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“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.

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…

What Permaculture Can Teach Us About Commons

What Permaculture Can Teach Us About Commons

My friendship and work with ecological design expert Dave Jacke have only intensified my conviction that permaculturists and commoners need to connect more and learn from each other.  The value of such dialogues was brought home to me by a public talk and an all-day workshop that I co-organized with Dave.  The events, which in combination we called “Reinventing the Commons,” were an opportunity for 35 participants to learn about ecosystem dynamics and the commons, and for Dave and me to learn from each other in public.  How might we build better commons by mimicking the principles and patterns of natural ecosystems?

Dave’s talk on the evening of January 20 was a great introduction to this topic.  He started by showing a chart plotting the “industrial ascent” of human civilization as fueled by cheap fossil fuels, growing populations and profligate pollution and waste.  (See the yellow line in the chart; based on a diagram originally by David Holmgren (http://futurescenarios.org.)

Dave’s quick historical overview started with tribal commons in the prehistoric era, a time when people self-organized to obtain enough food and shelter to survive.  Societies began to take the shape of feudal commons in Roman and Medieval times, at least in England and Europe.  Lords owned the land and claimed privileged access to certain resources of the landscape while allowing commoners to manage other resources themselves.

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

The climate and the commons

The climate and the commons

The Paris agreement that ensued from the COP-21 summit states that “climate change is a common concern of humankind”. This brings to mind the position taken by an increasing number of climate activists: the atmosphere needs to be managed as a commons.*

There are plenty of precedents to draw from, precedents which prove that it’s entirely doable and not really all that complicated. Over the course of several decades Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues carried out extensive research on effectively managed commons around the world, and drew up a set of guidelines that could be applied to the atmosphere as well. That’s what this article will discuss.

If we take a look at existing commons we quickly notice a problem however. There’s very little correlation between their structures and the assumptions about managing the atmosphere that form the basis of the Paris agreement. This isn’t to say that the Paris agreement needs to be rewritten, but rather, that we need a back-up framework to ensure that the things that need doing actually get done.

As many observers have noted, the Paris agreement

– assumes that the atmosphere can be managed without any clearly defined rules governing its use. The agreement lacks a mechanism to ensure that most fossil fuels will stay in the ground. Indeed, its phrasing implies that we will probably have to resort to unproven and risky geoengineering or carbon capture and storage in order to try and meet its target of net zero emissions in the second half of this century.
– – fails to ensure that everyone affected by decisions about the climate will have a voice in the decision-making process.

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

P2P Revolution and Commons Phase Transition

P2P Revolution and Commons Phase Transition

P2P Revolution and Commons Phase Transition

At the P2P Foundation, we don’t use the moniker ‘revolution’ with much frequency, preferring the concept of phase transition.

In this article, we would like to elucidate the relation between the two concepts.

In my experience, revolution is used in two quite different senses; in a generic sense, it just means a ‘big change’, like for example when we speak about the Industrial Revolution, this was a long and drawn out process, with many aspects and it would be really difficult to identify with one particular event. Yet at the same time, there is clearly a time when industrial changes emerged in a mostly agrarian context, and a time when it is the industrial processes and forms of organisation which are dominant, and the agrarian aspects subsumed under that domination. Clearly, between these two moments, a ‘phase transition’ has occurred.

Revolution is also used in a much more narrow fashion, which usually refers to a momentous series of concrete events, in which the very organisation of power in society changed fundamentally, leading to a wholesale replacement of human personnel, a new different balance of power between social classes, and the like. Paradigmatic examples would be the French and Russian revolutions.

Both types of revolutions occur throughout history, but for many people, at least for those that live more comfortably, the second notion is less attractive. Indeed, it is most often associated with violence, often directed against the very ‘leaders’ of the first phases of such revolutions, and to boot, usually leads to counter-revolutions.

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

Rebel City of the Commons, Part II

Rebel City of the Commons, Part II

This is the second installment of a two-part series on global rebel cities. Read the first part here.

Rebel City is a need: both as a narrative and as a practice of collective fixing in the urban space. Rebel City is desirable: as a form of disobedience that defies states, legal frameworks, supranations or markets. Rebel City dialogues with the global “outside,” that is, with social movements and citizen resistance.

But disobedient rebellion must also navigate a fine line. The combative tone for seducing the “outside” also needs to be friendly and welcoming for all citizens. To invoke the “inside” and governmental spheres, the storytelling of these Rebel Cities must be rounded: free cities, participatory cities, cities of the common good. Additionally, the new storytelling must be able to snatch the paradigm of collaborative economy from the large international companies that currently control it.

On September 4 in Barcelona, the disobedient rebellion was present in speeches given by the new grassroots mayors of Spain. Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau pointed out that “European states have disappointed citizens,” but “here we are the cities to [make] the alternative.” The meeting was the first step of a new inter-municipal network of Cities of the Common Good. But what would be a City of the Commons?

On the one hand, the Rebel City of the Commons must recognize and protect the citizen spaces that produce the commons: social centers, self-managed spaces, gardening networks, peer-to-peer exchange networks, etc. Public space, which citizenship transforms into a lively, democratic and open exchange, is both the metaphor and the tool for participation. On the other hand, the Rebel City of the Commons must go further, building tools, copyleft repositories and open participatory platforms, replicable by cities across the world. Digital structures must also shift to public space the open source spirit of open government.

 

– See more at: http://www.occupy.com/article/rebel-city-commons-part-ii#sthash.NoBQqXz4.dpuf

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