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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?’

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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.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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