'How to be green? Many people have asked us this important question. It's really very simple and requires no expert knowledge or complex skills. Here's the answer. Consume less. Share more. Enjoy life.' Penny Kemp and Derek Wall
Because a broad-based politics of the commons does not yet exist (even as the conditions are ripe for it) and will not emerge over-night, the tactical use of demands creates opportunities for testing and learning from experiments in managing the commons. For example, what if the environmental movement against hydraulic fracturing were to envision a national campaign to declare the ground waters a commons? This not only would prevent gas companies from putting at risk the lives of millions, but it would immediately empower water management boards elected by local communities with unprecedented powers. How would these governing bodies be constituted and how would they be run? Following this logic, we may also ask similar questions in regard to education, health care, and the production of energy. In each of these sectors, we may have to design solutions to manage these resources not as commodities but as goods whose mode of disposition and usage is determined by the community of their users and producers.
Such questions are only the beginning of a larger investigation that takes the commons not as a one-size-fit-all solution but as a mobile concept that can and should operate at different levels of granularity and on different plateaus. As a preliminary exploration, we suggest that a politics of the commons should operate on three levels: 1) the management of land and natural resources; 2) the production and reproduction of social life (including care work, housing, education, and labor); 3) the production and allocation of energy, knowledge, and information. Because these three layers interpenetrate one another, multiple conflicts arise as soon as one attempts to set priorities. Yet it is also clear that there are elements that cut transversally across these areas, namely, the understanding that the commons is a finite resource that can not only be extracted but needs to be actively reproduced. Such a notion, we believe, marks a decisive break with the capitalist system of production. This system has been thriving by constantly overcoming the limits to its own expansion—with the result of producing an unprecedented demographic explosion while bringing the life support systems to the brink of total collapse. The Occupy movement is an extraordinary opportunity to rethink this model. But in order to do so, the movement has to dispel the illusion that all proposals and visions are equivalent as long as they are democratically discussed, and begin to set priorities on the road to a truly transformative and visionary politics.
David Harvey, The New Imperialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). ↩
Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1990). ↩
Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006). ↩