26 Nov 2009

Ostrom on the war in India, Copenhagen and research

Climate, too, is a 'common' resource. How do you visualise 'governing the commons' operating at the international level, in the context of the debates over carbon caps and the summit next month at Copenhagen?
Climate change is a global phenomenon that requires a global response. But by focusing only on the level of global governance, we could miss out on benefits that could result from responding to the issue at individual, local, regional and national levels. Developing effective nested institutions at multiple levels is one of the key challenges of the contemporary era. For example, in Berkeley, California, there are city initiatives to help residents pay for installing solar panels; California has stringent state targets for air pollution; then there is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Consortium, made up of 10 northeastern states. Critics may argue that local and regional actions won't solve the climate change problem, but cumulatively, they're significant.

Right now in India there is a huge conflict over common pool resources, such as land and forests. While existing populations depend on these resources for survival, there are also developmental needs emerging from industrialisation, leading to clashes such as farmers versus industry, or indigenous communities versus mining companies. How do we resolve such conflicts over the commons?
This is a very tricky issue. If Mahatma Gandhi were alive, he would be with the people who have been sustaining the land and the resources and the trees. He would not consider going through big industry and lots of money as necessarily the best way. For example, in Mexico, there is a group of indigenous people that do have pretty good rights to their land, rights they obtained after considerable struggle. They have an NGO working with them, and they've set up a biological lab. They have figured out a way of growing orchids in their forests. And they don't have to cut down their trees as the orchids grow in the trees, and they sell the orchids for a good price. They've also figured out a way of growing beautiful mushrooms, and selling them. So, without destroying the forest, they are getting good income to the local community. And with that money, they have built a better school in their locality. They send kids to college, and those who hold masters degrees come back and serve the community for five years, which is a requirement. But many then stay on. So it is possible to develop with high respect for the indigenous people.




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