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Saving Farmland, Supporting Young Farmers

Hacking the Law to Open Up Zones of Commoning

Returning Land Back to the Commons

Returning Land Back to the Commons

Graham Truscott tells the story of how Melbourne Area Transition bought a redundant cabbage field and turned it back into biodiverse, fruitful, community-owned land.

With the opening of a beautiful new hub building in October 2018, 4 hectares (10 acres) of former cabbage field (last held in common ownership in 1791) celebrated the fifth anniversary of its return to cooperative ownership and a significant transformation. The ‘big idea’ in March 2013 had been to turn this rather ordinary field into a multipurpose resource for the local community, an educational showcase and exemplar for permaculture principles and a fighting (albeit local and small-scale) response to the multiple threats affecting the biosphere. We were then a small Transition group in a rural/subur­ban area of South Derbyshire.

Melbourne Area Transition members had achieved a few small practical successes. A thriving forest garden had been created at the local school, a 10kW solar PV system placed on the roof of the grade 1 listed parish church and a number of other projects and activities drew attention to the big issues … But raising the money, fighting off housing developers, equestrian and other local property interests, managing land as an inexperienced group? That’s how daunting it looked when the commercial ‘For Sale’ signs appeared by the side of the road. By October 2013, however, not only had we figured out how to do it, got ourselves and our new cooperative approved by the Financial Regulator, gathered more than 150 members, done all the legal stuff etc. – and raised the cash – we were holding our first celebration on our own land.

The unequivocal support of The National Forest was critical. Within three days of hearing of our hopes, the promise of a capital grant from this forward-thinking organisation to start the fundraising forced us to turn thoughts into action.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth by Guy Standing

Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth by Guy Standing

Solving the problems of our times together by reviving the commons

Anyone looking for an excellent description of the damaging effects of austerity will find it in this book. Anyone looking for an analysis of the ecological crisis and what to do about may be disappointed. It seems to be very difficult to find both sides of the crisis of modern times integrated in the writings of any contemporary author – or in policies of any political parties. This fragmentation is an integral aspect of the crisis. It is a major part of our problems. 

That is not to say that Guy Standing has not tried to provide an integrated answer to all the problems and his theme, the plunder of the commons, and the need to protect and share public wealth, is a good place to start from. As he writes in chapter one, “It is not just land. Everything we hold or use in common or intended for public benefit – from parks to police, from schools to sewers, even the air we breath – is under attack” (p 14 ) 

The attempt to span all the issues and put them into a single charter for our times is laudable. But you need to know your stuff if you are going to propose meaningful policies to go in a Charter in which a central part is to protect the ecological system. More than that….you need to realise that when it comes to protecting the ecological system any such Charter is already very overdue – and perhaps too late.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Every time a civilization is in crisis, there is a return of the commons” – Interview with Michel Bauwens

“Every time a civilization is in crisis, there is a return of the commons” – Interview with Michel Bauwens

The commons are nothing new. Historically citizens always came together to pool resources and manage them collectively and autonomously. It is the responsibility of cities and states to identify, connect and support them. Today the commons appear as a choice of society in a world at the end of its lifespan. A society where economic and productive systems will finally be compatible with the major planetary balances.

We increasingly speak of commons. “Common goods”, “creative commons”, “commonalities”…  What exactly are the commons about?

Michel Bauwens: The commons are three things at the same time: a resource (shared), a community (which maintains them) and precise principles of autonomous governance (to regulate them). These are very concrete things, which do not exist naturally but are the result of alliances between several parties. “There is no commons without commoning”. Examples are renewable energy cooperatives,  shared mobility projects, entities of shared knowledge, food cooperatives… 

In fact, we all have and create commons without knowing it, and have always done so… following more or less intense cycles of mutualization.

In fact, we all have and create commons without knowing it, and have always done so… following more or less intense cycles of mutualization.

If commoning follows cycles, where are we today?

M. B. : There are long, civilizational cycles and short, economic cycles. Regarding the former, every time a civilization is in crisis, there is a return of the commons. Because when class societies disintegrate, when resources are overexploited and run out, pooling resources makes more and more sense. Today, we face a global environmental crisis that is giving rise to a resurgence of the commons. Yesterday it was the end of the Roman Empire, the crisis in Japan in the 12th century or in China in the 15th century… 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Bold Agenda for Treating Land as a Commons

A Bold Agenda for Treating Land as a Commons

The privileges of land ownership are so huge and far-reaching that they are generally taken as immutable facts of life – something that politics cannot possibly address. A hearty salute is therefore in order for a fantastic new report edited by George Monbiot, the brilliant columnist for The Guardian, and a team of six experts.  The report, “Land for the Many:  Changing the Way our Fundamental Asset is Used, Owned and Governed,” lays out a rigorous, comprehensive plan for democratizing access and use of land.  

“Dig deep enough into many of the problems this country faces, and you will soon hit land,” writes Monbiot. “Soaring inequality and exclusion; the massive cost of renting or buying a decent home; repeated financial crises, sparked by housing asset bubbles; the collapse of wildlife and ecosystems; the lack of public amenities – the way land is owned and controlled underlies them all. Yet it scarcely features in political discussions.” (The six report coauthors are Robin Grey, Tom Kenny, Laurie Macfarlane, Anna Powell-Smith, Guy Shrubsole and Beth Stratford.).

The report contains recommendations to the British Labour Party as it develops a policy agenda in preparation for the next general election. Given that much of the world suffers from treating land as a speculative asset, the report could be considered a template for pursuing similar reforms around the world. (Monbiot’s column summarizing the report can be found here.)  

For me, the report is quite remarkable:  a rigorous, comprehensive set of proposals for how land could be developed, used, and protected as a commons. 

There are succinct, powerful sections on making land ownership data more open and available; ways to foster community-led development and ownership of land (such as a “community right to buy”); and codifying a citizen’s “right to roam” on land for civic and cultural purposes. One effective way to curb speculative development and revive farming and forestry is by creating community land trusts and curbing tax privileges and subsidies.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book Review: The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom: Commons, Contestation and Craft

The threat posed by global warming and environmental degradation are the most pressing examples of what has become known over the past several decades as the ‘tragedy of the commons’. In this book, Derek Wall explores the work of the late Nobel Laureate, Elinor Ostrom, on how humans can overcome this problem, and sustain the commons over the long term. Chris Shaw finds that this book is an accessible presentation of Ostrom’s ideas.

The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom: Commons, Contestation and Craft. Derek Wall. Routledge. 2014.

Derek Wall has been an important figure in the Green Party for a number of years and also works as Associate Tutor in the Department of Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. He has written extensively on the subject of green politics and green economics. In The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom: Commons, Contestation and Craft, he examines what the idea of the commons can contribute to the building of an ecologically sustainable future. He approaches this analysis through an overview of the work of the late Elinor Ostrom (who died in 2012), the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in economic sciences.

Ostrom’s principal interest was in how institutions worked or failed to sustain collective resource use. Ostrom noted that self-governing entities exist at a variety of scales and can be found in both the public and private sphere. The key question for Ostrom was: ‘How can fallible human beings achieve and sustain self-governing ways of life and self-governing entities as well as sustaining ecological systems at multiple scales?’

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Community Development and the Commons

Community Development and the Commons

The commons offers a framework and a process for effectively and equitably stewarding the resources communities need to live in dignity.

Last August, 200 people from across Oakland, California came together to envision and design a development plan for a small parcel of public land. For months leading up to that day, community members and neighborhood coalitions had been organizing against a controversial – and possibly illegal – plan to develop a luxury high-rise apartment complex on land owned by the City of Oakland, in a neighborhood where 75% of residents are low or very-low income and 75% are renters. Having succeeded in pressuring the City to back out of the initially proposed deal with UrbanCore Development through creative direct action and sophisticated community organizing, organizers with the E12th St Coalition wanted to create a visionary community-driven alternative – and the E12th WishList People’s Planning Forum was convened. On a sunny Sunday afternoon near Oakland’s Lake Merritt, hundreds of people shared their visions for what could be done with this public land – and not a single person envisioned a market-rate housing complex on that site.

The result of this community planning process: The E12th St. People’s Proposal. This visionary plan, compiled by the E12 St. Coalition in partnership with nonprofit developer Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, includes a 100% affordable housing complex, a public park, commercial space for local businesses, and more. (The grassroots coalition has formally submitted the People’s Proposal to the City of Oakland for consideration and is currently competing against two other proposals, neither of which include anything close to 100% affordable housing.) All of this has been motivated by the radical idea that public land should be used for public good. Radical indeed in a region with one of the fastest increasing land values in the country.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Making, adapting, sharing: fabricating open-source agricultural tools

This is a story about people who build their own machines. It’s a story about people who, due to necessity and/or conscious choice, do not buy commercial equipment to work their lands or animals, but who invent, create and adapt machines to their specific needs: for harvesting legumes, for hammering poles, for hitching tools onto tractors.

The machines are just one part of our story, and this article will talk about encounters between people, tools and knowledge and it will take us to various places: Paris and Renage in France, Pyrgos and Kalentzi in Greece, and Tallinn in Estonia.

Let us begin our journey in Greece. In Pyrgos (southern Crete), there is a small group of people called Melitakes (the Cretan word for ants) interested in seed sovereignty and agroecology. It is a group that cares about organic farming and that tries to form a small cooperative. One of the things the group does is to plant legumes in between olive-trees or grapes. While olive trees are abundant in Greece, the land in between individual trees is usually not cultivated due to the distance necessary to avoid shading and foster the growth of the trees. So the idea was quite simple: use the unused land. However, the members of the group soon faced a specific problem: it’s hard to harvest legumes by hand and there are no available tools to do this arduous job in a narrow line between olive trees. On the market, there are only big tractor accessories, suitable for such a job, and only for large crops. That is why the group sought the help of a friend in a nearby village, a machinist, to help them out. He liked the idea. He saw it as a challenge and started to develop a tool (see picture 1).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Rethinking the balance between equality and hierarchy: 2) New insights into the evolution of hierarchy and inequality throughout the ages

This is a follow up on our earlier article on finding techniques for ‘reverse dominance’, i.e. avoiding the concentration of power.

More indications of how to restore a new balance towards egalitarian (or rather ‘equipotential’) outcomes come from David Graeber, who wrote a very important article summarizing the last 3 decades of findings from archaeology and anthropology, which have overturned many of our insights:

1) In the excerpt on Seasonal Reversals of Hierarchical Structures‎‎ he shows several examples of tribes and societies which combined more egalitarian and more hierarchical arrangements, according to context.

2) In the excerpt on the Transition from Foraging to Farming Societies‎‎, he shows that this was by no means a universal transition towards more hierarchy ; in fact, many agricultural societies and their cities had deep democratic structures (sometimes more egalitarian than their earlier tribal forms)

3) Finally in the last one, Top-Down Structures of Rule Are Not the Necessary Consequence of Large-Scale Organization, he gives several examples showing ‘size does not matter’

All this should give us hope, that the evolution towards the current hierarchical models are not written in stone, and that societies can be more flexible than they appear.

Seasonal Reversals of Hierarchical Structures

David Graeber: “From the very beginning, human beings were self-consciously experimenting with different social possibilities. Anthropologists describe societies of this sort as possessing a ‘double morphology’. Marcel Mauss, writing in the early twentieth century, observed that the circumpolar Inuit, ‘and likewise many other societies . . . have two social structures, one in summer and one in winter, and that in parallel they have two systems of law and religion’. In the summer months, Inuit dispersed into small patriarchal bands in pursuit of freshwater fish, caribou, and reindeer, each under the authority of a single male elder. Property was possessively marked and patriarchs exercised coercive, sometimes even tyrannical power over their kin. But in the long winter months, when seals and walrus flocked to the Arctic shore, another social structure entirely took over as Inuit gathered together to build great meeting houses of wood, whale-rib, and stone. Within them, the virtues of equality, altruism, and collective life prevailed; wealth was shared; husbands and wives exchanged partners under the aegis of Sedna, the Goddess of the Seals.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Beet the System! A Dialogue on Food Sovereignty, Inclusivity and Healing the Rural/Urban Divide.


Can food and food sovereignty be the catalyst for a Commons Transition? For over 30 years, FIAN International has been advocating for the right to food sovereignty. Their work unites bottom-up grassroots movements and local administrations, with a special focus on inclusivity and enfranchising those who are most often left out. Mirroring some of the developments in the Ghent Commons Transition Plan and the ongoing work on Food as Commons, we felt that their ongoing work warranted a deeper exploration from a P2P/Commons perspective. To find out more Michel Bauwens from the P2P Foundation interviewed Astrid Bouchedor, Manuel Eggen, and Hanne Flachet from FIAN Belgium and Emily Mattheisen from FIAN International.

Dear Astrid and colleagues: first of all, can you introduce your work, i.e. what is FIAN, and what is the philosophy behind your publication Beet the System? Personal details about your individual engagements are also welcome.

FIAN Belgium is part of FIAN International, a human rights organisation advocating for the right to food and nutrition (RtFN) worldwide since 1986. FIAN consists of national sections and individual members in over 50 countries around the world.

Our mission is to expose violations of people’s right to food wherever they may occur. We stand up against unjust and oppressive practices that prevent people from feeding themselves and we support the struggle of individuals and groups who are determined to defend their rights.

FIAN is also collaborating with the peasants movements and other social movements to advocate for a transition towards sustainable food systems and food sovereignty.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

George Monbiot on the Commons

Book of the Day: Integral Ecology: Toward a Perma-Circular Society

Christian Arnsperger: My colleague Dominique Bourg (also from the University of Lausanne) and myself have just released a new book in French, entitled Ecologie intégrale: Pour une société permacirculaire(translation: Integral Ecology: Toward a Perma-Circular Society), published in Paris by Presses Universitaires de France. It’s the culmination of a two-year effort we engaged in between mid-2014 (when I arrived at Lausanne) and mid-2016 to spell out (a) what sustainability really means and (b) what the social, cultural and political conditions for the emergence of a genuinely sustainable society are. It’s during this period that we published our article, Vers une économie authentiquement circulaire: Réflexions sur les fondements d’un indicateur de circularité”(“Toward a Genuinely Circular Economy: Reflections on the Foundations of a Circularity Indicator”), in which we first coined the word permacircularité. (In French, we don’t hyphenate it. I’m thinking of soon going over to that spelling convention in English as well – since the related word “permaculture” has no hyphen either.)

Our basic intuition, which we started out by developing in a series of articles, was that a genuinely sustainable society requires a circular and regenerative economy which, as a result, needs to give up growth as it guiding and regulating principle. We adopted the insights discovered by the French engineer François Grosse, who has posted previously on this blog and who contributed a short text to our book. You can see the book’s webpage and order it at https://www.puf.com/content/Ecologie_intégrale.

For English-speaking audiences, I need to add immediately that the way in which we use the word “integral” in our book’s title is rather different from the meaning that word has acquired, in the USA in particular, over the past decade.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

There’s only one way to avoid climate catastrophe: ‘de-growing’ our economy

What’s most disturbing about this litany of pain is that it’s only going to get worse. A recent paper in the journal Nature estimates that our chances of keeping global warming below the danger threshold of 2 degrees is now vanishingly small: only about 5 per cent. It’s more likely that we’re headed for around 3.2 degrees of warming, and possibly as much as 4.9 degrees. If scientists are clear about anything, it’s that this level of climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic. Indeed, there’s a good chance that it would render large-scale civilization impossible.

If scientists are clear about anything, it’s that this level of climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic

Why are our prospects so bleak? According to the paper’s authors, it’s because the cuts we’re making to greenhouse gas emissions are being more than cancelled out by economic growth. In the coming decades, we’ll be able to reduce the carbon intensity (CO2 per unit of GDP) of the global economy by about 1.9 per cent per year, they say, if we make heavy investments in clean energy and efficient technology. That’s a lot. But as long as the economy keeps growing by more than that, total emissions are still going to rise.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Seeds of Agroecology and Common Ownership

The Seeds of Agroecology and Common Ownership

The increasingly globalised industrial food system that transnational agribusiness promotes is not feeding the world and is responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises. Localised, traditional methods of food production have given way to globalised supply chains dominated by transnational companies policies and actions which have resulted in the destruction of habitat and livelihoods and the imposition of corporate-controlled, chemical-intensive (monocrop) agriculture that weds farmers and regions to a wholly exploitative system of neoliberal globalisation.

Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina or palm oil production in Indonesia, transnational agribusiness and global capitalism cannot be greenwashed.

In their rush to readily promote neoliberal dogma and corporate PR, many take as given that profit-driven transnational corporations have a legitimate claim to be custodians of natural assets. There is the premise that water, seeds, land, food, soil and agriculture should be handed over to powerful, corrupt transnational corporations to milk for profit, under the pretence these entities are somehow serving the needs of humanity.

These natural assets (‘the commons’) belong to everyone and any stewardship should be carried out in the common interest by local people assisted by public institutions and governments acting on their behalf, not by private transnational corporations driven by self-interest and the maximization of profit by any means possible.

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot notes the vast wealth the economic elite has accumulated at our expense through its seizure of the commons. A commons is managed not for the accumulation of capital or profit but for the steady production of prosperity or wellbeing of a particular group, who might live in or beside it or who created and sustain it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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