Green Governance, Human Rights, and the Commons

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*Book: Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights, and the Commons. By Burns Weston and David Bollier. Cambridge University Press, 2013

URL = amazon

Shorter draft essay (229 pages!) available via: Regenerating the Human Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment in the Commons Renaissance pdf part one ; pdf part two


David Bollier:

"Our book recovers from history many fragments of what we call “commons-based law” from such sources as Roman law, the Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest, and public trust doctrine governing natural resources. We also point to many modern-day analogues such as international treaties to manage Antarctica and space as commons. We wish to show that commons-based law is in fact a long and serious legal tradition – but one that has also been quite vulnerable, particularly over the past two centuries as market-oriented priorities have eclipsed the commons.

Burns Weston and I argue that the right to a clean and healthy environment, and to access to nature for subsistence (as opposed to for profit-making market purposes), should be recognized as a human right. The right to meet one’s everyday household needs – by responsibly managing forests, pasture, orchards and wild game as a commons – was recognized by the Charter of the Forest, adopted by King Henry III, the son of King John, in 1217.

This right was essentially a right to survive because commoners depended on the forest for food, fuel, economic security and other basic needs. Such precedents ought to inform our discussions today, when the rights of investors and markets in effect override any human right to survival (consider the many free trade treaties that override democratic sovereignty, ecological protections and local control)." (


The case for green governance

"If the human species is to overcome the many interconnected ecological catastrophes now confronting us, this moment in history requires that we entertain some bold modifications of our legal structures and political culture. We must find the means to introduce new ideas for effective and just environmental protection―locally, nationally, regionally, globally and points in between.

It is our premise that human societies will not succeed in overcoming our myriad eco-crises through better “green technology” or economic reforms alone; we must pioneer new types of governance that allow and encourage people to move from anthropocentrism to biocentrism, and to develop qualitatively different types of relationships with nature itself and, indeed, with each other. An economics and supporting civic polity that valorizes growth and material development as the precondition for virtually everything else is ultimately a dead end―literally.

Achieving a clean, healthy and ecologically balanced environment requires that we cultivate a practical governance paradigm based on, first, a logic of respect for nature, sufficiency, interdependence, shared responsibility and fairness among all human beings; and second, an ethic of integrated global and local citizenship that insists upon transparency and accountability in all activities affecting the integrity of the environment.

We believe that commons- and rights-based ecological governance can fulfill this logic and ethic. Properly done, it can move us beyond the neoliberal State and Market alliance―what we call the “State/Market”―which is chiefly responsible for the current, failed paradigm of ecological governance."


Chapter 1. Trends that Point Toward a New Synthesis

A. The Tragedy of the Market

B. New Governance Models on the Internet

C. Imagining New Types of Governance that Go Beyond Market and State

Chapter 2. The Human Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment

Chapter 3. The Quest for a New Rights-based Pathway

A. Intergenerational Environmental Rights

B. Nature’s Environmental Rights

C. Four Systemic Complications

Chapter 4. Making the Conceptual Transition to the New Paradigm

A. The Power of Human Rights

B. The Potential of Vernacular Law

C. The Necessity of Self-Organized Governance and Collaboration in Complex Adaptive Systems

Chapter 5. The Commons as a Model for Ecological Governance

A. What Is the Commons?

B. A Brief History of Commons Law and the Right to the Environment

C. Social Scientists Rediscover the Commons

Chapter 6. The Rise of the Commons Movement Globally

A. Salient Contemporary Commons

B. Tensions between Modern State Law and the Commons

Chapter 7. Imagining a New Architecture of Law and Policy to Support the Ecological Commons

A. Internal Governance Principles of Commons

B. Macro-Principles and Policies to Guide the State/Market in Supporting the Commons Sector

Chapter 8. Catalytic Strategies for Achieving Green Governance

A. Vernacular-Law Commons

B. “Private-law Work-arounds”

C. Localism and Municipal Law as a Vehicle for Protecting Commons

D. Federal and Provincial Governments as Supporters of Commons Formation and Expansion

E. Expand and Strengthen the Public Trust Doctrine

F. State Trustee Commons

G. Eco-digital Innovations: Crowdsourcing, Participatory Sensing, Wikis, and More

H. Establish Commons Trusts to Manage Common Assets and Distribute Revenues

I. State Chartering of New Types of Commons Trusts

J. New Types of Multilateral Frameworks that Can Manage Large-scale Common-pool Resources

Status Update

Weston Burns, May 24, 2012:

"David Bollier and I are delighted to be able to tell you that we will be sending our completed book manuscript (Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights, and the Commons) to Cambridge University Press (CUP) this coming Monday, May 28. To be published in early 2013, its Table of Contents will look something like the attached short version. However, we also attach an expanded longer version intended for you especially. As hopefully you will see, we have reorganized our old essay and added much to it. That is, we took very seriously your many insightful and helpful critiques. For which we thank you much again.

David and I are also pleased to report, as promised, that we now have a website for our Commons Law Project (CLP): With CUP’s gracious permission, It includes the full text of the draft essay we discussed last October, plus sundry other items of cognate interest, among them our newly published article in the Spring | Summer 2012 issue of Kosmos (a kind of executive summary of our book)."

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