This is the second in a series of ‘Case for the Commons: the kinder Society we want’ posts – the third will try and answer the question: What is the Commons, and how does it work? You can read part one here.

What is needed is a ‘Commons’ approach to the climate and related crises, an approach that can’t be introduced through government diktat or international agreement but through individuals, communities, networks and peoples’ governments adopting such an approach – perhaps in order to address the climate crisis but more probably as part of a strategy designed to rapidly reign in the corporations and financiers as people insist on a different response to the extortions of the financiers.

Elinor Ostrom, who received the Nobel Prize in Economics for her work on the Commons, writes:

Acknowledging the complexity of global warming, as well as the relatively recent agreement among scientists about the human causes of climate change, leads to the recognition that waiting for effective policies to be established at the global level is unreasonable.

Instead, it would be better to self-consciously adopt a multi-scale approach to the problem of climate change, starting at the local level. This approach serves to maximize the benefits at varying levels and encourages experimentation and learning from diverse policies adopted at multiple scales.

Currently, efforts to address climate change are being orchestrated primarily by global actors, but waiting for international solutions is wasting valuable time. Conventional wisdom tells us that there are only two options to deal with managing resources: either privatization or management by the state. This view is hindering progress. To successfully address climate change in the long run, the day-to-day activities of individuals, families, firms, communities, and governments at multiple levels—particularly those in the more developed world—will need to change substantially. Encouraging simultaneous actions at multiple scales is an important strategy to address this problem.

Although Ostrom’s writing is very helpful, it is a mistake to say that “efforts to address climate change are being orchestrated primarily by global actors”.

Global actors are exactly those who are failing to address climate change, and very often deliberately so since addressing it would mean reigning in the economic system driving climate change, the very system that has given ‘global actors’ their prominent position. Rather, efforts to address climate change are happening at the very local level and in peoples’ movements and networks that are also trying to reign in the system driving climate change.

The ‘Commons’ approach underlying these responses challenges the dominant systems assumptions concerning the nature of reality and being human. In doing this they are reclaiming what is politically possible, they are reclaiming the power and the willingness and the time to stop the ecocidal processes driving climate change.