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It has become clear to many people that there is only one living planet in the entire Milky Way galaxy. Unless a radical revolution in space technology provides the ability to travel into distant galaxies to discover Earth-like planets, the best solution to environmental woes is to start saving Mother Earth.
One of the interesting concepts that were developed to increase the likelihood of success is the concept of environmental commons. It is rooted in the idea of shared accountability to share in the blessing that will result from the wise utilization of limited natural resources.
There are several examples of success stories wherein the community was able to reap the harvest of shared responsibility in caring for the environment. However, it can be argued that the application of the concept of environmental commons is easier to apply in societies where individualism is not a central part of its identity and culture.
In the book entitled Global Environmental Commons: Analytical and Political Challenges in Building Governance Mechanisms, the author explained the importance of environmental commons by highlighting the interdependency of socio-ecological systems (Brousseau 1). In the book entitled Teaching for EcoJustice: Towards Diverse, Democratic, and Sustainable Communities, the authors discussed the principles within environmental commons (Martusewicz and Edmundson 275).
The authors wrote, “the commons represent both the natural systems and the cultural patterns, and traditions that are shared without cost” (Martusewicz and Edmundson 275). In other words, people learn how to share the forest, air, soil, oceans, and rivers.
They also provided a better way to appreciate the concept by stating that the environmental commons “refer to our shared and non-monetized relationship to the land, water, air and all the creatures that exist within the living system” (Martusewicz & Edmundson 276). In other words, a sustainable “environmental commons framework” enables people to benefit from the natural resources that are present within that system.
The preservation of the “environmental commons” is advantageous to the people that are living nearby, and those that have easy access to the said living system. Thus, it is important to point out that those who are benefitting from the blessings of the shared environment must learn to take care of the same.
This statement also clarifies the reason why corporations and unscrupulous people are not in agreement with the principles of sharing resources. In this kind of set-up, the amount of timber, seafood, and minerals that can be harvested from the environment will be strictly limited. It is not the kind of set-up that is favorable for a corporation created to make a profit at the shortest time possible.
It has to be made clear that corporate leaders are aware of the problem. In the book entitled Dictionary of Environmental Science and Technology, the author made the argument that corporate leaders justify their actions through the assertion that sustainable practices are possible within a capitalist framework (Porteus 141). A significant number of corporate leaders believe that market forces will take care of these problems (Porteus 141).
For example, the proliferation of fishing boats funded by fishing companies will significantly increase the number of marine resources that are harvested on a yearly basis. However, corporate leaders believe that due to the sudden increase in supply, the prices of the marine resources will go down. Therefore, the number of fishing boats will decline, because there is no longer just for additional investment into the said enterprise.
This may look like an acceptable theory, however, in real-life the depletion of natural resources comes first before investors pull out their support for commercial fishing. The author Eric Brousseau (314) made the same observation. He said that businessmen find a way to beat the rules in order to maximize profit.
In the case of commercial fishing, there is a limited time given for commercial fishermen to harvest marine resources. This strategy has no significant effect on the conservation of marine resources. Businessmen simply invested in more powerful and larger fishing boats to harvest more resources from the ocean (Brousseau 134).
It is easy to understand the value of environmental commons. Those who are not bound with a responsibility to increase the revenue of a company will readily embrace the principles of environmental commons.
Those who are not motivated to earn a significant amount of money in the shortest possible time will readily accept the guidelines set forth by an environmental protection agency. But those who are set to make a lot of money from illegal trade, and the exploitation of natural resources, they are not readily swayed by the argument that it is important to save the planet.
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It is true that those with hidden motives and criminal intent to profit from illegal activities are prone to disregard the call for more responsible actions with regards to the protection of the environment. However, even if there is agreement that environmental protection is a noble cause, and a top priority in the 21st century, it is not an action that is easy to implement.
According to one commentary, “The proper management of environmental challenges may well require a reshaping of how the human community, with all its established subgroups and diverse motivations and coalition, can devise better mechanisms for making collective decisions to manage its shared environment” (Brousseau 1).
In addition, it is also important to “implement mechanisms aimed at channeling individual behavior so that these collective goals are reached” (Brousseau 2). Those with several years of experience in implementing projects and overseeing a group of workers understand the difficulty of implementing a mechanism aimed to change the behavior of a diverse group of people. The challenge becomes more problematic if the target society is founded on the principles of individualism.
Limited Success Stories
It is good to know that there are documented success stories that resulted in the application of the principles found in environmental commons. However, it must be made clear that these success stories are not yet common, especially in the Western world. In fact, it can be argued that success stories are found in societies that are not focused on the ideals of individualism.
As a result, the concept of environmental commons is easy to disseminate in societies that value the importance of cooperation. In the book entitled Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World’s Problems, the authors pointed out the reason why the concept of environmental commons is received with open arms in certain areas of the globe (Strong and Mackey 156).
The authors wrote: “In small groups, such as the tribes of 150 in which we evolved, beliefs and norms concerning right and wrong were usually an adequate means of ensuring that the members of the tribe respected each other and the environment in which the tribe lived” (Strong and Mackey 156). The ideals of cooperation and sharing of resources are second nature to tribal people. However, it is a concept that is almost alien to a Western mind.
In the book entitled Japanese Commons in the Coastal Seas, the author describes an example of a successful implementation of environmental commons principles (Yanagi 40). In this particular case, the environment was protected through the establishment of the Alaska Fisherman Union in Kuwana City, Japan (Yanagi 40). The fisherman union was created in 1990 in response to the decreasing number of shrimp, sea bass, flatfish and conger eel that are harvested every year (Yanagi 40).
David Bollier created a website to track down success stories of environmental justice linked to the concept of environmental commons (1). He said that Somali shepherds revived ancient techniques for conserving water by creating rock dams (Bollier 1). Somali shepherds became willing participants when they learned that they could benefit from the application of sustainable practices.
Bollier also highlighted success stories in West Africa and the jungles of Brazil. People discovered the beauty of community forestry. There is an emerging pattern; these success stories come from communities that have little regard for the value of individualism.
It is important to implement strategies that are based on the concept of environmental commons. It is foolish to believe that market forces will help reduce the impact of commerce in the exploitation of natural resources. It is only through the creation of a community that values the sharing of natural resources that sustainable environmental practices can become a realistic endeavor.
However, there is an emerging pattern, the concept of environmental commons is best understood in societies that have little regard for individualism. It is difficult to do the same in societies wherein people believe that market forces and individualism are key drivers in the creation of a prosperous society.
Bollier, David. Success Stories of Environmental Justice. On the Commons, 21 June 2005. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. < http://goo.gl/0Vs5l8>.
Brousseau, Eric. Global Environmental Commons: Analytical and Political Challenges in Building Governance Mechanisms. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
Martusewicz, Rebecca and Jeff Edmundson. Teaching for EcoJustice: Toward Diverse, Democratic, and Sustainable Communities. New York: Routledge, 2011.Print.
Porteus, Andrew. Dictionary of Environmental Science and Technology. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.
Strong, Michael and John Mackey. Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World’s Problems. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.
Yanagi, Tetsuo. Japanese Commons in the Coastal Seas. New York: Springer, 2013 Print.