the framework for current responses to the ‘newer’ electronic commons. For instance, ideas about ‘the tragedy of the environmental commons’ have long steered governments in two directions of profound significance for democratic theory and practice. First, it has been used as a justification for the worldwide movement to privatize environment and resources. The notion of ‘private stewardship’ of the environment is etched upon contemporary notions of democracy – as vast tracts of property and wealth have been set ‘off limits’ from (official) public contestation. The second direction has involved the establishment of authoritarian, top-down, and hierarchical legal controls over access and usage of the commons, often despite the prior existence of local systems to mediate these same concerns. As the burgeoning literature on the electronic commons illustrates, these remain the two great narratives in ‘official’ responses to commons old and new.

The second reason that environmental and electronic commons are relevant to one another because both are currently in a state of flux. In this respect, scholars of the electronic commons should take note that the privatization-centralization paradigm that has anchored Western environmental governance for centuries appears to be shifting. Specifically, there is currently a significant movement underway to restore, in very selective and limited ways, the notion of locally-regulated environmental commons. This movement is evident in increasingly common efforts in many countries to establish “cooperative” management of local fisheries , in the notion of “community forestry” that has found particular purchase in North America and Asia , and in efforts to re-open lands as agricultural “commonage” in Australia and South Africa . It is my argument, however, that while these developments are undoubtedly driven by commitments to the principles of the commons (such as autonomy and self-governance), they are also couched in larger movements of globalization and neo-liberalism. I contend that these forces, with their attendant pressures for ‘efficiency’ in economy and governance, are recasting the commons – extending exclusionary authority in some respects while creating new ‘islands’ of local autonomy in others." (http://www.re-public.gr/en/?p=110)


More Information

See at http://environmentalcommons.org/