Regenerating the Human Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment in the Commons Renaissance

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  1. Part I
  2. Part II of the essay.)

Details at: Green Governance, Human Rights, and the Commons


Part I

I. Introduction

The regeneration of the right to a clean and healthy environment is entirely feasible if we can liberate ourselves from the tyranny of State-centric models of legal process; enlarge our understanding of “value” in economic thought; expand our sense of human rights; and honor the power of non-market participation, local context, and social diversity in structuring economic activity.

II. The Status of the Human Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment

The human right to a clean and healthy environment can be a powerful legal tool for improved ecological governance, but none of the three main State-based interpretations of this right are adequate. Two alternative legal approaches – “intergenerational environmental rights” and “nature’s rights” – hold great promise, but have complexities of their own.

III. Making the Conceptual Transition to a New Paradigm

New and powerful trends in economics, digital technology, and human rights point to a new synthesis that can help us address our many ecological crises. These trends include a growing interest in holistic economic frameworks that can help us name and manage “value” more responsibly than neoliberal economics and policy; new types of commons-based governance that provide practical ways to honor and manage non-market value, including in environmental contexts; and a reconceptualization of human rights as a key element of socio-ecological governance and justice.

Part II

IV. The Commons as a Model for Ecological Governance

Far from being a failed management system or quaint vestige of pre-modern life, the commons is a governance system that can help humankind serve as a responsible steward of natural resources. This fact has been confirmed by Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom and other social scientists who have studied commons for farming, forests, fisheries, water, and wild game, among other resources, around the world. With the proper design, a commons regime can help communities establish rules and norms for managing resources, set limits on resource exploitation, sanction rule-breakers, and assure long-term sustainability. Download section

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

It is urgent that we develop new legal principles and strategies that can support rights-based ecological commons in their many varieties. Law must help protect the commons against enclosure, assure their responsible operation and unleash their generative stewardship. This requires that we pursue certain legal strategies to foster the creation of commons and to push the State/Market to use its authority and resources to do the same. Download section

VI. Coda

If we are truly going to regenerate the human right to a clean and healthy environment, we must gird ourselves for some ambitious tasks: imagining alternative futures; mobilizing new energies and commitments; deconstructing archaic institutions while building new ones; devising new public policies and legal mechanisms; cultivating new understandings of human rights, economics and commons; and reconsidering some deeply rooted prejudices about governance and human nature."

More Information

See: Commons Law Project