Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Governing commons still a struggle, but fight not without hope, according to new report

12.12.2003


Thirty-five years after biologist Garrett Hardin issued his prophetic essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons," which warned that human beings would ultimately destroy commonly shared resources, a re-examination of the state of common pool resources by three researchers, including Indiana University Bloomington political scientist Elinor Ostrom, offers an urgent yet hopeful message.



The authors of a new report, "The Struggle to Govern the Commons," which will appear in a special Dec. 12 issue of Science, say they are "guardedly optimistic" about mankind’s ability to govern such critical commons as the oceans and the climate. They point to systematic multidisciplinary research showing that widely diverse adaptive governance systems have been effective stewards of many resources.

"In many areas of commons governance, we have witnessed significant improvement," said Ostrom, the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis and the Center for the Study of Institutions, Population and Environmental Change. "Certainly the world is not uniform, but there are signs of some resources improving even though others are deteriorating. People have devised ingenious ways to manage and govern the commons."


"Of course, we also recognize that human beings still have an incredible capability to harm themselves," she added.

In Hardin’s 1968 essay, which appeared in Science and launched an entire field of ecological research, he claimed that only two institutional arrangements -- centralized government and private property -- could sustain commons such as air, groundwater and forests over the long run. To illustrate his point, he used a little-known pamphlet written in 1833 by mathematician William Forster Lloyd about the use of public lands by herdsmen. In Lloyd’s story, a pasture is open for grazing to all herdsmen. This arrangement works for a while, even for centuries, until each herdsman realizes he can make a profit by adding more and more cattle to his herd. Ultimately, in a world in which resources are limited, human greed "brings ruin to all," Hardin concluded.

But Ostrom and colleagues Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University and Paul C. Stern of the National Academies in Washington, D.C., say that Hardin presumed resource users were trapped in a commons dilemma, unable to create solutions. "He missed the fact that many social groups -- including the herders on the commons that provided the metaphor for his analysis -- have struggled successfully against threats of resource degradation by developing and maintaining self-governing institutions. While these institutions have not always succeeded, neither have Hardin’s preferred alternatives of private or state ownership," the authors write.

The authors argue that governing the commons will always be a struggle, and that ideal conditions for governance are increasingly rare, but that sustaining Earth’s resources is made easier when humans work to establish and enforce rules that are changeable, engage in well-structured dialogue with all interested parties, design complex institutional arrangements that are nested in many layers, and consider local information that can help identify future problems and develop solutions. People also must be prepared to deal with conflict, because there are bound to be sharp differences in power and values across interested parties, and to allow for adaptation, because some current understanding is likely to be wrong, the scale of organization can shift, and biophysical and social systems change.

In an online supplement to the article, remotely sensed images from five countries illustrate that either forest stability or deforestation can occur under all forms of ownership. Instead of ownership being the key -- as Hardin and many others have argued -- the processes for gaining agreement on a legitimate set of rules and their enforcement are far more important.

The authors cite several examples of successful commons governance. These examples range from smaller-scale efforts, such as the Maine lobster fishery, which is governed by formal and informal user institutions that have strongly influenced state-level rules that restrict fishing, to large-scale efforts such as the Montreal Protocol on stratospheric ozone, which has helped stabilize the atmospheric concentration of ozone-depleting substances. In contrast, the authors write that international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases have yet to have impact.

Too often, "strategies for governance of local commons are designed in capital cities or by donor agencies in ignorance of the state of the science and local conditions," the authors write. "The results are often tragic, but at least these tragedies are local."

The authors conclude that the challenge is for humans "to develop and deploy understanding of large-scale commons governance quickly enough to avoid the large-scale tragedies that will otherwise ensue."

Is the challenge too great? Ostrom is concerned, but she remains positive.

"It would be unwise to just be optimistic, but I’m hopeful that people will realize that, while certainly not easy, effective commons governance is possible," she said. "There is no blueprint, no one way to solve things, but that’s not to say we can’t learn from one another. It’s all about the concept of learning."

Ryan Piurek | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://newsinfo.iu.edu/

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change
17.11.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

nachricht Win-win strategies for climate and food security
02.10.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>