Politics and Justice Without Borders
Global Community Newsletter main website
Volume 15 Issue 3 November 2016

Theme for this month

The dream of a new Eden: Global Civilization.

Table of Contents of November Newsletter

  • Paper on the theme.Paper on the theme.

  • Front Page and summary text with eleven (11) animations.Summary text and animations.

  • Images in the eleven (11) animations. Images in the eleven (11) animations.

Global Dialogue 2016 Proceedings (September 1st 2015 to August 31st 2016). Global Dialogue 2016 Proceedings (September 1st 2015 to August 31st 2016).

Global Peace Earth. Global Peace Earth.

Global Community days of celebration or remembering throughout the year. Global Community days of celebration or remembering throughout the year.

Authors of research papers and articles on global issues for this month. Authors of research papers and articles on global issues for this month.

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Authors of research papers and articles on global issues for this month

David Anderson, Michel Bauwens, David Bollier (2), Ashley Braun, Robert J Burrowes, José Luis DIAZ, Gilbert Doctorow, Richard Falk Amy Goodman, Silke Helfrich, Ari LeVaux, Bernhard Lorentz, Adam Macon, Gunther Ostermann, Adam Parsons, Jose Luis Vivero Po, Gerhard Scherhorn, Tara Smith, Prue Taylor, Colin Todhunter, Andre Vltchek, Mike Whitney, Sam Woolfe.

David Anderson, Echoes From The Past Expressing Hope For Humanity. Echoes From The Past Expressing Hope For Humanity.
Michel Bauwens, Peer-To-Peer Economy And New Civilization Centered Around The Sustenance Of The Commons. Peer-To-Peer Economy And New Civilization Centered Around The Sustenance Of The Commons.
David Bollier, Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights And The Commons. Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights And The Commons.
David Bollier, Re Imagining The Polity For A Networked Humanity  Re Imagining The Polity For A Networked Humanity
Ashley Braun, As Nations Embrace Paris Agreement, World’s Existing Fossil Fuels Set To Exceed Its Goals. As Nations Embrace Paris Agreement, World’s Existing Fossil Fuels Set To Exceed Its Goals.
Robert J Burrowes, A Nonviolent Strategy to End the Climate Catastrophe.  A Nonviolent Strategy to End the Climate Catastrophe.
Gilbert Doctorow, The Warnings of a New World War  The Warnings of a New World War
Richard Falk, Do Humans Have the Collective Will to Prevent Global Catastrophe?  Do Humans Have the Collective Will to Prevent Global Catastrophe?
Amy Goodman, Activists Shut Pipeline Valves, Halt Flow of Tar Sands Oil (Video) Activists Shut Pipeline Valves, Halt Flow of Tar Sands Oil (Video)
Silke Helfrich, El Buen Vivir And The Commons. El Buen Vivir And The Commons.
Ari LeVaux, Polar Peaches? Climate Change Is Pushing Tree-Planting Zones Northward  Polar Peaches? Climate Change Is Pushing Tree-Planting Zones Northward
Bernhard Lorentz, The Atmosphere As A Global Commons. The Atmosphere As A Global Commons.
Adam Macon, America's Southern Forests Are Being Decimated to Supply Europe With Energy America's Southern Forests Are Being Decimated to Supply Europe With Energy
Gunther Ostermann, Is There A Future For Our Species ?  Is There A Future For Our Species ?
Adam Parsons, Standing In Solidarity For A Humanity Without Borders. Standing In Solidarity For A Humanity Without Borders.
Jose Luis Vivero Po, Crowdsourcing The Food Commons Transition: De-Commodifying Food One Movement At A Time Crowdsourcing The Food Commons Transition: De-Commodifying Food One Movement At A Time
Gerhard Scherhorn, Transforming Global Resources Into Commons. Transforming Global Resources Into Commons.
Tara Smith, The International Criminal Court Will Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment The International Criminal Court Will Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Prue Taylor, The Common Heritage Of Mankind: A Bold Doctrine Kept Within Strict Boundaries. The Common Heritage Of Mankind: A Bold Doctrine Kept Within Strict Boundaries.
Colin Todhunter, A System Of Food Production For Human Need, Not Corporate Greed  A System Of Food Production For Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Andre Vltchek, Syria’s Heroic Fight Against Western Imperialism Syria’s Heroic Fight Against Western Imperialism
Mike Whitney, Assad’s Death Warrant Assad’s Death Warrant
Sam Woolfe, Widespread Starvation Could Be a Reality Before the End of the Century Widespread Starvation Could Be a Reality Before the End of the Century

Articles and papers from authors


Day data received Theme or issue Read article or paper
  September 15, 2016
Assad’s Death Warrant

by Mike Whitney , Information Clearing House


“Secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria to overthrow the uncooperative Bashar Assad was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective of completing the Qatar/Turkey gas link. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria, Politico

September 15, 2016 "Information Clearing House" - "Counterpunch" - The conflict in Syria is not a war in the conventional sense of the word. It is a regime change operation, just like Libya and Iraq were regime change operations.

The main driver of the conflict is the country that’s toppled more than 50 sovereign governments since the end of World War 2.  We’re talking about the United States of course.

Washington is the hands-down regime change champion, no one else even comes close. That being the case, one might assume that the American people would notice the pattern of intervention, see through the propaganda and assign blame accordingly. But that never  seems to happen and it probably won’t happen here either. No matter how compelling the evidence may be, the brainwashed American people always believe their government is doing the right thing.

But the United States is not doing the right thing in Syria. Arming, training and funding Islamic extremists — that have killed half a million people, displaced 7 million more and turned the country into an uninhabitable wastelands –is not the right thing. It is the wrong thing, the immoral thing. And the US is involved in this conflict for all the wrong reasons, the foremost of which is gas. The US wants to install a puppet regime in Damascus so it can secure pipeline corridors in the East, oversee the transport of vital energy reserves from Qatar to the EU, and make sure that those reserves continue to be denominated in US Dollars that are recycled into US Treasuries and US financial assets. This is the basic recipe for maintaining US dominance in the Middle East and for extending America’s imperial grip on global power into the future.

The war in Syria did not begin when the government of Bashar al Assad cracked down on protestors in the spring of 2011. That version of events is obfuscating hogwash.  The war began in 2000, when Assad rejected a Qatari plan to transport gas from Qatar to the EU via Syria. As Robert F Kennedy Jr. explains in his excellent article “Syria: Another pipeline War”:

“The $10 billion, 1,500km pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey….would have linked Qatar directly to European energy markets via distribution terminals in Turkey… The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would have given the Sunni Kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world. ….

In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally….

Assad further enraged the Gulf’s Sunni monarchs by endorsing a Russian approved “Islamic pipeline” running from Iran’s side of the gas field through Syria and to the ports of Lebanon. The Islamic pipeline would make Shia Iran instead of Sunni Qatar, the principal supplier to the European energy market and dramatically increase Tehran’s influence in the Mid-East and the world…”

Naturally, the Saudis, Qataris, Turks and Americans were furious at Assad, but what could they do? How could they prevent him from choosing his own business partners and using his own sovereign territory to transport gas to market?

What they could do is what any good Mafia Don would do; break a few legs and steal whatever he wanted. In this particular situation, Washington and its scheming allies decided to launch a clandestine proxy-war against Damascus, kill or depose Assad, and make damn sure the western oil giants nabbed the future pipeline contracts and controlled the flow of energy to Europe. That was the plan at least. Here’s more from Kennedy:

“Secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria to overthrow the uncooperative Bashar Assad was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective of completing the Qatar/Turkey gas link. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria.

Repeat: “the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline”, he signed his own death warrant. That single act was the catalyst for the US aggression that transformed a bustling, five thousand-year old civilization into a desolate Falluja-like moonscape overflowing with homicidal fanatics that were recruited, groomed and deployed by the various allied intelligence agencies.

But what’s particularly interesting about this story is that the US attempted a nearly-identical plan 60 years earlier during the Eisenhower administration. Here’s another clip from the Kennedy piece:

“During the 1950′s, President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers … mounted a clandestine war against Arab Nationalism — which CIA Director Allan Dulles equated with communism — particularly when Arab self-rule threatened oil concessions. They pumped secret American military aid to tyrants in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon favoring puppets with conservative Jihadist ideologies which they regarded as a reliable antidote to Soviet Marxism….

The CIA began its active meddling in Syria in 1949 — barely a year after the agency’s creation…. Syria’s democratically elected president, Shukri-al-Kuwaiti, hesitated to approve the Trans Arabian Pipeline, an American project intended to connect the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to the ports of Lebanon via Syria. (so)… the CIA engineered a coup, replacing al-Kuwaiti with the CIA’s handpicked dictator, a convicted swindler named Husni al-Za’im. Al-Za’im barely had time to dissolve parliament and approve the American pipeline before his countrymen deposed him, 14 weeks into his regime…..

(CIA agent Rocky) Stone arrived in Damascus in April 1956 with $3 million in Syrian pounds to arm and incite Islamic militants and to bribe Syrian military officers and politicians to overthrow al-Kuwaiti’s democratically elected secularist regime….

But all that CIA money failed to corrupt the Syrian military officers. The soldiers reported the CIA’s bribery attempts to the Ba’athist regime. In response, the Syrian army invaded the American Embassy taking Stone prisoner. Following harsh interrogation, Stone made a televised confession to his roles in the Iranian coup and the CIA’s aborted attempt to overthrow Syria’s legitimate government….(Then) Syria purged all politicians sympathetic to the U.S. and executed them for treason.” (Politico)

See how history is repeating itself? It’s like the CIA was too lazy to even write a new script, they just dusted off the old one and hired new actors.

Fortunately, Assad –with the help of Iran, Hezbollah and the Russian Airforce– has fended off the effort to oust him and install a US-stooge. This should not be taken as a ringing endorsement of Assad as a leader, but of the principal that global security depends on basic protections of national sovereignty, and that the cornerstone of international law has to be a rejection of unprovoked aggression whether the hostilities are executed by one’s own military or by armed proxies that are used to achieve the same strategic objectives while invoking  plausible deniability. The fact is, there is no difference between Bush’s invasion of Iraq and Obama’s invasion of Syria. The moral, ethical and legal issues are the same, the only difference is that Obama has been more successful in confusing the American people about what is really going on.

And what’s going on is regime change: “Assad must go”. That’s been the administration’s mantra from the get go. Obama and Co are trying to overthrow a democratically-elected secular regime that refuses to bow to Washington’s demands to provide access to pipeline corridors that will further strengthen US dominance in the region.  That’s what’s really going on behind the ISIS distraction and the “Assad is a brutal dictator” distraction and the “war-weary civilians in Aleppo” distraction. Washington doesn’t care about any of those things. What Washington cares about is oil, power and money. How can anyone be confused about that by now?  Kennedy summed it up like this:

“We must recognize the Syrian conflict is a war over control of resources indistinguishable from the myriad clandestine and undeclared oil wars we have been fighting in the Mid-East for 65 years. And only when we see this conflict as a proxy war over a pipeline do events become comprehensible.”

That says it all, don’t you think?

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

  Read Assad’s Death Warrant
 October 4, 2016
Syria’s Heroic Fight Against Western Imperialism

by Andre Vltchek, Information Clearing House

It is hard to imagine a more resilient, more heroic nation than Syria!

With only 17 million inhabitants (according to the 2014 estimate), Syria is now facing the mightiest coalition on Earth – a coalition that consists of virtually all traditional Western colonialist and neo-colonialist nations.

It is also facing some of the cruelest and deadliest inventions of the West – the extremist and murderous post- and pseudo-Islamic groupings, similar to those that were already unleashed against the Soviet Union during the war in Afghanistan.

Because of the tremendous determination of its people, Syria is still standing! But it is standing against all odds. Its Golan Heights are illegally occupied by Israel, its borders constantly violated by the Turkish military, and by the West’s ‘special forces’ and air force.

Syria’s “political opposition” was created, then groomed and financed by the United States and Europe, in the style of “Color Revolutions”, as has happened in all other socialist countries that the West has been trying to destabilize and return under its deadly rule. Millions of Syrian people have been, during the last six deadly years, terrorized, slaughtered and intimidated by jihadi cadres, implanted by the West and its regional allies: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Israel and others.

It is a terrible and uneven fight! Some of the greatest historical cities on Earth, like Aleppo and Palmira, now lie in ruins and ashes. What the European Christian crusaders failed to fully destroy, is now collapsing under the imperialist onslaught. Like everywhere else on Earth, everything that dares to struggle against Western colonialism is being consistently devastated and burned. Almost everyone who resists is mercilessly slaughtered. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian people have already lost their lives. And with each new day, the awful count is rising.

But Syria is standing!

5 million Syrian people have already been forced to leave their country. Now they are being scattered all over the Middle East: throughout Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey. Some have even gone as far as Europe, Canada and Chile.

How much more can one country endure?

And how can the rest of the world just stand by and watch as it is put through hell?

The answer is obvious: the rest of the world does not know; it does not understand! The propaganda coming out of the Western mass media outlets and indoctrination-spreading institutions is so thorough, so professional, that to most of people all over the world everything related to Syria appears to be blurry, murky, and incredibly complex. President al-Assad is demonized on a daily basis. Heroic resistance is called the “regime’s brutal actions”, pro-`western terror groups are described as “moderate opposition.”

In reality, Syria is suffering because it is refusing to kneel; because it is unwilling to prostitute itself; because it will never beg its torturers to stop, allowing them to grab everything above and under the surface.

The Empire never forgives disobedience. Its fundamentalist terror methods are the most brutal ever invented and implemented on Earth.

All around Syria, countries already lie in ashes. The Middle East hardly exists, anymore. And most of the Syrian people understand: it is perhaps better to die standing, than to live in shackles, on one’s knees, controlled by the kleptomaniacal Western colonialist states!


The more terrible the terror that the West is spreading worldwide in general and in this part of the world in particular, the more vicious its vitriolic propaganda is, the brainwashing indoctrination that flows incessantly from London, New York and Paris.

If one watches the BBC, there is no hint of objectivity left, anymore. The ranks are closed and the West is united in its final drive to discredit absolutely everything that is still fighting for survival, against its global terrorist exploits.

President al-Assad of Syria, the heroic Syrian army and the closest Syria’s allies – Russia and Iran – are being relentlessly demonized, as if it were them who began that monstrous war! And Hezbollah, which is fighting countless epic battles against the ISIS, sits firmly on the West’s terrorist list.

Everything seems to be twisted and perverted, upside down.

But what really should one expect from the expansionist hordes, from the bastions of imperialism? Or has the British (or French) propaganda been any different, when their colonialist countries have for centuries been grabbing and devastating countless foreign states and territories, slaughtering hundreds of millions of innocent people? Wasn’t anyone who resisted Western conquest always thoroughly ridiculed and demonized?

Countries like UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Portugal and others, have centuries of experience in how to humiliate victims, how to justify their own heinous acts, how to brainwash their own populations and even some of their victims! And the United States, the direct product of Europe, its muscular offspring, is just using the same, only a bit more vulgar, propaganda tactics.

Nothing rational and objective can be expected from the people of Europe or North America, anymore. Except for a few of those insignificant protests and rebellious acts, the Western population is in a total slumber, indifferent towards the horrors that are being administered by its regime all over the globe. There is hardly any pressure to stop acts of terror against Syria. The only thing that seems to matter to Europeans is how to stop the flow of refugees from the devastated countries.

What a shame! What a thorough shame, people of Europe and North America! Your regime is murdering millions, in one country after another, and you are not even capable of recognizing what goes on… instead you are blaming the victims and those rushing to their rescue!

Now your biggest enemy is Russia. Because Russia (same as China) is clearly unwilling to dance to your fatal tune! Because Russia, for many decades, stood by almost all oppressed countries, and supported the de-colonization of the world, in all of its corners. Like China, Cuba and North Korea have always done.

Russia is now defending Syria. Not because it needs natural resources, not because it wants to plunder. It is doing so simply because it is right thing to do. It does it because if the world is abandoned fully to Western imperialism, there will actually soon be no world at all, or at least there will be no world worth inhabiting!


“Our country is a socialist country. For us it’s more important to consider the benefits to the entire nation than to particular individuals. I have spent more than 50 years dedicating my life to education, which is the backbone of our country, especially now… Sometimes I feel like quitting my job and returning to teaching at Damascus University, but I know that I am still needed where I am now,” I was told by Dr. Farah Motlak, Deputy Minister of Education of the Syrian Arab Republic.

We met in Cairo, Egypt, at a regional conference. I asked him about the Western propaganda against his country. He replied, shaking his head:

“I am not even angry… I am just endlessly sad. The media attacks; the propaganda that is pouring from the West is clearly designed to destroy our country. But we have hope, and we will continue our struggle.”

The international meetings and conferences clearly show how divided even the Arab world is itself. Syria is a symbol. To some, it is a symbol of resilience, of heroism. To others, mainly to those who are funded and consequently conditioned by the West, it represents everything that is evil.


But Egypt itself (where I’m writing this essay), just three years after the pro-Western military coup, is in ruins. Economically it has become a basket case. It is completely devastated, socially.

Of course its destruction is on a “lighter scale”, compared to Iraq, Libya or Yemen. But it is still bad enough: during the coup in 2013, at least 1, but most likely 2 thousand people were murdered by the junta, while tens of thousands were injured. An estimated ten thousand people are now in prisons all over the country; most of them in terrible conditions; many are being tortured, women prisoners are habitually raped.

“The counter revolution has triumphed,” explained Dr. Mohammed Shafik, a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Movement. “All opposition parties and organizations have been squashed. Thousands of revolutionaries have been imprisoned; hundreds executed by court orders or liquidated by the police… Neoliberalism is taking hold… people are suffering.”

But Western propaganda shows no appetite for criticizing the Egyptian military junta. It is, after all, essentially pro-Western; it is capitalist and to a great extent it is submissive to the Empire and to its allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As with almost all ‘client’ states of the West, Egypt will never be able to truly improve the lives of the majority of its citizens. The country is already stuck deeply and has been, for decades, in a perpetual social slumber. Those benefiting from the situation are the Western powers and their regional allies, as well as the servile Egyptian elites and the grotesquely colossal, omnipotent military.

If Syria were to surrender, the Egyptian scenario would be ‘the best’ it could hope for. But most likely, it would meet the terrible fate of Iraq or Libya.


62 Syrian soldiers were reported killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike on the Syrian military base Deir el-Zour, on September 17, in Eastern Syria.

The planes destroyed the base housing soldiers that were involved in a battle with ISIS. Almost immediately, the ISIS took over the hill and the area, in what appeared to be a clearly coordinated operation between the West and the “Islamic State”, against the Syrian government forces.

A few days later, a humanitarian convoy was hit near the city of Aleppo. Without presenting any evidence, the West immediately pointed a finger at the Syrian government and Russia. But the Russian Ministry of Defense released images of a US predator drone operating in the area during the attack, and called for a thorough investigation.

The war goes on. The suffering of Syrian people continues.

There is one simple point that is being constantly overlooked by the West:

The legitimate government of Syria invited Russia, its close ally. It asked Moscow for help, to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups implanted by the West and its allies.

Nobody invited the West!

Or perhaps those groups that the West itself created and supported inside Syria invited it?

Both Syrian government forces and Russia are fighting brutal foreign invaders who are attempting to destroy one of the oldest nations on Earth and take control over the entire Middle East.

Syria is at the frontline of the battle against Western imperialism. And so is Russia. And also Iran, while China is joining!

The sacrifice made by the Syrian people is tremendous. But against all odds, the deadly advance of the imperialists may be stopped here, after all.

As I wrote earlier, the price may be terrible. Aleppo is turning into the Middle-Eastern Stalingrad. But the heroic Syrian nation has made its choice: it will fight brutal and barbaric invaders, as it fought the crusaders under the leadership of great Sultan Saladin.

The alternative would be slavery, something unacceptable for the Syrian people!

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism.Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western TerrorismPoint of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his

  Read Syria’s Heroic Fight Against Western Imperialism.
  October 15, 2016
The Warnings of a New World War

by Gilbert Doctorow, Information Clearing House


The Warnings of a New World War

The U.S.-Russia confrontation over Ukraine and now Syria is far more dangerous than is understood by mainstream U.S. analysts as Russia lays down clear warnings that are mostly being ignored.

By Gilbert Doctorow

October 15, 2016 "Information Clearing House" - "Consortium News"- In an interview with the Bild newspaper on Oct. 8, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is known for his cautious rhetoric, described the present international situation in the following woeful terms: “unfortunately it is an illusion to believe this is the old Cold War. The new times are different; they are more dangerous. Previously, the world was divided, but Moscow and Washington knew each other’s red lines and respected them. In a world with many regional conflicts and dwindling influence of the great powers, the world becomes more unpredictable.”

For these reasons, said Steinmeier, “The USA and Russia must continue talking with each other.” He concluded his appeal with fairly balanced recommendations to resolve the humanitarian crisis in east Aleppo, urging both Russia and the other powers to apply their influence with their clients on the ground.

Sad to say, this call to reason fell on deaf ears. On the same day, a U.S. State Department spokesman explained to journalists Washington’s decision over the weekend to end the joint peace process with Moscow, saying that there was “nothing left to talk about with the Russians.”

Meanwhile, the Russian side took as the last straw this unilateral and trumpeted decision of the Americans to bury the deal signed on Sept. 9 between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that had taken 14 hours to negotiate and was seen as a triumph of cooperation versus confrontation.

De facto, from the Russian view, that deal was sabotaged on Sept. 17 by the Pentagon when U.S. and coalition aircraft bombed a Syrian government military outpost at Deir Ezzor killing more than 60 Syrian soldiers. And de facto, the Russians had suspended the implementation of the ceasefire on Sept. 23 when they renewed heavy bombing of east Aleppo in close collaboration with the Syrian air force and ground units. Now that the U.S. had formalized the end of cooperation over Syria, Russia set out its own full-blooded response which it called a “radical change in relations” between the two countries.

Several of the components of the Russian response of Oct. 3 and over the week to follow were noted in the U.S. and Western mainstream media. We heard about the decision to cancel the bilateral convention concluded with the U.S. in 2000 on reprocessing excess weapons-grade plutonium for electricity generation. This was widely considered to be of marginal importance, since the U.S. had been unable to implement its part of the bargain for lack of appropriate conversion installations and costs of upwards of $18 billion if it did what was necessary.

We heard about Russia holding civil defense exercises to provide for 40 million citizens, though no one could make much sense of it. We heard about the announcement of the Russian Ministry of Defense that it now has brought to Syria and made operational its most advanced air defense missile systems, the S300 and S400, but Pentagon spokesmen professed to be dumbfounded and asked rhetorically what was the purpose of the move.

Finally, we all heard this week that Russia has officially deployed its hypersonic, potentially nuclear-tipped, 500 kilometer-range Iskander ground-to-ground missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. The Polish military officials immediately expressed dismay, feeling under threat and said they were putting all their defense facilities on alert. But Pentagon spokesmen said there was no reason to view this deployment as different from the last deployment in Kaliningrad two years ago, which was just a training exercise.

Playing Down the Danger

From the foregoing, it would appear that the U.S. government was keen to play down to the general public the significance of the separately noted Russian moves last week. It is in this context that one must appreciate what an unofficial but authoritative Russian state television program last Sunday night did to add a few more important dots, to connect them all and to interpret for laymen what is the significance of the Russian démarches.

The state television program on the Rossiya 1 channel, Vesti nedeli (News of the Week), is presented by Dmitri Kiselyov. This two-hour show on prime time is the single most widely watched news broadcast in Russia with tens of millions of viewers. However, in cases like the Oct. 9 show, the real hoped-for audience of the first half-hour segment was in Washington, D.C., where its intent was to pour cold water over hotheads in the Pentagon and CIA – and bring the American leadership back to its senses.

Dmitri Kiselyov is not merely the anchorman of Vesti nedeli. He is also the boss of all news and information programming on state radio and television. He is tough and wears his patriotism on his sleeve. We may assume that what he says has been approved by the Kremlin.

Because of the importance of the message Kiselyov was delivering, I am going to quote heavily from my transcript of his narrative, only making minor cuts:

“This past week relations between the USA and Russia went through a sharp but expected turn. To bend over backwards further in the face of [American] lies has lost all sense and is simply harmful. By bending over backwards we mean looking for diplomatic compromises.

“We held endless expectations that the USA will finally separate the non-terrorists from the terrorists [in Syria]. We waited more than a year for this. But it is clear they did not want to. They are taking us and the whole world for fools. America is working on the side of Al Nusra [Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate], providing them with diplomatic cover; providing them with additional arms; helping them by their supposedly mistaken bombing of a Syrian army position.

“See the outbursts of anti-Russian statements in the U.S. mass media. If we continue with the Americans, our very presence in Syria will lose sense. Instead, working with the legal Syrian government, we can rid the country of terrorists, thereby ensuring security of the Middle Eastern region, Russia and Europe.”

Kiselyov continued: “Those who want to can join us. The U.S. seemed to want to join, then thought again and cut their military cooperation with Russia over Syria on Monday, with one exception, the channel of communication to avoid military clashes in Syria remains in force. For the time being.

“Formally the situation returned to where it was before Sept. 9 when Kerry and Lavrov reached their agreement on a truce. But then [U.S. Defense Secretary] Ashton Carter entered the picture. He opened a second front. He forced Kerry to fight on two fronts. If Kerry previously thought he was competing with the Russians, now he came under “friendly fire” from the Pentagon.

“American forces directly bombed a Syrian military outpost. This was no mistake. It was coordinated with the terrorists, who followed up with an attack. Then there came a camouflaged attack on the humanitarian convoy near Aleppo [Sept. 20]. Finally, it became clear to Moscow that diplomacy is merely a ‘service’ for the Pentagon. Kerry, in intellectual style, justifies the actions of the Pentagon. Often, post factum.

“We will review tonight the radical changes in our relations with America. This includes the dispatch to the region of three of our cruise missile vessels with Kalibr on board. The roll-out in Syria of additional air defense systems S300. The dispatch to Egypt of 5,000 of our paratroopers. The tearing up of our agreements with America in the atomic sphere. And the civil defense exercise of the past week which involved 200,000 civil defense personnel covering 40 million population. To my recollection such a constellation of events never before took place.”

Terrorists and Hostages

Kiselyov went on: “The center of attention has been east Aleppo, still in control of terrorists with hundreds of thousands of civilians kept hostage as a human shield. They execute people who want to leave. We cannot tolerate this anymore. The terrorists are not capable of abiding by agreements. The Syrian army is carrying out a storm operation.

“There is so much lying and shrieking going on in the world about this. … It’s a serious matter that the U.S. is looking at Russia’s actions to combat terrorists in Syria as a threat to its own exceptionalism. The scenario is not developing according to the U.S. plan, so what is the sense of all the claims to U.S. domination and leadership. It looks as if Barack Obama will leave office before Bashar Assad. And their nasty tricks against Russia, the sanctions, aren’t working…

“To be sure, Washington has loudly announced that it is shifting now to the so-called Plan B. Formally there are no details. But in general terms, everyone understands what we are talking about. Plan B is when America applies in Syria direct military force. It is not hard to guess against whom, against Bashar Assad, the government army, and that means against the armed forces of Russia, who are present in Syria on legal grounds.

“Can we exclude such a variation? No. We cannot exclude provocations to justify the start of war, as happened in the past in the two world wars. The Vietnam War also began with a provocation organized by the Americans. See the false pretenses for invading Iraq and the action in Libya. U.S. ignored international law, decided there can be no obstacles in the path of their assaults.”

Kiselyov continued: “Moscow reacted calmly to Plan B. Russia saddles up slowly, but then rides fast. To understand how Russian-American relations have just quickly changed directions, we have to rewind and go back to the start of the week. Let us now scrupulously go over events since Monday.

“First I want to direct your attention to the very public speech of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. He spoke more quietly and more slowly than usual. Formally it was to open the session of the new 7th Duma. But it was addressed to the very core issues of our souls and minds. His words were not about draft laws, but to the essence of the moment. Putin considered it important to talk about the general basis of support. He spoke about unity of the people as an essential element for the existence of our country. Strength is essential to maintaining our statehood.

“At this Duma session, Putin introduced draft law to halt the convention on plutonium with the USA.”

Kiselyov here makes an association between Putin’s speech to the Duma and the draft law halting the convention on plutonium that would not be obvious to outsiders. Still more important, he called attention to the contents of that draft law, beginning with the reason given for this event, namely what is called a “radical change in circumstances, the emergence of a threat to strategic stability as a result of hostile actions of the United States of America in relation to the Russian Federation and the inability of the United States of America to ensure execution of the obligations it assumed to reprocess the excess weapons grade plutonium in accordance with the Agreement and the protocols to the Agreement.”

Kiselyov then moved to the all-important Point 2 of the draft law. The text was projected onto the television screen, with its provisions highlighted in yellow as Kiselyov read from it. The highlighted passages are as follows:

“The validity of the Agreement and protocols to the Agreement can be renewed after the elimination by the United States of America of the causes which have led to a radical change in the circumstances which existed on the day of the coming into force of the Agreement and the protocols to the Agreement on condition:

“1) that the military infrastructure and numbers of the contingent of troops of the United States of America stationed on the territories of member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which entered NATO after 1 September 2000 be reduced to their levels on the day of coming into force of the Agreement and protocols to the Agreement

“2) that the United States of America renounces its hostile policy with respect to the Russian Federation which must be expressed:

“a) by the repeal of the 2012 law of the United States of America (Sergei Magnitsky law) and the repeal of provisions of the 2014 law of the United States of America in support of  freedom of Ukraine directed against Russia

“b) by the cancellation of all sanctions introduced by the United States of America with respect to separate subjects of the Russian Federation – Russian individuals and legal entities

“c) compensation of damages borne by the Russian Federation as a result of the sanctions indicated in line ’b’ of this point, including losses from the introduction of necessary counter-sanctions against the United States of America

“d) presentation by the United States of America of a clear plan for irreversible reprocessing of plutonium coming under the scope of the Agreement.”

A Breathtaking Ultimatum 

Kiselyov rightly called these provisions an “Ultimatum” addressed to the White House. Their scope is breathtaking. But the Kremlin’s message to Washington was action, not just words.

Kiselyov explained that on Tuesday the government stopped an ongoing program of scientific contacts with the U.S. in the nuclear field. On the same day it cancelled a program of cooperation between Rosatom and the U.S. Department of Energy over nuclear reactors.

Then, as Kiselyov noted, the Russians “moved from the brakes to the gas pedal.” They dispatched three missile bearing naval vessels from the Black Sea fleet to the Eastern Mediterranean as a back-up in case the U.S. proceeds on Plan B. These are equipped with two types of missiles: the Kalibr cruise missile which may be nuclear tipped and has a 2,600 kilometer range for striking ground targets plus the supersonicOniks for attacking ships.

Also on what he chose to call “Black Tuesday,” the Russian government confirmed that it has installed its S300 air defense system in Syria. For the explanation, Kiselyov pulled up video recordings of the televised statement by the chief of the press and information service, the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense Igor Konashenkov, who was responding to questions about the Syrian campaign.

Konashenkov said the air defense was installed because of U.S. and French threats to impose a “no fly zone” and because of the lessons learned from the U.S. coalition strike against Syrian forces at Deir Ezzor on Sept. 17. Konashenkov stressed that there will likely be no time for any hot-line discussions with Americans about stealth aircraft or incoming missiles: they will be shot down, “whatever the dilettantes” in American military circles may think.

He explained that Russian military are in settled areas across Syria performing humanitarian work and dealing with local Syrian militia who are laying down their arms under Russian-brokered deals. Therefore, any U.S. air strikes in Syria will likely also hit Russian forces, which is utterly unacceptable.

Next, Kiselyov reminded his audience, on Wednesday, Russia officially notified Washington that it deems the missile defense installations that the United States has built in Romania and is building in Poland are in violation of the convention on intermediate-range missiles since they can be used for offensive as well as defensive rockets.

Russia is not presently withdrawing from the convention on intermediate-range missiles, which was the single biggest arms control agreement of the Reagan-Gorbachev years, but it is preparing the way for abrogation at its choosing. This was the context for Moscow’s announcement on the same day that they have installed their Iskander missile system in Kaliningrad. The suggestion is that this is permanent, not linked to any exercises.

During the same week, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced an unprecedented military exercise in Egypt with dispatch there of 5,000 paratroopers equipped with new, desert-condition uniforms and a new design parachute.

Russian Overseas Bases

According to Kiselyov, Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Pankov said his ministry is reviewing the question of reestablishing military bases in Cuba and Vietnam. And, on the anniversary of its launch into space of the first Sputnik, Moscow celebrated the Day of the Rocket Corps by showing clips of recent “awesome” rocket launches.

Summing up, Kiselyov acknowledged that all these events give the impression of a highly charged atmosphere. They are, he said, all the consequence of America’s steady campaign of expanding NATO, its renunciation of the ABM treaty, its color revolutions, its vilification of Russia, and its information war based on lies. These unfriendly acts had to be a stop.

He asked rhetorically: is this dangerous? To which he responded in the affirmative.

And yet, if Russia is morally and physically prepared for war with the United States to defend what it sees as its national interests, including in Syria, Kiselyov ended the half-hour segment of his weekly news wrap-up on a non-belligerent note. He said the message of the Russian government was its preparedness for the worst while it hopes for better outcomes. He quoted Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, who insisted that Russia is always ready for cooperation.

Bad as the enumeration of Moscow’s “radical change in relations” with the United States sounds, the overview of Russian actions and intentions on the Kiselyov program was not exhaustive. In the same week, there were leaks of Russian plans to establish what never existed in the Cold War, a naval base in Egypt, which it is said would support their operations in the Western Mediterranean.

It bears mention that the whole subject of military bases abroad came up on another prime-time flagship program of Russian state television, the Oct. 9 edition of “Sunday Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” the most popular and respected talk show of the same Rossiya 1channel.

In a departure from common practice, this edition featured only Russian panelists, mostly of high standing.  The single highest-rated politician panelist was Irina Yarovaya, the tough-as-nails and very smart Duma deputy known best as the author of what Edward Snowden called the Big Brother law this past July. Yarovaya was newly named as Deputy Chair of the State Duma and opened the show, which focused on U.S.-Russian relations and comparative military strength.

Yarovaya remarked on how in 1992 the U.S. defense budget was 77 times greater than Russia’s whereas last year it was just 10 times greater. Today, she noted, the U.S. accounts for 36 percent of total global military expenditures while Russia represents 4 percent. Why does the United States need this disproportionately sized military establishment? Answer: to dominate the political landscape. In this context, she explained, Russia now is throwing cold water on that notion of domination.

At this point, the second-ranking politician on the show entered the debate with an important qualification. Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the leader of the nationalist LDPR party, which did remarkably well in the September elections and was given the Duma committee chairmanship of foreign relations as a reward, another detail of Russian political life that has gone virtually unnoticed in U.S. and Western commentary.

Zhirinovsky insisted that the correlation of military capabilities is more favorable to Russia than the gross figures suggest. After all, he explained, a large chunk of the U.S. defense budget goes on toilet paper, sausages and similar housekeeping expenses in support of its 700 foreign bases.

Notwithstanding that caustic remark about bases generally and eyes-open understanding that such force projection is also debilitating, Zhirinovsky later in the program suggested that Russia would do well to establish 100 overseas bases.

To understand properly what this question of possible Russian military bases overseas means, we have to recall that, in the not so distant past, Vladimir Putin pointed to the country’s having no overseas bases as a distinguishing point setting Russia apart from superpowers. We have no ambition to be a superpower, he said then.

The Risky U.S. ‘War Party’

Those in the U.S. “war party” who talk about Putin’s dream of reestablishing the Soviet Union are repeating endlessly complete nonsense. But there is a dream, a very new dream in Moscow which did not exist until  the present direct and existential confrontation with the U.S. that Russia will be understood to be not just a great power but a superpower with global interests.

In this sense, by presenting Russia with hostility and enormous challenges, the United States has been creating the very Russia it fears.

All of the information that I have used in this commentary are open source. The television programs are all accessible as they are to the U.S. intelligence officers stationed in the U.S. embassy in Moscow. They are also accessible to any Russian-speaking analysts in Langley who happen to be interested since they are posted within 24 hours on youtube.com.

Moreover, the CIA has its own agent taking part in the prime-time talk shows several days a week. He is a welcome and paid guest of the Russian state television because of his outstanding Russian language skills and his defense of the policy line coming from Washington, which makes him the American that Russian viewers love to hate.

In this capacity, he rubs shoulders regularly with the leading Russian politicians on the shows and has a chance, in the breaks, to put to them the kind of question that one such politician said he raised a week ago: “Will there be a war?”

If the U.S. intelligence establishment is doing its job professionally, and we must assume that is the case, then they have been briefing President Obama and the two presidential candidates on the developments in U.S.-Russian relations that I have outlined above.

In that case, a puzzling and scandalous question arises:  why has the President not said a word about the “radical change in relations” with Russia? And why is it that neither candidate when asked about how to respond to the killings in east Aleppo on Debate Two, that very same evening, on Oct. 9, were clueless.

Indeed, the remarks of Hillary Clinton to the effect that the United States must stand up to the Russians and impose a “no-fly zone” in Syria missed the point that to do so now will mean destruction of U.S. aircraft and naval vessels, or, in other words, the onset of World War III. Either she and her policy team do not have their eye on the ball or they are playing a reckless game.

For his part, Donald Trump came out marginally better on the issue of what to do about east Aleppo. He said that, as he understands, it’s lost already. That appraisal is much closer to reality.

The end result of the official silence in the U.S. about Russia’s message of defiance and about its military wherewithal in place in Syria to defend what it construes as its national interest is that as a nation the U.S. is flying blind.

  Read The Warnings of a New World War
  September 21, 2016
Re Imagining The Polity For A Networked Humanity

by David Bollier, Countercurrents.org


This is the third and final installment from my essay, “Transnational Republics of Commoning: Reinventing Governance through Emergent Networks,” published by Friends of the Earth UK. The full essay can be downloaded as a pdf file

Read Part II

III.  Re-imagining the Polity for a Networked Humanity

However promising the new forms of open source governance outlined above, they do not of themselves constitute a polity.  The new regimes of collaboration constitute mini- and meso-systems of self-organization.  They do not comprise a superstructure of law, policy, infrastructure and macro-support, which is also needed.  So what might such a superstructure look like, and how might it be created?  Can we envision some sort of transnational polity that could leapfrog over the poorly functioning state systems that prevail today?

A first observation on this question is that the very idea of a polity must evolve.  So long as we remain tethered to the premises of the Westphalian nation-state system, with its strict notions of absolute sovereignty over geographic territory and people and its mechanical worldview enforced by bureaucracies and law, the larger needs of the Earth as a living ecosystem will suffer.  So, too, will the basic creaturely needs of human beings, which are universal prepolitical ethical needs beyond national identity.

It may simply be premature to declare what a post-Westphalian polity ought to look like – but we certainly must orient ourselves in that direction.  For the reasons cited above, we should find ways to encourage the growth of a Commons Sector, in both digital and non-virtual contexts, and in ways that traverse existing territorial political boundaries.  Ecosystems are not confined by political borders, after all, and increasingly, neither are capital and commerce.  Culture, too, is increasingly transnational.  Any serious social or ecological reconstruction must be supported by making nation-state barriers more open to transnational collaboration if durable, effective solutions are to be developed.

While states are usually quite jealous in protecting their authority, transnational commons should be seen as helping the beleaguered nation-state system by compensating for its deficiencies.  By empowering ordinary people to take responsibility and reap entitlements as commoners, nation-states could foster an explosion of open-source problem-solving and diminish dependencies on volatile, often-predatory global markets, while bolstering their credibility and legitimacy as systems of power.

But how might we begin to build a commons-friendly polity?  After all, the most politically attractive approaches have no ambitions to change the system, while any grand proposals for transforming neoliberal capitalism are seen as political non-starters.  I suggest three “entry points” that can serve as long-term strategies for transformation:

1) begin to reconceptualize cities as commons;

2) reframe the “right to common” (access to basic resources for survival and dignity) as a human right; and

3) build new collaborations among system-critical social movements so that a critical mass of resistance and creative alternatives can emerge.

These three general strategies are not separate approaches, of course, but highly complementary and synergistic.

1.  Cities as a Workshop for System-Change

One of the most promising places to start building a new polity is in cities.  In Barcelona, Bologna, Seoul, and many other cities, citizen movements based on the ideas of “the city as a commons” and of “sharing cities” are taking root.  Both approaches assert the shared interests of ordinary residents over those of the usual overlords of city government – real estate developers, economic elites, “starchitects” and urban planners.[44] They recognize the city and its public spaces, communities and opportunities as products of commoning. A commons framing is deliberately invoked to make new moral and political claims on common resources in urban settings – to demand a “right to the city”[45] – and so inaugurate a self-feeding spiral of social practice and a new discourse.  Citizens acting as commoners can insist on greater citizen participation not just in policymaking but in directly developing innovative projects and solutions.  Network platforms can foster all of these goals.[46]

In Bologna, for example, the city government is undertaking a landmark reconceptualization of how government might work in cooperation with citizens.  Ordinary people acting as commoners are invited to enter into a “co-design process” with the city to manage public spaces, urban green zones, abandoned buildings and other urban resources.  The formal legal authority for this innovation, the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons, is now being emulated by other Italian cities.

City governments could augment this general approach by building new tech infrastructures that enable greater citizen engagement.  For example, instead of ceding the software infrastructure for taxi service or apartment rentals to Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and other well-financed “gig economy” corporations, city governments could require the use of shared open platforms for such market activity.   This could enable multiple players to compete while improving regulatory oversight of basic labor and consumer protections, and privacy protection for personal data.

City governments could also take advantage of the new “Top Level Domains” – better known as TLDs – that are now available on the Internet for city names.  TLDs are the regions of the Internet denoted by .com, .org and .edu.  Over the past few years, the little-known Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – which manages TLDs — has been pushing the idea of TLDs for cities. The idea is that cities could use their unique TLDs like .rome or .paris to improve access to various aspects of city life. For instance if you were new to Brooklyn Heights, you could go to brooklynheights.nyc and find all sorts of civic, community and commercial website listings for that neighborhood – the library, recycling resources, parking rules, links to relevant city officials.  And yes, the businesses.

City TLDs are a potentially transformative civil infrastructure that could be as consequential as the “street grid” layout of Manhattan adopted in the 1800s.  Why should this enormous planning authority, which has such far-reaching implications for the life of a city, be auctioned off to private domain-name vendors, who would then re-sell “Brooklyn.nyc” and “hotels.nyc” to the highest bidder with minimal city oversight?  It essentially cedes the future of a city to short-term commercial imperatives.  TLDs should be treated as commons infrastructure and used to enhance neighborhood identities and bottom-up participation.

Network platforms are an especially attractive way to actualize the idea of “the city as commons” because they can enact all sorts of open source principles:  low barriers to participation, transparency of process, bottom-up innovation, social pressure for fair dealing and resistance to concentrated power and insider deals.

One powerful way to advance commoning in cities is through the skillful use of open data.  The ubiquity of computing devices in modern life is generating vast floods of data that, if managed cooperatively, could improve city life in many creative ways.  Open data systems could be used to host participatory crowdsourcing, interactive collaborations among citizens and government, and improvements in municipal services (street repairs, trash removal, transportation).

The City of San Francisco recently used an open source model to explore how best to transform its busy Market Street thoroughfare into a more pedestrian-friendly, traffic-free promenade. To help ascertain what might appeal to ordinary city residents, the city issued an open call to artists for proposed street installations along a two-mile stretch of the boulevard.  This elicited dozens of clever ideas – performance spaces, relaxation zones, even a six-sided ping-pong table. City planners chose fifty of the projects for a real-world experiment over the course of three days in 2015 to see how people would actually engage with the artworks.  The Market Street prototyping helped enlist a large and diverse group of the public to generate ideas that might otherwise seem too daring or unusual.

The City of Los Angeles has been another pioneer in using open networks, open data and crowdsourcing of information to improve city life.  The city’s open data portal, DataLA, offers data for everything from the city budget and the regional economy to crime locations, building inspections, property foreclosures, parking citations and even checks written by the city government.  The data portal has helped people measure the effectiveness of government and build public trust in government.  It has also been used in creative ways to solicit people’s knowledge in providing “geo-references” to historic photos.  The HistoricPlacesLA project has been described as an “open-source, web-based, geospatial information system for cultural heritage inventory and management.”[46]  The City has also created a special smartphone app, PulsePoint, which can help deal with medical emergencies anywhere in the city.  It identifies a patient’s location and any CPR-trained individuals who may be nearby, while providing CPR guidance.  The app suggests a way that cities could use smartphones to coordinate needs with responses instantly:  a versatile model for the future.

Using smartphones to crowdsource real-time data is another way that a city could use commoning to reinvent the role of government.  The City of Los Angeles’ fascinating (non-financial, non-exclusive) collaboration with Waze, a Google-owned traffic and navigation smartphone app offers several lessons. The system is used by an estimated 30 percent of Los Angeles drivers to learn about traffic accidents and other road situations, and its massive usage has made it a de facto infrastructure tool for city transportation and data managers.  The City gives Waze timely data about active road construction projects in order to alert drivers about potential or actual traffic delays – and Waze, for its part, collects crowdsourced reports about traffic and sends them to city transportation officials every two minutes. (There is no collection of any personally identifiable information.)  Even though this is a public/private partnership – not a true commons – it suggests the great power of bottom-up sharing on network platforms. Of course, such data aggregation is no substitute for real investment in the physical commons of transport infrastructure and public space, but used wisely it could facilitate more citizen-focused improvements.

City governments (or state or federal governments, for that matter) could leverage bottom-up, interactive collaborations such as these by developing their own open APIs (application programming interfaces) on electronic networks – similar to those used by the iPhone and other platforms.  This would enable governments to collect real-time data and make more dynamic, responsive choices “in cooperation” with its citizens.  City governments could also perform automatic oversight of regulated entities without the complexities of conventional regulation.  Sensors for water or air quality, for example, could provide real-time data portraits of an airshed or watershed.  By using tamper-proof data-flows from remote devices, some of the expense of in-person inspections could be avoided and the quality of enforcement improved.

The huge potential of open data networks raises important questions about governance structures, however.  How should crowdsourced information be managed and governed – by proprietary companies?  City governments?  Citizens as commoners?  As the controversial growth of Uber and Airbnb has shown, there are great risks in such power being held by a few large tech companies answerable primarily to investors.  Yet very few city governments have shown leadership in using networked systems to advance public designs for public purposes.  There is a need to set forth some commons-based governance alternatives because they are the most likely to align civic needs and realities with the ultimate policies and decisions.

Fortunately, there are a number of pacesetter projects experimenting along these lines.  In addition to the Bologna Regulation mentioned above, the European Cultural Foundation is actively exploring the role that artistic and cultural commons can play in improving cities.  The Ubiquitous Commons project is developing a prototype legal/technological toolkit to empower people to control the personal data they generate from countless devices, especially in urban contexts.  The Open Referral Initiatives is developing a common technical language so that information systems can “speak” to each other and share community resource directory data.  The beauty of these and other initiatives is that they invite broad participation and address immediate, practical needs while contributing to a very different paradigm of governance – one that fosters commons and commoning.

2.  The Right to Common as a Basic Human Right

The “right to the city” asserted by commoners is essentially a human right – a moral and political claim of access to resources that are essential to life, and to a right to participate in their use and management. So it is worth situating this entire struggle in the context of human rights law and social movements.  The goals of commoning and human rights law have, in fact, a very long, entangled history.  They go back at least 800 years, when King John adopted the Magna Carta and its lesser-known companion document, the Charter of the Forest, as a way to settle a bitter civil war.  The Charter of the Forest (later incorporated into the Magna Carta) recognizes the claims of commoners to the common wealth that belongs to them as human beings, and who depend upon certain resources for their everyday subsistence.

For example, the Magna Carta formally recognized in writing the right of commoners to access and use forests that the King had previously claimed as his alone.  It helps to remember that commoners in the thirteenth century relied on forests for nearly everything – wood to cook their food and build their houses, wild game to eat, plants to feed their cattle, acorns to fatten their pigs.  The problem is that their long-standingcustomary use of the forest and other common resources was not legally recognized – and so the King and his lords could (and did) arbitrarily ignore the moral and human rights of commoners.  The Magna Carta was a frank acknowledgment that commoners indeed have human rights – the right to use the forest, the right to self-organize their own governance rules, and civil liberties and rights to protect them from the sovereign’s arbitrary abuses of power.[48]

There are other strands in this legal history of human rights and commons that are too involved to discuss here; my co-author Burns H. Weston, an international human rights and law scholar, and I explore them more fully in our book Green Governance.  Suffice it to say that it is entirely consistent with human rights law for it to squarely embrace the right of universal access to clean air, water, food and other resources and ecosystems that are essential to life.

The problem is that human rights champions have historically sought to fulfill these rights within the prevailing system of law and commerce, i.e., the neoliberal state and markets.  But given its commitments to individual property rights, “free markets” and economic growth, it should not be surprising that the actual vindication of human rights is a problematic affair.  The idea of human rights has been aspirational, frequently stymied by hostile structures of the state, law and commerce.  Surely it is an apt moment to consider how various types of common-based governance (as described above) could actualize human rights in more robust, stable ways.

To try to advance human rights law in such directions, Weston and I in 2013 proposed a Universal Covenant Affirming a Human Right to Commons- and Rights-based Governance of Earth’s Natural Wealth and Resources.[49] It is our attempt to win recognition for the human right to “green governance” – to manage resources as commons, and thus to actualize human rights more reliably than existing systems of national and international law now do.  A related effort should be the “reinvention of law for the commons,” a topic that I addressed in a 2015 research memorandum.[50]  The paper calls for a new field of inquiry and legal innovation — commons-based law – to consolidate the disparate areas of law that are trying to protect collective resources and practices from enclosures while providing affirmative legal support for people to enter into commoning.

3.  Building a Convergence of System-Critical Movements

The third strategic approach I want to suggest for building a new polity supportive of the commons is through an ongoing convergence and alignment of diverse system-critical social movements.  The failures of neoliberal capitalism are coming at the very time that promising new modes of production, governance and social practice are exploding, especially through decentralized, self-organized initiatives on open networks that can often out-perform both the market and state.[51]  The people developing these new systems are essentially creating a new parallel economy – sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, as in Greece and Spain.  The innovators are not politicians, CEOs or credentialed experts, but ordinary people acting as householders, makers, hackers, permaculturists, citizen-scientists, cooperativists, community foresters, subsistence collectives, social mutualists and commoners:  a vast grassroots cohort whose generative activities are not really conveyed by the term “citizen” or “consumer.”

Through network-based cooperation and localized grassroots projects, millions of people around the world are managing all sorts of bottom-up, self-provisioning systems.  There are also many new types of citizen-actors and mobilizations seeking system change, ranging from cultural surges such as Occupy, the Arab Spring and Las Indignadas to more durable long-term movements focused on cooperatives, degrowth, the solidarity economy, Transition Towns, relocalized economies, peer production, and the commons.

These movements are developing new visions of “development” and “progress,” as seen in the buen vivir ethic in Latin America, for example, or in “go local” movements in the US and Europe, and the FabLabs and makerspaces.  The new models also include alternative currencies, co-operative finance and crowdequity investments to reclaim local control, transition and indigenous peoples’ initiatives to develop sustainable post-growth economies, the movement to reclaim the city as a commons, and movements to integrate social justice and inclusive ethical commitments into economic life.

These movements are not only pioneering new types of collective action and provisioning, but also new legal and organizational forms.  The idea of “generative ownership” as a collective enterprise is being explored by leaders of co-operative finance, community land trusts, relocalized food systems and commons-based peer production.  Each is attempting to demonstrate the feasibility of various commons-based ownership structures and self-governance – and then to expand the use of such models to show that there are attractive alternatives that can mature into a new economic ecosystem.

The general approach here is to change the old by building the new. The demonstration of feasible alternatives (renewable energy, cooperativism, relocalization, etc.) is a way to shift political momentum, constitute new constituencies for system change, and assert a new moral center of gravity.  To work, however, the alternatives incubated outside the existing system must achieve a sufficient coherence, intelligibility, scale and functionality.

The commons can act as a shared meta-language among these highly diverse groups because the commons expresses many of the core values and priorities of many “system-change” movements.  Like DNA, which is under-specified so that it can adapt to local circumstances, the commons discourse is general enough to accommodate myriad manifestations of basic values and principles.  More than an intellectual framework, the commons helps make culturally legible the many social practices (“commoning”) that are often taken to be too small and inconsequential to matter – but which, taken together, constitute a different type of economy.  In this fashion, the commons discourse itself has an integrative and catalytic potential to build a new type of networked polity. Michel Bauwens, Founder of the P2P Foundation, and his colleague John Restakis argue that the state can be reinvented as a “Partner State” in support of commons and peer production. Bauwens cites Bob Jessop, arguing that:

One the one hand, market competition will be balanced by cooperation, the invisible hand will be combined with a visible handshake.  On the other hand, the state is no longer the sovereignty authority.  It becomes just one participant among others in the pluralistic guidance systems and contributes its own distinctive resources to the negotiation process … official apparatuses remain at best first among equals.  The state’s involvement would become less hierarchical, less centralized and less directive in character.  The exchange of information and moral suasion become key sources of legitimation and the state’s influence depends as much on its role as a prime source and mediator of collective intelligence as on its command over economic resources or legitimate coercion.[52]

The idea of the partner state is intriguing, but will require further theoretical elaboration and investigations in how it might be politically actualized.  One serious attempt at this in the context of digital commons is the Commons Transition Plan prepared by Bauwens in conjunction with a research project sponsored by the Government of Ecuador in 2014.[53]  It attempts to envision state policies that could help bring about “a society and economy that functions as common pools of shared knowledge in every domain of social activity.”


A new polity is not something that can simply be declared or imposed.  It must be co-enacted over time.  We must co-evolve into it by living as commoners.  It is therefore difficult to project what a new polity might look like today; too many developmental realities must occur.  It will be emergent, which is to say, it will manifest a different structural logic and organization than we presume is possible today.  Standing at the base of a never-ascended mountain, we cannot really know which path to take and what the view from the peak will look like.

In the meantime, it is clear that the nation-state as a governance regime is facing serious new pressures.  It exists in a highly interconnected world in which transboundary interactionsare extensive and routine.  Transborder flows are not just commercial in nature, but also involve transfers of ideas, values, projects, policy initiatives, and visions for humanity.  As the peer-to-peer velocity of cross-border exchange reaches new intensities, the nation-state and international treaty systems will face new insurgent pressures from below.  How could it be otherwise?  The question is whether the needs of people at the micro, everyday level can be brought into closer alignment with the conduct of macro-institutions.

The Internet and digital technologies are certainly bringing this issue to a head as they catalyze and organize new sorts of bottom-up political and cultural energies.  It remains unclear whether those energies will fracture the old polity and its governance systems, and give rise to a new commons-based techno-economic social paradigm and polity – or whether the Googles and Facebooks of the world, and their corporate brethren, will succeed in reinventing capitalism in the age of electronic networks, assuring their ongoing mastery, perhaps in more ominous, unequal and coercive forms.

I do believe that fostering the social practices and norms of commoning may be one of the few pathways to develop transformational change.  It offers many points of access for participation.  It energizes bottom-up pressures and innovation from the edge.  It can generate goods and services to meet real needs outside of capitalist structures, or through more benign localized market hybrids and systems of mutualized support.  It provides a flexible, evolving template for change that works in diverse contexts and yet it articulates a core set of principles with a post-capitalist logic.

We have lived as vassals within the massive market/state edifice and its cultural matrix for so long that it somehow surprises us to have the pilot come on the intercom and announce that we’re all in this together, and that our agency as individuals acting collectively will be the only way to secure our future.  It is entirely appropriate, then, that we turn to our neighbors on either side of us, introduce ourselves, and begin the formidable task of reinventing new types of commons.  In the process, the eventual inter-networking of commons will give birth to an emergent global polity whose dimensions cannot be fully imagined today but which aspires to emancipate humanity from the limitations of modernity.  The commons is no magic talisman, nor a panacea.  Nor are network platforms.  But they do enable us to rediscover that sovereignty does not ultimately reside in the state or market (especially in these times), but within ourselves, together.

David Bollier is an author, activist, blogger and consultant who spends a lot of time exploring the commons as a new paradigm of economics, politics and culture. He  recently co-founded the Commons Strategies Group, a consulting project that works to promote the commons internationally. He was Founding Editor of Onthecommons.org and a Fellow of On the Commons from 2004 to 2010. He has written eleven books and co-edited a twelfth . He has  two forthcoming books:  The Wealth of the Commons:  A World Beyond Market and State (September 2012, Levellers Press), co-edited with Silke Helfrich; and Green Governance:  Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Commons (early 2013, Cambridge University Press), co-authored with Professor Burns H. Weston. His blog is http://bollier.org where this article appeared.


This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  See https://creativecommons.org/licenses/b-sa/4.0/legalcode.

[44] Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione, “The City as a Commons,” Yale Law & Policy Review, 34(2): 2016, at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2653084; European Cultural Foundation and Krytyka Polityczna, Build the City:  Perspectives on Commons and Culture (2015); and International Association for the Study of the Commons conference, “The City as a Commons:  Reconceiving Urban Space, Common Goods and City Governance,” November 6-7, 2015, in Bologna, Italy, at http://www.labgov.it/urbancommons.

  Read Re-Imagining The Polity For A Networked Humanity
  September 26, 2016
A System Of Food Production For Human Need, Not Corporate Greed

by Colin Todhunter, Environmental Protection, Countercurrents.org


There has been an adverse trend in the food and agriculture sector in recent times with the control of seeds and chemical inputs being consolidated through various proposed mergers. If these mergers go through, it would mean that three companies would dominate the commercial agricultural seeds and chemicals sector. Over the past couple of decades, there has already been a restriction of choice with the squeezing out of competitors, resulting in higher costs for farmers, who are increasingly reliant on corporate seeds (and their chemical inputs).

Big agribusiness players like Monsanto rely on massive taxpayer handouts to keep their business models on track; highly profitable models that have immense social, health and environmental costs to be paid for by the public. Across the globe healthy, sustainable agriculture has been uprooted and transformed to suit the profit margins of transnational agribusiness concerns. The major players in the global agribusiness sector fuel a geo-politicised, globalised system of food production that result in numerous negative outcomes for both farmers and consumers alike (listed here: 4th paragraph from the end).

Aside from the domination of the market being a cause for concern, we should also be worried about a food system controlled by companies that have a history (see this and this) of releasing health-damaging, environmentally polluting products onto the market and engaging in activities that might be considered as constituting crimes against humanity. If we continue to hand over the control of society’s most important infrastructure – food and agriculture – to these wealthy private interests, what will the future look like?

There is no need to engage in idle speculation. Foods based on CRISPR (a gene-editing technology for which Monsanto has just acquired a non-exclusive global licensing agreement for use) and synthetic biology are already entering the market without regulation or proper health or environmental assessments. And we can expect many more unregulated GM technologies to influence the nature of our food and flood the commercial market.

Despite nice sounding rhetoric by company spokespersons about the humanitarian motives behind these endeavours, the bottom line is patents and profit. And despite nice sounding rhetoric about the precision of the techniques involved, these technologies pose health and environmental risks. Moreover, CRIPRS technology could be used to create genes drives and terminator seed traits tools could be used for unscrupulous political and commercial ends.

There could well be severe social and economic consequences too. The impacts of synthetic biology (another sector dominated by a handful of private interests) on farmers in the Global South could result in a bio-economy of landlessness and hunger. Readers are urged to read this report which outlines the effects on farming, farmers and rural economies: synthetic biology has the potential to undermine livelihoods and would mean a shift to narrower range of export-oriented mono-cropping to produce biomass for synbio processes that place stress on water resources and food security in the exporting countries.

Aside from these social, health and environmental implications, can we trust private entities like Monsanto (or Bayer) to use these powerful (potentially bio-weapon) technologies responsibly? Given Monsanto’s long history of cover-ups and duplicity, trust took the last train out a long time ago. Moreover, the legalities of existing frameworks appear to mean little to certain companies: see here what Vandana Shiva says about the illegality of Monsanto’s enterprise in India. National laws that exist to protect the public interest are little more than mere hurdles to be got around by lobbyists, lawyers and political pressure. So what can be done?

Agroecology is a force for grass-root rural change that would be independent from the cartel of powerful biotech/agribusiness companies. This model of agriculture is already providing real solutions for sustainable, productive agriculture that prioritises the needs of farmers and consumers. It represents an alternative to corporate-controlled agriculture.

However, as much as people and communities strive to become independent from unscrupulous corporate concerns and as much as localised food systems try to extricate themselves from the impacts of rigged global trade and markets, there also has to be a concerted effort to roll back corporate power and challenge what it is doing to our food. These corporations will not just go away because people eat organic or choose agroecology.

The extremely wealthy interests behind these corporations do their level best to displace or dismantle alternative models of production – whether agroecology, organic, public sector agriculture systems or anything that exists independently from them – and replace them with ones that serve their needs. Look no further than attempts attempts to undermine indigenous edible oils processing in India, for instance. Look no further than the ‘mustard seed crisis‘ in India in 1998. Or look no further than how transnational biotech helped fuel and then benefit from the destruction of Ethiopia’s traditional agrarian economy.

Whether it’s on the back of US-backed coups (Ukraine), military conflicts (Iraq), ‘structural adjustment’ (Africa) or slanted trade deals (India), transnational agribusiness is driving a global agenda to suit its interests and eradicate impediments to profit.

To underline this point, let’s turn to what Michel Chossudovsky says in his 1997 book ‘The Globalization of Poverty’. He argues that economies are:

“opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished.” (p.16)

Increasing profit and shareholder dividends are the bottom line. And it doesn’t matter how much devastation ensues or how unsustainable their business model is, ‘crisis management’ and ‘innovation’ fuel the corporate-controlled treadmill they seek to impose.

As long as the domination of the food system by powerful private interests is regarded as legitimate and as long as their hijack of governments, trade bodies and trade deals, regulatory agencies and universities is deemed normal or is unchallenged in the sham ‘liberal democracies’ they operate within, we are destined for a future of more contaminated food, ill health, degraded environments and an agriculture displaced and uprooted for the benefit of self-interest.

The problems associated with the food system cannot be dealt with on a single-issue basis: it is not just about the labelling of GM foods; it’s not just about the impacts of Monsanto’s Roundup; it’s not just about Monsanto (or Bayer) as a company; and it’s not just about engaging in endless debates with corporate shills about the science of GMOs.

Despite the promise of the Green Revolution, hundreds of millions still go to bed hungry, food has become denutrified, functioning rural economies have been destroyed, diseases have spiked in correlation with the increase in use of pesticides and GMOs, soil has been eroded or degraded, diets are less diverse, global food security has been undermined and access to food is determined by manipulated international markets and speculation – not supply and demand.

Food and agriculture have become wedded to power structures that have created food surplus and food deficit areas and have restructured indigenous agriculture across the world and tied it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for a manipulated and volatile international market and indebtedness to international financial institutions.

The problem is the system of international capitalism that is driving a globalised system of bad food and poor health, the destruction of healthy, sustainable agriculture and systemic, half-baked attack on both groups and individuals who oppose these processes.

At the very least, there should be full public control over all GMO/synthetic biology production and research. And if we are serious about reining in the power of profiteering corporations over food – our most basic and essential infrastructure – they should be placed under democratic ownership and control.

In finishing, let us turn to Ghiselle Karim who at the end of her insightful article says:

“… we demand that it is our basic human right to protect our food supply… [food] would be planned to meet human need, not corporate greed.  We have hunger not because there is not enough food, but rather because it is not distributed equally. The core of the problem is not a shortage of food, but capitalism!”

Colin Todhunter is an independent writer

  Read  A System Of Food Production For Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
  September 27, 2016
El Buen Vivir And The Commons.

by Silke Helfrich, Countercurrents.org


Gustavo Soto Santiesteban is a writer, semiotician and consultant on indigenous rights at various universities in Bolivia.

Silke Helfrich: Gustavo, Buen Vivir (or Vivir Bien) is an expression that has made its way into the constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia, and has become an expression that would summarize an alternative project for civilization. Portuguese sociologist Boaventura da Souza even took up the slogan, “China or Sumaj Kuasay,” which is not self-explanatory. Can you help explain it?

Gustavo Soto: Suma Qamaña, Sumaj Kuasay and Sumak Kwasay are Aymara and Quechua expressions that translate into Spanish as Buen Vivir/Vivir Bien. They are reused in the construction of a discourse that speaks of a horizon of purposes alternative to the current state of affairs, one that is neither “21st century socialism” nor “Andean-Amazonian capitalism.” I think Buen Vivir is a proposal aimed at making visible and expressible aspects of reality that are ignored by the dominant paradigm. It is a proposal from a radical and spiritual perspective of ecology, and is logically incompatible with development and industrialization. It speaks of the possibility of living in common, for which the very concept “development” is not only insufficient but mistaken.

Javier Medina, a philosopher dedicated to Andean studies, writes: “There is always more in reality than one can experience or express at any given moment. A greater sensitivity to the latent potential of situations, assumed as a sort of broader social paradigm, may encourage us to think about things not only as they are, in the Newtonian paradigm, but also in terms of where they are heading, what they may become” (quoted in Soto 2010). El Buen Vivir/Vivir Bien is the name given to something that is like a new principle of hope grounded in ancestral practices of indigenous communities in the Americas.

Helfrich: So, it is not surprising that Bolivia and Ecuador are the two countries where the debate on el Buen Vivir is most alive. In Ecuador, 35 percent of the population self-identify as indigenous, and in Bolivia, 62 percent. In a take on the topic, Bolivia’s ambassador in Germany, Walter Prudencio Magne Veliz, his country’s first indigenous ambassador, said: “An indigenous person thinks more like a ‘we’ than as an individual ‘I’.” What does that “we” encompass?

Soto: Suma Qamaña implies several meanings manifested in community life: the fact of animals, persons, and crops living together; living with Pachamama (“Mother Earth” – the water, the mountains, the biosphere) and finally living together with the community of ancestors (w’aka). It is a community practice that finds organizational expression in the ayllu, which articulates this “economy-life” in the chacra – the rural agricultural space where reciprocity predominates. It is evident that these enunciations are made from the commons, from the community, from the first person plural, and not from “me,” from the individual. Strictly speaking, the “individual” without community is bereft, orphaned, incomplete.

Helfrich: We find these ideas in many different cultures. It’s not just one or the other. Things are not separate, but interrelated. Therefore, Javier Medina, a Bolivian philosopher who is one of the most literate interpreters of the idea of Buen Vivir, says it is a display of intelligence that “we Bolivians want to have the State and also want to have the ayllu, though they are two antagonistic magnitudes….” And he continues: “Our problem is that in not picking up on the civilizing nature of both, we confuse them, provoking the inefficiency of both.… At this point…, let’s not have any more real State: follow the liberal Third World simulation, nor more realAyllus: in their place, docile social movements.” In your opinion, does the ayllu persist in contemporary Bolivia? Do they have like a “physical-social embodiment”?

Soto: The indigenous ayllu, at the “micro-level,” at the local level, persists in the Bolivian altiplano. It is founded on reciprocity more than on the market; on cultural identity more than on homogenization; on decision by assembly more than the electoral mechanism; on its de facto autonomy and its relationship with the “territory,” which is not the “land” – factor of production – but rather precisely the totality of the system of relationships.

Helfrich: Your description of the ayllu is reminiscent of the concept of commoning, which is discussed so much in this book and which expresses much better than the term commonswhere the heartbeat of the debate lies. Both el Buen Vivir and commoning can only be thought of in their specific social context and as a social process. Indeed, it seems to me that both are more systems of production in community and at the same time they produce community.

Soto: Yes, the ayllu is much more than a “unit of production”; it is a system of community life which, if you will, “produces” community first. This has been possible precisely because the successive projects of the nation-state have, relatively speaking, failed to assimilate them.

Helfrich: In essence, what’s the difference between the Andean conception of el Buen Vivirand Western thinking?

Soto: Medina situates it in a schema which of course generalizes and is disjunctive, thus it is far from being an adequate case of complex thinking; it’s like a map, which should never be confused with what happens in the territory itself. Between the poles there is obviously a long continuum.

  Read El Buen Vivir And The Commons.
  September 28, 2016
Standing In Solidarity For A Humanity Without Borders.

by Adam Parsons, Human Rights, Countercurrents.org

In this era of growing polarisation, fear and prejudice, there are many ordinary citizens who stand in solidarity with refugees as they are forced from their homelands, stepping in with volunteering and rescue efforts where governments have failed. (Photo: streets.life)

Following the first ever United Nations Summit on Refugees and Migrants last week, many civil society organisations and concerned citizens are taking stock of our government’s collective response to this unprecedented global crisis. The UN Summit was two years in the making, and gave a rare opportunity for world leaders to step up their commitments to help refugees, as well as draw up a blueprint for a more effective international plan of action. Central to these negotiations was the need to share responsibility for dealing with the crisis more equitably among member states, which was one of the key principles reaffirmed in the outcome document. Yet there is little promise for the world’s 21 million refugees that wealthy nations will be genuinely sharing—and not further shirking—their responsibilities to fulfil these vulnerable people’s basic rights.

Before the summit convened, it was already clear that rich governments would not be placing the needs of refugees and migrants above their narrow national self-interest. Rights groups widely criticised the watered-down agreement adopted by the UN General Assembly, particularly a commitment to resettle 10 percent of the global refugee population annually (itself inadequate) that was later dropped from the negotiation text. Another omission was the hoped-for Global Compact on Responsibility Sharing for Refugees, which was intended to be one of the summit’s main outcomes. Instead, any chance of a global solution is deferred for another 2 years of negotiations. What remains is a long list of general and vague commitments, without any kind of binding mechanism or targets decided for responsibility sharing between nations. More concrete pledges were made at a separate Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, convened by President Obama with 50 other nations, who together promised to take in significantly more refugees this year and increase funding by $4.5bn. But even these promises lack a guarantee, and may be reneged upon by the United States in its next administration.

So where is the hope that the situation can improve while 34,000 people are forced to flee their homes each day due to conflict and persecution, many of them continuing to die in an attempt to reach safety? The shocking trends show no sign of abating, largely driven by violent conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa that Western powers have had a substantial role in causing or exacerbating. Yet the responses we are seeing from governments are often far from the fundamental principles set down in international refugee law, as reaffirmed at the UN Summit. Europe is currently building more walls than during the height of the Cold War; billions of euros are being spent on deterrence measures and reactionary cooperation agreements that are having limited impact on the number of overall arrivals. Our own country, the UK, is admitting only a tiny proportion of Syrian refugees, while shamefully diverting part of the aid budget to control immigration from Africa. The new UK government’s position is that those fleeing war zones should remain in the first safe country they reach—effectively arguing that the refugee crisis is somebody else’s problem.

It is not enough to question where is the hope, for where is the morality, the kindness, the basic compassion? In this era of growing polarisation, fear and prejudice, there are many ordinary citizens who stand in solidarity with refugees as they are forced from their homelands, stepping in with volunteering and rescue efforts where governments have failed. STWR joined 30,000 others as part of the “refugees welcome” march in London on the weekend prior to the UN Summit, calling on the British government to settle more refugees and provide safe, legal routes to asylum. The numbers of people gathered were considerably less than last year when 100,000 marched, thought to be the biggest national show of support for refugees in living memory. But among a population of 64 million, such a one-off event was never going to be enough to compel the UK government to accept its fair share of refugees, and play its part in forging strong multilateral action.

The same situation pertains in other wealthy nations, where the majority of citizens turn a blind eye to the senseless suffering of those less fortunate than themselves. It has to be remembered that while 65 million people have been displaced by war or persecution, there are millions of others living in extreme poverty who do not have the economic means to seek refuge abroad, which may cost thousands of dollars to pay the fees of illegal human smugglers. What about the many millions of people who do not have enough food to eat on a daily basis, or the 22,000 children who die each day due to conditions of poverty? The global refugee crisis is the tip of the iceberg, compared to this wider tragedy of inequality and injustice that is seldom mentioned in news reports across the Western media. Yet even the problem of internally displaced persons—those who flee their homes but do not cross national borders, totalling around 45 million people—was ignored by the UN Summit. We are left to wonder at the fate of the billions of other people who live without adequate means for survival worldwide, so long as the lack of compassion in global policymaking is sustained by a generalised public indifference.

Much has been made of the basic unfairness in how responsibility is shared between nations for ameliorating the refugee crisis, whereby only 14% of refugees are being hosted in the wealthiest parts of the world. According to analysis from Oxfam, more than half of refugees have been hosted by just 6 countries and territories that account for less than 2 percent of the global economy. But is this a surprise when we consider the lack of sharing that defines the planet as a whole, and the longstanding inequalities in living standards that divide the richest countries from the majority poor overseas? As Oxfam comment in their report “I Ask the World to Empathise”, the men and woman seeking a safer future have faced intense hardship, and will invariably have relied on the kindness and solidarity of strangers along their journeys, who may have shared their scarce resources with them. In contrast, most of the governments of affluent nations are failing to share their resources in the same spirit of common humanity.

The real question is the kind of sharing that is needed to deal with the root causes of this unmitigated crisis, when the international response continues to be woefully inadequate. A coordinated multilateral plan of action based on the concept of responsibility sharing is the barest minimum that should be expected, in accordance with the capacity and wealth of each country. A massive upscaling of support is also required for the low- and middle-income countries who are hosting the most displaced people, so that response efforts can go beyond humanitarian aid to include help for livelihoods and education. All of these demands are entirely possible and realistic, if the right resources are directed at the problem.

However, addressing the root causes of an economic order that constantly produces the drivers of mass human displacement—entrenched poverty, endless wars and worsening climate change—will demand a level of global economic sharing that is unlike anything we have seen since the foundation of the United Nations, before we can realistically envisage a better world without borders, xenophobia or racism. The fact that our governments have even failed to agree a new refugee protection system based on genuine sharing in any form, only serves to underline the obvious reality: that the true burden of responsibility lies ever more heavily on the shoulders of ordinary people of goodwill.

Adam Parsons is the editor at Share The World’s Resources, (STWR), a London-based civil society organization campaigning for a fairer sharing of wealth, power and resources within and between nations. He can be contacted at adam@sharing.org

  Read Standing In Solidarity For A Humanity Without Borders.
  September 28, 2016
Peer-To-Peer Economy And New Civilization Centered Around The Sustenance Of The Commons.

by Michel Bauwens, Countercurrents.org


The “peer to peer” and commons-oriented vision for a new type of civilization and economic system starts from an analysis of what is fundamentally wrong with the current economic system. Rather than put forward a utopian ideal, the P2P vision is based on generalizing the already emerging forms of peer production, peer governance, and peer property.It makes three primary critiques of the dys­functions of the present system:

  1. The current political economy is based on a false idea of material abundance. We call it pseudo-abundance. It is based on a commitment to permanent growth, the infinite accumulation of capital and debt-driven dynamics through compound interest. This is unsustainable, of course, because infinite growth is logically and physically impossible in any physically constrained, finite system.
  2. The current political economy is based on a false idea of “immaterial scarcity.” It believes that an exaggerated set of intellectual property monopolies – for copyrights, trademarks and patents – should restrain the sharing of scientific, social and economic innovations. Hence the system discourages human cooperation, excludes many people from benefiting from innovation and slows the collective learning of humanity. In an age of grave global challenges, the political economy keeps many practical alternatives sequestered behind private firewalls or unfunded if they cannot generate adequate profits.
  3. The pseudo-abundance that destroys the biosphere, and the contrived scarcity that keeps innovation artificially scarce and slow, does not advance social justice. Although people may have a formal legal equality of civil and political rights, serious and increasing material inequalities make those rights more nominal than real. At the other extreme, the polity explicitly grants human rights to the artificial legal construct of the for-profit corporation, a pathological institution that is solely beholden to its shareholders, and is constitutionally unable to take into account the common good.

The present corporate form is a machine designed to deny and ignore negative environmental and social externalities as much as possible. Because it is driven by profit-maximizing corporations, capitalism is not just a scarcity-allocation mech­anism, but a mechanism for engineering artificial scarcities, as epitomized in the sterile Terminator Seeds developed by Monsanto. Such seeds are specifically designed so that they can’t reproduce themselves, which not only kills cycles of abundance in nature, it also makes farmers permanently dependent on a corporation.

The above analysis suggests that any solution to contemporary capitalism needs to address these three issues in an integral fashion, i.e., production that allows the continued survival, sustainability and flourishing of the biosphere; protecting and promoting the free sharing of social innovations and knowledge; and the recognition that social and economic justice will not be achieved unless we first recognize the actual scarcity of nature and the actual abundance of knowledge and innovation.


Contemporary society is generally seen as consisting of a public sphere, dominated by the state and public authorities; a private sphere, consisting of profit-maximizing corporations; and a subordinated civil society where the less privileged sectors have great difficulties in ascertaining and asserting their rights and interests.

The peer-to-peer vision relies upon the three major sectors of society – the state, market and civil society – but with different roles and in a revitalized equilibrium. At the core of the new society is civil society, with the commons as its main institution, which uses peer production to generate common value outside of the market logic. These commons consist of both the natural heritage of mankind (oceans, the atmosphere, land, etc.), and commons that are created through collective societal innovation, many of which can be freely shared because of their immaterial nature (shared knowledge, software and design, culture and science). Civil society hosts a wide variety of activities that are naturally and structurally beneficial to the commons – not in an indirect and hypothetical way, as claimed by the “Invisible Hand” metaphor, but in a direct way, by entities that are structurally and constitutionally designed to work for the common good. This sphere includes entities such as trusts, which act as stewards of physical resources of common use (land trusts, natural parks), and for-benefit foundations, which help maintain the infrastructure of cooperation for cultural and digital commons.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which maintains the funding for Wikipedia’s technological development is a well-known example in the domain of open knowledge. In like fashion, the Linux Foundation and Apache Foundation support two leading software development communities. It is important to note that these entities do not function as classic NGOs that use “command and control” management and salaried personnel to allocate resources to projects; rather, they use their resources and credibility to help paid and unpaid contributors continue to develop their commons according to their own consensus judgments.

Around this new core is a private sphere, where market entities with private agendas and private governance can still create added-value around the commons by producing relatively scarce goods and services. However, because of the pathological and destructive nature of profit-maximizing corporations, in the P2P economy this private sphere is reformed to serve more ethical ends by using proper taxation, revenue and benefit-sharing modalities to help generate positive externalities, e.g., infrastructure, shareable knowledge, and by using taxation, competition, and rent-for-use to minimize negative externalities, e.g., pollution, overuse of collective resources.

Cooperative enterprises are the more prominent and developed form of private organization in this new economy. While corporations continue to exist, their operating logic is made to serve the values of the commons. Once the commons and the commoners are at the core of value creation, commoners can be expected to opt for those types of entities that maximize the value system of the commons itself. Today, the open source economy of shared innovation commons and the “ethical economy” of reformed market entities exist as separate spheres. Both need to develop and mature. An early example of this dynamic is IBM’s adaptation to the norms and regulations of the Linux community, which showed that even large, old-style corporate entities are capable of transforming themselves.

We believe that new forms of cooperative and distributed property will emerge along these lines, a trend explained by Matt Cropp in his article, “The Coming Micro-Ownership Revolution.”6 Cropp’s article explains the direct link between P2P-driven declines in transaction costs and the shift to more distributed forms of ownership. The new corporate forms will no longer be based on shareholder-based ownership, but on common capital stock, held by the commoners themselves. These new entities constitute the “third commons” of “created materiality,” i.e., humankind’s productive machinery (in other words, capital), which joins the first two commons, the inherited material commons of nature and created “immaterial” cultural commons. The new forms of distributed individual property, which can be freely aggregated into collectives, emulate the free aggregation of effort already dominant in peer production rather than the older forms of collectivized and socialized public property.


It can be argued that the collaborative economy is hyperproductive in comparison to the traditional industrial-capitalist modality of using a private company, wage labor, and proprietary controls such as patents and copyrights. Commons-based peer production allows rapid sharing of innovation and very low cost mutual coordination on a global scale. It also elicits passionate, voluntary engagement from large networks of contributors as well as rapidly established quick connections between emerging problems and valuable expertise. It is this hyperproductivity of commons-oriented practices and solutions that has led some observers to see commons as “out-competing” or “out-cooperating” conventional capitalism, and peer production as an attractive alternative to investments of shareholder and venture capital in private ventures. IBM is a well-known example of the realignment of a classic for-profit enterprise to the new modality of value creation. The company not only decided to use and contribute to Linux, but also to abide by the open development process of Linux, as well as the norms and rules of that community.

Obviously, when we use the concept of out-competing, we stress the role that emergent peer production plays in the capitalist, for-profit system; we stress that incorporating community dynamics in the overall production process is a better and more efficient way of doing business. This is exactly the argument of the open source movement, which stresses efficiency. The free software movement, by contrast, stresses the ethical imperative of freedom in both its creative and political sense. To talk about “out-competing” allows one to build bridges to the existing mentalities prevalent in the older institutional forms of corporations and government. By contrast, to talk about “out-cooperating” stresses the “transcendent” aspects of peer production, those aspects which are non-capitalist, perhaps even post-capitalist. It stresses the open and free cooperation of producers who are creating a commons together and its transformative potential.


How do we distinguish civil entities from private entities that choose to engage in some sort of social mission? On the one hand, civil entities are dedicated to the commons as a whole and exercise responsibility for its maintenance as an entity or institution, essentially based on non-market-based cooperation, and are organized as nonprofits; on the other hand, the private entities are voluntary associations of commoners that use market activity to create goods and services using a commons in order to guarantee their own individual and communal social reproduction. What joins both of these “sectors” is a common concern for maintaining the commons.

Over and above the civic and market spheres is a public sphere that is responsible for the overall collective good of the whole of society (as even commoners are primarily concerned with “their” commons). The public sector establishes the general parameters and supports in which the commons operates and by which commoners can thrive. The public sector of the P2P economy is neither a corporate welfare state at the service of a financial elite,nor a welfare state that has a paternalistic relation to civil society, but a Partner State, which serves civil society and takes responsibility for the metagovernance of the three spheres. The Partner State is dedicated to supporting “the common value creation of the civic sphere”;8 the “market” and the “mission-oriented” activities of the new private sphere; and all the public services that are necessary for the common good of all citizens.

It is very important here to distinguish the market from capitalism. Markets predate capitalism, and are a simple technique to allocate resources through the meeting of supply and demand using some medium of exchange. The allocation mechanism is compatible with a wide variety of other, eventually dominant systems. It is compatible with methods of “just pricing,” full or “true cost accounting” (internalization of all costs), fair trade, etc. It does not require that labor and money be considered as commodities nor that workers be separated from the means of production. Markets can be subsumed to other logics and modalities such as the state or the commons.

Capitalism, on the other hand, considered by some as an “anti-market” (Braudel 1986), requires amongst other features: 1) the separation of producers and the means of production; and 2) infinite growth (either through competition and capital accumulation, as described by Karl Marx, or through compound interest dynamics, as described by Silvio Gesell).

In the vision of a commons-oriented society, the market is subsumed under the dominant logic of the commons and regulated by the Partner State. It is just one of the hybrid modalities that is compatible with the commons. This vision does not preclude an evolution of society through which the market may become entirely marginal, and be replaced by resource-based economics, for example. The important feature is to give commoners and citizens the freedom to choose amongst different mechanisms, and to arrive experimentally at the best solutions for the allocation of scarce resources.

The essential characteristic of the new system is that the commons is the new core, and a variety of hybrid mechanisms can productively coexist around it, including reformed market and state forms.


A commons-oriented society is not a return to premodern holism, in which the individual is subsumed to the whole, but rather a society that is based on the recognition of the need for relationality and collectivity of the free and equal individual. It is a society based on cooperative individualism rather than collectivism. Already today, in peer production, we can see how individuals can freely aggregate their contributions in a common project. This is possible because peer producers are much more in control of their own means of production, i.e., their personal creativity, computers, and access to networks. We propose to extend this vision and reality to the totality of the means of production. It should extend to citizen-peer producers so that they can aggregate the resources they need, including physical and financial capital stock, as well as coordinate their management practices and goals. This aggregation process will be guided by the need to guarantee good living conditions in a sustainable way. In this context, distributed property is a guarantee against the possible misuse of socialized common property, since the individual can also disaggregate and “fork” both his immaterial and material contributions. Most likely, the future commons society will give citizens an equal share of necessary natural resources to draw from, as well as some form of equitably distributed productive capital, giving them a certain independence from concrete and localized physical resources.


The animating social force of the commons-based, P2P society is that of citizen-workers seeing themselves as autonomous producers of shared knowledge and value. This is the great contribution of knowledge workers and the hacker class to the history of the modern labor and social movements. The innovations of this new sector can and should merge with the historical traditions of resistance, creation and emancipation of the traditional working class and peasantry, as well as the progressive sectors of the other classes.

One way to envisage alliances is to see merging of new constructive peer production communities in all areas of social life – which are producing the seeds of the new society within the old – with the remobilization of mass movements focused on a positive political program that is often lacking in this time of deep capitalist crisis. In other words, the convergence of the communities dedicated to the “construction of the new” and “resistance to the old” provides the energy and imagination for a new type of policy formulation, one that can recreate a global reform and transformation movement.

Another way to envisage future political and cultural alliances is to see them as a confluence of various global forces: 1) those working against the enclosure and the privatization of knowledge, which are simultaneously constructing new knowledge commons; 2) those working for environmental sustainability, including the protection of existing physical commons; and 3) those working for social justice on a local and global scale. In other words, we need a global alliance between the new “open” movements, the ecological movements, and the traditional social justice and emancipatory movements, in order to create a “grand alliance of the commons.”

Michel Bauwens(Belgium/Thailand) is the founder of the P2P Foundation, a global research collaborative network on peer production as well as Co-Founder of the Commons Strategies Group. He lives in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. Michel is currently Primavera Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam and is an external expert at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (2008, 2012).

Franco Iacomella (Argentina) is an activist and researcher on peer production and commons. He works for the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences and the Open University of Catalunya. He is member of several organizations in the fields of open education, free software and commons-based peer production. He blogs athttp://francoiacomella.org.


  • Bollier, David. 2009. Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own. New York, NY. New Press.
  • Botsman, Rachel and Roo Rogers. 2010. What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. New York, NY. HarperCollins.
  • Brown, Marvin. 2010. Civilizing the Economy. A New Economics of Provision.Cambridge, MA. Cambridge University Press.
  • De Ugarte, David (no date). “Phyles: Economic Democracy in the Network Century.”http://deugarte.com/gomi/phyles.pdf.
  • —————. (no date), “The Power of Networks.” http://deugarte.com/gomi/the-power-of-networks.pdf, Retrieved, October 20, 2011.
  • —————. (no date), and Pere Quintana, Enrique Gomez, and Arnau Fuentes. “From Nations to Networks.” http://deugarte.com/gomi/Nations.pdf.
  • Gansky, Lisa. 2010. The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing. New York, NY. Penguin Group.
  • Greco, Thomas. 2009. The End of Money and the Future of Civilization. White River Junction, VT. Chelsea Green.
  • Hecksher, C. and Adler, P. 2006. The Firm as a Collaborative Community – Reconstructing Trust in the Knowledge Economy. New York, NY. Oxford University Press.
  • Helfrich, Silke, ed. 2009. Genes, Bytes and Emissions: To Whom Does the World Belong? Heinrich Böll Foundation.
  • Hoeschele, Wolfgang. 2010. The Economics of Abundance: A Political Economy of Freedom, Equity, and Sustainability. Gower Publishing.
  • Hyde, Lewis. 2010. Common as Air. Revolution, Art, and Ownership. New York, NY. Farrar Straus Giroux.
  • Kane, Pat. 2003. The Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living. London, UK. Macmillan.
  • Kleiner, Dmytri. 2010. The Telekommunist Manifesto. Institute for Network Cultures.
  • Krikorian, Gaelle and Kapczynski, Amy, eds. 2010. Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property. New York, NY. Zone Books.
  • Lessig, Lawrence. 2004. Free Culture. New York, NY. Penguin.
  • O’Neill, Mathieu. 2009. Cyberchiefs: Autonomy and Authority in Online Tribes. London, UK. Macmillan/Pluto Press.
  • Raymond, Eric. 2001. The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Sebastopol, CA. O’Reilly.
  • Schor, Juliet. 2010. Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth New York, NY. Penguin.
  • Stallman, Richard. 2002. Free Software, Free Society. Boston, MA. GNU Press.
  • von Hippel, Eric. 2004. Democratizating Innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Walljasper, Jay. 2010. All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons New York, NY: New Press.
  • Wark, McKenzie. 2004. A Hacker Manifesto Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.
  • Weber, Steve. 2004. The Success of Open Source. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.
  • 1.See also the essay by Michel Bauwens on peer-to-peer production on pp. 375–378.
  • 2.See also the conversation between Davey, Helfrich, Hoeschele and Verzola in Part 1.
  • 3.Beatriz Busaniche, among other authors, describes how this happens in Part 2.
  • 4.See, e.g., Wikipedia entry on genetically modified organisms, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_use_restriction_technology
  • 5.See also Gerhard Scherhorn’s proposal in Part 5 to design a commons-based competition law.
  • 6.See: http://cuhistory.blogspot.com/2011/05/coming-micro-ownership-revolution.html
  • 7.See Antonio Tricarico’s essay on the financialization of natural resources in Part 2. 8. In peer production and shared innovation commons, the value is created in a common pool by the contributors, and not by individuals and corporations acting in a private capacity to sell commodities in a marketplace.
  • 8.In resource-based economics, resources could flow directly to the place of need, or be exchanged through barter or ledger systems, i.e., without recourse to money. It could be argued that a combination of networked cooperation, with open book management and transparency in accounting and production, makes the use of money for the exchange of resources obsolete. Feudal tribute systems are an older example of such money-free exchanges.

First published in The Wealth Of The Commons

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

  Read Peer-To-Peer Economy And New Civilization Centered Around The Sustenance Of The Commons.
  September 29, 2016
Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights And The Commons.

by David Bollier, Counter Solutions, Countercurrents.org


At least since Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, we have known about humankind’s squandering of nonrenewable resources, its careless disregard of precious life species and its overall contamination and degradation of delicate ecosystems. In recent decades, these defilements have assumed a systemic dimension. Lately we have come to realize the shocking extent to which our atmospheric emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases threatens Planet Earth.

If the human species is going to overcome the many interconnected ecological catastrophes now confronting us, this moment in history requires that we entertain some bold modifications of our legal structures and political culture. We must find the means to introduce new ideas for effective and just environmental protection – locally, nationally, regionally, globally, and points in between.

We believe that effective and just environmental protection is best secured via commons- and rights-based ecological governance, operational from local to global and administered according to principles rooted in respect for nature and fellow human beings. We call it “green governance.” We also believe that the rigorous application of a reconceptualized human right to a clean and healthy environment (or “right to environment”) is the best way actually to promote environmental well-being while meeting everyone’s basic needs.


It is our premise that human societies will not succeed in overcoming our myriad eco-crises through better “green technology” or economic reforms alone; we must pioneer new types of governance that allow and encourage people to move from anthropocentrism to biocentrism, and to develop qualitatively different types of relationships with nature itself and, indeed, with each other. An economics and supporting civic polity that valorizes growth and material development as the precondition for virtually everything else are ultimately a dead end – literally.

Achieving a clean, healthy and ecologically balanced environment requires that we cultivate a practical governance paradigm based on, first, a logic of respect for nature, sufficiency, interdependence, shared responsibility and fairness among all human beings; and, second, an ethic of integrated global and local citizenship that insists upon transparency and accountability in all activities affecting the integrity of the environment.

We believe that commons- and rights-based ecological governance – green governance – can fulfill this logic and ethic. Properly done, it can move us beyond the neoliberal State and Market alliance – what we call the “State/Market” – which is chiefly responsible for the current, failed paradigm of ecological governance. (We capitalize “State,” “Market” and Commons here when referrring to them as systems of governance and power.)

The basic problem is that the price system, seen as the ultimate governance mechanism of our polity, falls short in its ability to represent notions of value that are subtle, qualitative, long-term and complicated. These are, however, precisely the attributes of natural systems. The price system has trouble taking account of qualitatively different types of value on their own terms, most notably the “carrying capacity” of natural systems and their inherent usage limits. Exchange value is the primary if not the exclusive concern. This, in fact, is the grand narrative of conventional economics. Gross Domestic Product represents the sum total of all market activity, whether that activity is truly beneficial to society or not. Conversely, anything that does not have a price and exists “outside” the market is regarded (for the purposes of policymaking) as having subordinate or no value.

What is more, it is an open secret that various industry lobbies have captured if not corrupted the legislative process in countries around the world; and that the regulatory apparatus, for all its necessary functions, is essentially incapable of fulfilling its statutory mandates, let alone pioneering new standards of environmental stewardship. Further, regulation has become ever more insulated from citizen influence and accountability as scientific expertise and technical proceduralism have come to be more and more the exclusive determinants of who may credibly participate in the process.Given the parameters of the administrative State and the neoliberal policy consensus, truly we have reached the limits of leadership and innovation within existing institutions and policy structures.

Still, it will not be an easy task to make the transition from State/Market ecological governance to commons- and rights-based ecological governance. Green governance is, indeed, a daunting proposition. It entails serious reconsideration of some of the most basic premises of our economic, political and legal orders, and of our cultural orders as well. It requires that we enlarge our understanding of “value” in economic thought to account for nature and social well-being; that we expand our sense of human rights and how they can serve strategic as well as moral purposes; that we liberate ourselves from the limitations of State-centric models of legal process; and that we honor the power of non-market participation, local context, and social diversity in structuring economic activity and addressing environmental problems.

Of course, there is also the deeper issue of whether contemporary civilization can be persuaded to disrupt the status quo to save our “lonely planet.” Much will depend on our ability to articulate and foster a coherent new paradigm of ecological stewardship. Fortunately, there are some very robust, encouraging developments now beginning to flourish on the periphery of the mainstream political economy. These include insurgent schools of thought in economics, ecological management, and human rights aided by fledgling grassroots movements, e.g., the Occupy movement and Internet communities. Although disparate and irregularly connected, each seeks in its own way to address the many serious deficiencies of centralized governments (corruption, lack of transparency, rigidity, a marginalized citizenry) and concentrated markets (externalized costs, fraud, the bigger-better-faster ethos of material progress). Taken together, these trends suggest the emergent contours of a new paradigm of ecological governance.

For all their power and potential, however, none of these movements or their visions can prevail without some serious grounding in law. And in this regard we believe the legal and moral claims of human rights can be the kind of powerful, mobilizing discourse that is needed for real change. Human rights can provide a broad, flexible platform and a respected legal framework for asserting the right of everyone to a clean and healthy environment.


Human rights signal a public order of human dignity, for which environmental well-being is essential. They consequently challenge and make demands upon State sovereignty, and upon the parochial agendas of private elites as well. They trump most other legal obligations, being juridically more elevated than commonplace “standards,” “laws,” or mere policy choices. And they carry with them a sense of entitlement on the part of the rights-holder, and thus facilitate legal and political empowerment.

For these and other reasons, we believe that the human right to a clean and healthy environment can be a powerful tool for imagining and securing a system of ecological, governance in the common interest. But there are skeptics who say that the right does not exist except in moral terms – that it lacks the elements of authority and/or control requisite to making it count as law. Are they right? The answer is both “yes” and “no.”

According to the law of the State system, there are at least three ways in which the human right to environment is today officially recognized juridically:

  • As an entitlement derived from other recognized rights, centering primarily on the substantive rights to life, to health and to respect for private and family life, but embracing occasionally other perceived surrogate rights as well – e.g., habitat, property, livelihood, culture, dignity, equality or nondiscrimination, and sleep;
  • As an entitlement autonomous unto itself, dependent on no more than its own recognition and increasingly favored over the derivative approach insofar as national constitutional and regional treaty prescriptions proclaiming such a right are evidence; and
  • As a cluster of procedural entitlements generated from a “reformulation and expansion of existing human rights and duties” (akin to the derivative substantive rights noted first above) and commonly referred to as “procedural environmental rights,” i.e., the right to environmental information, to participation in decisionmaking, and to administrative and judicial recourse.

A careful review of each of these official manifestations of the right to environment around the world reveals that, however robust in their particularized applications, they are essentially limited in their legal recognition and jurisdictional reach. It also shows that, as part of our legal as well as moral inheritance, the right to environment needs to be taken extra seriously. For this to happen – indeed, for Earth itself to survive and be hospitable to life upon it– the right must be reimagined and reinvigorated, and as soon as possible.

Juridically, this right is most strongly recognized in its derivative form, i.e., derived from other recognized legal rights, rather than in its autonomous form, i.e., legally recognized in its own right. When framed autonomously, interestingly, the right is found to exist principally – indeed, almost exclusively – in the developing worlds of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. There is also a growing sentiment (primarily at the regional level so far) to recognize procedural environmental rights.

But at bottom, it seems that as long as ecological governance remains in the grip of essentially unregulated (liberal or neoliberal) capitalism, there never will be a human right to environment – certainly not an autonomous one, widely recognized and honored across the globe in any formal or official sense.

In recent years, however, two attractive alternative approaches have emerged. The first approach – intergenerational environmental rights – though firm in legal theory, relies heavily on its ability to appeal to the moral conscience. The second – nature’s environmental rights – pioneered by the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia, chooses to alter the procedural playing field altogether. These nations assert that nature has legal rights of its own that must be defended by human surrogates.

Both these approaches go beyond the narrow anthropocentrism of existing law. In their legal character they are autonomous rights rather than derivative rights. They look to claimant surrogates to enforce the rights. And they are asserted primarily at the official national and subnational levels. Politically, both approaches reflect a deep frustration with the environmental community’s conventional terms of advocacy and with the formal legal order’s deep commitments to neoliberalism.

However, barring some game-changing ecological disaster, huge economic and political forces will continue to resist these innovative legal gambits for reasons that are both historical and philosophical. Green governance that looks to the Commons points toward a different approach for securing a right to a clean and healthy environment. It calls for the establishment of a new procedural environmental right, the human right to commons- and rights-based ecological governance.


A commons is a regime for managing common-pool resources that eschews individual property rights and State control. It relies instead on common property arrangements that tend to be self-organized and enforced in complex, idiosyncratic social ways. A commons is generally governed by what we call Vernacular Law – the “unofficial” norms, institutions, and procedures that a peer community devises to manage community resources on its own, and typically democratically. State Law and action may set the parameters within which Vernacular Law operates, but it does not directly control how a given commons is organized and managed.

In this way, the Commons operates in a quasi-sovereign manner, similar to the Market but largely escaping the centralized mandates of the State and the logic of Market exchange while mobilizing decentralized participation “on the ground.” In its broadest sense, the Commons could become an important vehicle for assuring a right to environment at local, regional, national, and global levels. But this role will require innovative legal and policy norms, institutions and procedures to recognize and support Commons as a matter of law.

The Commons represents an advance over existing governance because it gives us practical ways of naming and protecting value that the market is incapable of doing, and, as already noted, in an essentially democratic manner. For example, the Commons gives us a vocabulary for talking about the proper limits of Market activity—and for enforcing those limits. Commons discourse helps force a conversation about the “market externalities” that often are shunted to the periphery of economic theory, politics and policymaking. It asks questions such as: How can appropriate limits be set on the market exploitation of nature? What legal principles, institutions, and procedures can help manage a shared resource fairly and sustainably over time, sensitive to the ecological rights of future as well as present generations?

The paradigm of green governance is compelling because it comprises at once a basis in rich legal tradition that extends back centuries, an attractive cultural discourse that can organize and personally energize people, and a widespread participatory social practice that, at this very moment, is producing practical results in projects big and small, local and transnational.

The history of legal recognition of the Commons, and thus the commoners’ right to the environment, goes back centuries and even millennia. There were forestry conservation laws in effect as early as 1700 B.C. Pharaoh Akhenaten established nature reserves in Egypt in 1370 B.C. Hugo Grotius, often called the father of international law, argued in his famous treatiseMare Liberum (1609) that the seas must be free for navigation and fishing because the law of nature prohibits ownership of things that appear “to have been created by nature for common things”(Baslar 1998).1 Antarctica has been managed as a stable, durable inter­governmental commons since the ratification of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, enabling inter­national scientists to cooperate in major research projects without the threat of military conflict over territorial claims. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 declares outer space, the moon and other celestial bodies to be the “province of all mankind” and “not subject to national appropriation….”

Commons have been a durable transcultural institution for assuring that people can have direct access to, and use of, natural resources, or that government can act as a formal trustee on behalf of the public interest – what we call “State trustee commons.” Commons regimes have acted as a kind of counterpoint to the dominant systems of power because, though the structures of State power have varied over the centuries (tribes, monarchies, feudal estates, republics), managing a forest, fishery, or marshland as a commons addresses certain ontological human wants and needs that endure: the need to meet one’s subsistence needs through cooperative uses of shared resources; the expectation of basic fairness and respectful treatment; and the right to a clean, healthy environment.

In this sense, the various historical fragments of what may be called “commons law” (not to be confused with the common law) constitute a legal tradition that can advance human and environmental rights. These regimes speak to the elemental moral consensus that all the creations of nature and society that we inherit from previous generations should be protected and held in trust for future generations.

In our time, the State and Market are seen as the only credible or significant forces for governance. But in fact the Commons is an eminently practical and versatile mode of governance for ecological resources, among many other forms of shared wealth. The viability of the Commons has been overlooked not just because of the persistence of the Hardin “tragedy” parable and the overweening power of the State/Market, but because the Commons exists in so many forms and is managed by so many different types of commoners.


For a shift to this paradigm to take place, State law and public policy must formally recognize and support the countless commons that now exist and the new ones that must be created. By such means, the State, working with civil society, could facilitate the rise of a Commons Sector, an eclectic array of commons-based institutions, projects, social practices, and values that advance the policy of collective action. Extending to the Commons the legal recognition and generous backing the “free state” and “free market” have enjoyed for generations would unleash tremendous energy and creativity needed to provide better institutional stewardship of our planet. Such recognition of Commons could also help transform the State and Market in many positive ways, not least by checking the cronyism, corruption and secrecy that currently mark each.

If the Commons is going to achieve its promise as a governance template, however, there must be a suitable architecture of law and public policy to support it. We believe that innovations in law and policy are needed in three distinct fields:

  1. General internal governance principles and policies that can guide the development and management of commons;
  2. Macro-principles and policies – laws, institutions and procedures – that the State/Market can embrace to develop commons and “peer governance”; and
  3. Catalytic legal strategies that commoners (civil society and distinct communities), the State, and international intergovernmental bodies can pursue to validate, protect and support ecological commons thus defined.

General internal governance principles and policies. Ostrom’s eight core design principles, first published in 1990, remain the most solid foundation for understanding the internal governance of commons as a general paradigm. In a book-length study published in 2010, Poteete, Janssen and Ostrom summarize and elaborate on the key factors enabling self-organized groups to develop collective solutions to common-pool resource problems at small to medium scales:

Among the most important are the following: 1) reliable information is available about the immediate and long-term costs and benefits of actions; 2) the individuals involved see the resources as important for their own achievements and have a long-term time horizon; 3) gaining a reputation for being a trust­worthy reciprocator is important to those involved; 4) individuals can com­municate with at least some of the others involved; 5) informal monitoring and sanctioning is feasible and considered appropriate; and 6) social capital and leadership exist, related to previous successes in solving joint problems (Poteete, Janssen and Ostrom 2010).

Ostrom notes that “extensive empirical research on collective action…has repeatedly identified a necessary central core of trust and reciprocity among those involved that is associated with successful levels of collective action.” In addition, “when participants fear they are being ‘suckers’ for taking costly actions while others enjoy a free ride,” it enhances the need for monitoring to root out deception and fraud.

If any commons is to cultivate trust and reciprocity and therefore enhance its chances of stable collective management, its operational and constitutional rules must be seen as fair and respectful. To that end, ecological commons must embody the values of human dignity as expressed in, optimally, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and nine core international human rights conventions that have evolved from it or those of them as may be applicable. As this suggests, both human rights and nature’s rights are implicit in ecological commons governance.

Macro-principles and policies. For larger-scale common-pool resources – national, regional, global – the State must play a more active role in establishing and overseeing commons. The State may have an indispensable role to play in instances where a resource cannot be easily divided into parcels (the atmosphere, oceanic fisheries) or where the resource generates large rents relative to the surrounding economy, e.g., petroleum. In such cases, it makes sense for the State to intervene and devise appropriate management systems. State trustee commonstypically manage hard and soft minerals, timber, and other natural resources on public lands, national parks and wilderness areas, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water, State-sponsored research, and civil infrastructure, among other things.

In such circumstances, however, there is a structural tension between commoners and the State/Market because the State has strong economic incentives to forge deep political alliances with the Market and thus promote an agenda of privatization, commoditization and globalization despite the adverse consequences for ecosystems and commoners. Any successful regime of commons law must therefore recognize this reality and take aggressive action to ensure that the State/Market does not betray its trust obligations, particularly by colluding with market players in acts of enclosure.

The overall goal must be to reconceptualize the neoliberal State/Market as a “triarchy” with the Commons – the State/Market/Commons – to realign authority and provisioning in new, more beneficial ways.2 The State would maintain its commitments to representative governance and management of public property just as private enterprise would continue to own capital to produce saleable goods and services in the Market sector. But the State must shift its focus to become a “Partner State,” as Michel Bauwens puts it, not just of the Market Sector but also of the Commons Sector.3

Catalytic legal strategies. Perhaps the most significant challenge in advancing commons governance is the liberal polity’s indifference or hostility to most collectives (corporations excepted). Accordingly, commoners must use ingenious innovations to make their commons legally cognizable and protected. Since legal regimes vary immensely around the world, our proposals should be understood as general approaches that obviously will require modification and refinement for any given jurisdiction. Still, there are a number of legal and activist interventions that could help advance commons governance in select areas.

  • Devising ingenious adaptations of private contract and property law is a potentially fruitful way to protect commons. The basic idea is to use conventional bodies of law serving private property interests, but invert their purposes to serve collective rather than individual interests. The most famous example may be the General Public License, or GPL, which copyright owners can attach to software in order to assure that the code and any subsequent modifications of it will be forever accessible to anyone to use.4 The GPL was a seminal legal innovation in helping to establish commons for software code.
  • A number of examples of eco-minded trusts serving the interests of indigenous peoples and poorer countries could emulate private-law work-arounds to property and contract law in order to create new commons. One example is the Global Innovation Commons, a massive international database of lapsed patents that enables anyone to manufacture, modify and share ecologically significant technologies.5
  • The “stakeholder trust” could be used to manage and lease ecological resources on behalf of commoners, with revenues being distributed directly to commoners. This model is based on the Alaska Permanent Fund, which collects oil royalties from state lands on behalf of the state’s households. Some activists have proposed an Earth Atmospheric Trust to achieve similar results from the auctioning of rights to emit carbon emissions.
  • Some of the most innovative work in developing ecological commons (and knowledge commons that work in synergy with them) is emerging in local and regional circumstances. The reason is simple: the scale of such commons makes participation more feasible and the rewards more evident. Salient examples are being pioneered by the “re-localization movement” in the US and UK, and by the TransitionTown movement in more than 300 towns worldwide.
  • Federal and provincial governments have a role to play in supporting commons formation and expansion. State and national governments usually have commerce departments that host conferences, assist small businesses, promote exports and so on. Why not analogous support for commons? Governments could also help build translocal structures that could facilitate local and subnational commons, such as Com­munity Supported Agriculture and the Slow Food movement, and thereby amplify their impact.
  • The public trust doctrine of environmental law can and should be expanded to apply to a far broader array of natural resources, including protection of the Earth’s atmosphere. This would be an important way to ensure that States act as conscientious trustees of our common ecological wealth.
  • Various digital networking technologies now make it possible to reinvent the administrative process to be more transparent, parti­cipatory and accountable – or indeed, managed as commons. For example, government wikis and “crowd-sourcing” platforms could help enlist citizen-experts to participate in policymaking and enforcement. “Participatory sensing” of water quality and other environmental factors could be decentralized to citizens with a stake in those resources.


It might be claimed that green governance is a utopian enterprise. But the reality is that it is the neoliberal project of ever-expanding consumption on a global scale that is the utopian, totalistic dream. It manifestly cannot fulfill its mytho­logical vision of human progress through ubiquitous market activity. It simply demands more than Nature can deliver, and it inflicts too much social inequity and disruption in the process. The first step toward sanity requires that we recognize our myriad ecological crises as symptoms of an unsustainable cultural, socio­economic and political worldview.

Moving to green governance will entail many novel complexities and impon­derable challenges. Yet there is little doubt that we must re-imagine the role of the State and Market, and imagine alternative futures that fortify the Commons Sector. We must gird ourselves for the ambitious task of mobilizing new energies and commitments, deconstructing archaic institutions while building new ones, devising new public policies and legal initiatives, and cultivating new under­standings of the environment, economics, human rights, governance, and commons.


  • Baslar, Kemal. 1998. The Concept of the Common Heritage of Mankind and International Law. Boston, MA. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. 1997.
  • Poteete, Amy R., Marco A. Janssen and Elinor Ostrom. 2010. Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons and Multiple Methods in Practice. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press.

This essay is derived from a longer treatise available at The Commons Law Project, athttp://www.commonslawproject.org. Bollier and Weston will publish a book on this topic,Green Governance, in early 2013 (Cambridge University Press).

  • 1.See also the essay by Prue Taylor in Part 5.
  • 2.The term “triarchy” is Michel Bauwens’, who expounds on the topic at the P2P Foundation blog, at http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/the-new-triarchy-the-commons-enterprise-the-State/2010/08/25. Peter Barnes has also been an early expositor of the Commons sector, especially in his Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons (2006).
  • 3.See essay by Michel Bauwens in Part 5
  • 4.See Benjamin Mako Hill’s essay on free software in Part 4.
  • 5.See David Martin’s essay on public-domain technologies in Part 4.
  • 6.See Gerd Wessling’s essay on the Transition movement in Part 3.

David Bollier (USA) is an author, activist and independent scholar of the commons. He is Co-Founder of the Commons Strategies Group and the author of ten books, including Viral Spiral,Brand Name Bullies and Silent Theft. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts and blogs athttp://Bollier.org.

Burns H. Weston (USA) is Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus & Senior Scholar at the Center for Human Rights at the University of Iowa. He is Director of the Climate Legacy Initiative, Co-Director of the Commons Law Project (CLP) and Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science. He co-edited World Order: A Problem-Oriented Coursebook (2011).

  Read Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights And The Commons.
 September 29, 2016
As Nations Embrace Paris Agreement, World’s Existing Fossil Fuels Set To Exceed Its Goals.

by Ashley Braun, Climate Change, Countercurrents.org


On September 21, 31 countries, including Brazil and Mexico, ratified the Paris climate agreement at a United Nations event in New York City. They joined the U.S., China, and 27 other nations which had previously committed to the agreement,bringing the total to 60 and surpassing the first of two thresholds, requiring 55 nations to ratify it. In addition, their combined greenhouse gas emissions represent 47.76 percent of the needed 55 percent of global emissions for the agreement to enter into force.

But, practically speaking, what did the now 60 countries actually agree to when they said they would limit warming to “well below 2°C” and strive for 1.5°C?

A new report from Oil Change International calculates that, in order to accomplish those goals, governments need to stop permitting and building all new fossil fuel projects and retire early some existing oil and gas fields and coal mines.

Entitled “The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production,” the report says that just burning fossil fuels from projects presently in operation will produce enough greenhouse gas emissions to push the world well past 2°C of warming this century. Limiting warming to 1.5°C calls for even larger closures of existing operations.

If the world is serious about achieving the goals agreed in Paris, governments have to stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International, said in a statement. “The industry has enough carbon in the pipeline — today — to break through the sky’s limit.”

The report’s findings call attention to the uncomfortable contradiction between the global climate goals set through the United Nations process and the reality of fossil fuel reserves that are being exploited.

This week’s event in New York is part of a larger push for nations to ratify the Paris agreement ahead of the next major UN climate summit in Marrakesh, Morocco, in November.

“The evidence is clear: to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need our political and financial leaders to stop any further fossil fuel development and start scaling back,” said Amanda Starbuck of Rainforest Action Network, whose organization endorsed the report.

The report’s authors point out several recommendations for aligning climate policy with these goals, first and foremost by moving away from investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure.

They reason that any new coal mine or oil field or natural gas pipeline would need to be shut down early to avoid emissions that would go beyond the agreed level of warming.

That would translate to no small amount of wasted money. The report argues that over the next 20 years investments in new fossil fuel extraction and transportation projects are forecasted to be about $14 trillion.

Once an extraction operation is underway, it creates an incentive to continue so as to recoup investment and create profit, ensuring the product — the fossil fuels — are extracted and burned,” commented report author Greg Muttitt in a statement.

These incentives are powerful, and the industry will do whatever it takes to protect their investments and keep drilling. This is how carbon gets ‘locked-in.’”

Indeed, the report begins with the words: “If you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Yet even if, for example, the world completely stopped digging up and burning coal, the projected emissions from oil and gas fields already in production would warm the climate more than 1.5°C.

Not that such a halt in coal production would be insignificant, especially coming from the world’s major coal producers. Both China and Indonesia have announced a freeze on developing all new coal mines, while the United States has applied this only to federal lands.

Furthermore, citing Denmark, Germany, and Nicaragua as proofs-of-concept, the report concludes that scaling up renewable energy for electricity generation is feasible on the same timescale needed to move away from fossil fuels.

The report doesn’t pretend, however, that fossil fuel use will completely end or that the burden of responsibility for this “managed decline” of fossil fuels and “just transition” toward clean energy falls evenly among nations:

Some fields and mines — primarily in rich countries — should be closed before fully exploiting their resources, and financial support should be provided for non-carbon development in poorer countries. Additionally, production should be discontinued wherever it violates the rights of local people — including indigenous peoples — or where it seriously damages biodiversity.”

In addition, the report says, governments will need to take the lead in retraining and supporting both the individual workers and communities currently relying on fossil fuels for jobs, which is a tall order.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has proposed a $30 billion plan to transition away from coal in the United States while “ensur[ing] that coal miners and their families get the benefits they’ve earned and respect they deserve.”

Politico quotes experts, including mining engineer and consultant Andy Roberts, on the feasibility and timeline (years-to-decades) of such a plan, in light of the dedicated cooperation and funding it would require from Congress.

It would be unrealistic to believe that you could, overnight, transform an industry into something different,” Roberts told Politico.

This report builds on the work, dating back to the 1990s, of other scientists and environmental advocates, who have analyzed global greenhouse gas emissions as a finite “carbon budget.” Bill McKibben, founder of the climate action group 350.org, helped bring this work to light in his 2012 Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”

Jamie Henn of 350.org, another organization endorsing the report, commented on this latest analysis.

“This report takes the carbon math into the hot, dangerous present,” said Henn. It “arms activists with a clear set of facts that they can use to oppose new fossil fuel projects across the board. Any new pipeline, any new gas plant, all of these projects have become a frontline in the climate fight.”

  Read As Nations Embrace Paris Agreement, World’s Existing Fossil Fuels Set To Exceed Its Goals.
  September 30, 2016
The Common Heritage Of Mankind: A Bold Doctrine Kept Within Strict Boundaries.

by Prue Taylor, Counter Solutions, Countercurrents.org


The “common heritage of mankind” is an ethical concept and a general concept of international law. It establishes that some localities belong to all humanity and that their resources are available for everyone’s use and benefit, taking into account future generations and the needs of developing countries. It is intended to achieve aspects of the sustainable development of common spaces and their resources, but may apply beyond this traditional scope.

When first introduced in the 1960s, the “common heritage of mankind” (CHM) was a controversial concept, and it remains so to this day. This controversy includes issues of scope, content and status, together with CHM’s relationship to other legal concepts. Some commentators consider it out of fashion due to its lack of use in practice, e.g., for mining of seabed resources, and its subsequent rejection by modern environmental treaty regimes. In contrast, other commentators consider it a general principle of international law with enduring significance.

Escalating global ecological degradation and ongoing inability to arrest the so-called tragedy of the commons (Hardin 1968) will ensure the continued relevance of the common heritage concept, despite the difficulties surrounding its acceptance by states. Evidence for this can be found in a range of efforts to apply CHM to natural and cultural heritage, marine living resources, Antarctica and global ecological systems such as the atmosphere (Taylor 1998) or climate system.


Legal discussion of CHM generally begins with the speech of the Maltese ambassador Arvid Pardo (1914–1999) to the United Nations in 1967. In this speech he proposed that the seabed and ocean floor beyond national jurisdiction be considered the CHM. This was an important event that triggered the later negotiation of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS III) and other legal developments that subsequently earned Arvid Pardo the title “father of the law of the sea.” But CHM has a much longer history, and Pardo drew upon this in developing CHM as a legal concept for the oceans. Other people, including the writer and environmentalist Elisabeth Mann Borgese (1918 – 2002) considered CHM an ethical concept central to a new world order, based on new forms of cooperation, economic theory and philosophy. This history is important to elucidating the ethical core of CHM: the responsibility of humans to care for and protect the environment, of which we are a part, for present and future generations.

A 1948 draft World Constitution provided that the Earth and its resources were to be the common property of mankind, managed for the good of all. Concern about the use of nuclear technology and resources, for military and peaceful purposes, also led to an early proposal that nuclear resources be collectively owned and managed, and not owned by any one state. Traces of CHM are also found in the U.N. Outer Space Treaty (1967), which governs state exploration and use of outer space, the moon, and other celestial bodies. CHM, however, achieved prominence in the context of the evolving law of the sea. The 1967 World Peace through Law Conference referred to the high seas as “the common heritage of mankind” and stated that the seabed should be subject to U.N. jurisdiction and control.


Concern about the impact of new technologies upon the oceans, militarization and expanding state claims to ownership of parts of the oceans, e.g., continental shelf and exclusive economic zones, together with growing economic disparity and associated harm to long-term human security, prompted Arvid Pardo to develop the idea that all ocean space, i.e., surface of the sea, water column, seabed and its subsoil, and living resources, should be declared the CHM, irrespective of existing claims to national jurisdiction.

The intention was to replace the outdated legal concept of “freedom of the high seas” by proclaiming ocean areas an international commons. (Areas with significant natural resources that are acknowledged to be beyond the limits of the national jurisdiction of sovereign states are known as international commons.) Freedom of the high seas, developed by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), creates an open access regime allowing for its laissez-faire use. The few restrictions that exist serve only to protect the interests of other states and their exercise of free use.

In contrast, as the CHM, ocean space and its resources would be a commons that could not be owned by states beyond a certain limit. As a commons it would be open to the international community of states, but its use would be subject to international administration and management for the common good of all humanity. Where areas of ocean space and resources existed within national jurisdiction, states would regulate and manage use on behalf of all mankind, not solely for the benefit of national interests.

This approach recognized the unity of the oceans as ecological systems and rejected both laissez-faire freedom and unfettered state sovereignty. It included efforts to simplify ocean jurisdiction by establishing one single line of demarcation between national and international ocean space (Draft Ocean Space Treaty of 1971) and prevent gradually expanding claims to national jurisdiction.

The CHM was originally intended as a concept that would revolutionize the law of the sea by applying to all ocean space and resources. But in 1967 Arvid Pardo recognized that this would be rejected by the powerful states who were attempting to extend their sovereign claims to more ocean space and resources. By focusing on the legal status of the much more limited entity of the “seabed” beyond national jurisdiction, it was thought that CHM could gain an important foothold within the U.N. system.

The 1967 Maltese proposal lead to a number of important developments, including the 1970 U.N. General Assembly Declaration of Principles Governing the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor and the Subsoil Thereof, Beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction. This declaration set out the legal principles needed to implement the notion that the seabed and its resources are the CHM, and it helped create consensus for the negotiation of a new law of the sea convention: UNCLOS III (U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea). The ultimate outcome was a much more limited application of CHM than ever intended by its advocates. As will be explained immediately below, UNCLOS III restricted the application of CHM to a few rocks, e.g., mineral resources such as manganese nodules, sitting on the bottom of the deep seabed.

Part XI of UNCLOS III deals with the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof (the “Area”) beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. Article 136 declares the Area and its resources (only) to be the “common heritage of mankind.” The Area and its resources cannot be claimed, appropriated, or owned by any state or person (Article 137). All rights to resources belong to mankind as a whole, with the International Seabed Authority (ISA) acting on mankind’s behalf (Article 140). The ISA must ensure the equitable sharing of financial and other benefits arising from activities in the Area, taking into particular account the needs and interests of developing states and others. Promotion of research, transfer of technology to developing states and protection of the marine environment’s ecological balance are all important functions of the ISA (Articles 143–145).

Part XI provisions create an international administration and management regime for only a small part of the international commons (the Area and its resources). It does not generally replace the freedom of the high seas (Part VII); thus the intended revolution of the law of the sea was not achieved. In the 1970s, the most commercially viable mineral resources of the Area were thought to be manganese nodules, hence Pardo’s view that CHM was reduced in its application to “ugly little rocks lying in the darkest depths of all creation.” Despite this serious limitation, the use of CHM was revolutionary enough to be one of the reasons why the US refused to adhere to UNCLOS III.

To date, commercial use of the Area and its resources has not occurred. Further, the traditional fragmented approach to jurisdiction over separate elements of ocean space and resources endures despite the irrefutable unity of ecological systems.


Even though aspects of CHM appeared in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, it was not until 1979 that a clear statement appeared in the Moon Treaty, a treaty to govern exploration and exploitation of the moon’s resources. Article 11(1) declares that the moon and its natural resources are the CHM. Disputes concerning the details of an international system for resource exploitation, including provision for equitable benefit sharing, were resolved by deferring the details of a management regime for the future. The Moon Treaty has been ratified by only a few states; nevertheless it has been used to reject claims to property rights on the basis that it creates a general principle of law, applicable to the whole of the international community and not just states that ratified the treaty.


There is no concise, fully agreed upon definition of CHM. Its features depend upon the details of the regime applying it or the space/resource to which it is applied. There are a number of core elements, however:

  • No state or person can own common heritage spaces or resources (the principle of non-appropriation). They can be used but not owned, as they are a part of the international heritage (patrimony) and therefore belong to all humankind. This protects the international commons from expanding jurisdictional claims. When CHM applies to areas and resources within national jurisdiction, exercise of sovereignty is subject to certain responsibilities to protect the common good.
  • The use of common heritage shall be carried out in accordance with a system of cooperative management for the benefit of all humankind, i.e., for the common good. This has been interpreted as creating a type of trustee relationship for explicit protection of the interests of humanity, rather than the interests of particular states or private entities. There shall be active and equitable sharing of benefits (including financial, technological, and scientific) derived from the CHM. This provides a basis for limiting public or private commercial benefits and prioritizing distribution to others, including developing states (intragenerational equity between present generations of humans).
  • CHM shall be reserved for peaceful purposes (preventing military uses).
  • CHM shall be transmitted to future generations in substantially unimpaired condition (protection of ecological integrity and inter-generational equity between present and future generations of humans).

In recent years, these core elements have ensured that CHM remains central to the efforts of international environmental lawyers. It is recognized as articulating many key components of sustainability.


Controversies surround virtually all elements of CHM. This is because, as one commentator describes, it questions the regimes that apply to resources of global significance, irrespective of where they are situated. It therefore challenges traditional international law concepts such as acquisition of territory, sovereignty, sovereign equality, and international personality, as well as the allocation of planetary resources and consent-based sources of international law (Baslar 1997). Further, it has long been recognized that the precedent established for oceans management has the potential to form the basis for the future organization of an increasingly interdependent world.

One overriding issue concerns the extent to which CHM can prevent further fragmentation and privatization of the commons (or enclosure) and replace this trend with more communitarian values and legal protection of the common good. There is a wide divergence of views on whether the core element of non-appropriation prevents CHM from applying to globally significant spaces and resources that exist within the sovereign territory of states, e.g., rainforests and their flora and fauna. The equitable utilization element (or equitable benefit sharing), which requires the sharing of financial, technological, and scientific benefits of use of the CHM, has also proved divisive especially between developed and developing states and corporate actors. Developing states tend to view this element of CHM as pivotal to the achievement of distributive justice.

Developed states and commercial interests see this element as a potential impediment to investment and the use of market incentives, e.g., property rights, to achieve economic and environmental benefits. They favor, for example, exploitation by private enterprise conducted under licensing arrangements. The 1994 Implementation Agreement (amending UNCLOS III, Part XI) was generally viewed as having eroded the distributive elements of the original regime, in favor of protection of commercial interests. The impact of these and other issues saw CHM rejected as a concept to guide U.N. treaty regimes for climate change and for conservation of biological diversity. The 1992 U.N. Framework on Climate Change refers to the problem of climate change as being the “common concern of humankind.” The original Maltese proposal was for a treaty declaring the global climate system as a part of the CHM, but this was rejected. Developing states rejected the use of CHM in the 1992 U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, perceiving it as a potential threat to their sovereign rights to use and benefit from biological resources within their own territories. They were suspicious of interference under the guise of environmental protection or via the acquisition of intellectual property rights.


Over the years CHM has been applied to a range of resources and spaces: fisheries, Antarctica, the Arctic landscape, geostationary orbit, genetic resources (the genetic material of plants, animals and life forms, that are of value), and basic food resources. In recent years, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has robustly supported CHM through a wide range of initiatives, e.g., declarations, conventions, and protocols, that recognize natural and cultural heritage as the CHM. Although difficult to define, “natural and cultural heritage” includes tangible and intangible elements, ranging from archaeological sites and historic monuments to cultural phenomena (such as literature, language, and customary practices) and natural systems including islands, biosphere reserves and deserts. One new area of potential application is the human genome. This may prevent the patenting of the human genome by corporate interests.
In an ecological and generational context, it is possible to argue that the Earth itself is a global commons shared by each generation and that CHM should “extend to all natural and cultural resources, wherever located, that are internationally important for the well-being of future generations” (Weiss 1989; Taylor 1998).


In the short term and from the perspective of state practice and treaty negotiation, the future use of CHM is likely to be limited. International lawyers tend to treat its use – beyond the UNCLOS III and Moon Treaty – as merely political and aspirational. Issues that will shortly test the commitment of states to CHM include the status of marine living resources (of the “Area” and high seas), claims to the seabed under the melting Arctic ice, and the status of oil reserves under the deep seabed. In the context of the oceans, CHM provides the only current alternative to either freedom of use by all states or the acquisition and exercise of sovereign rights.

It also recognizes the interdependence of ecosystems and acknowledges human use. It therefore has much in common with ecosystem management approaches that aim to move away from piecemeal resource-specific management regimes. CHM is also relevant to the wider debate on transforming the role of the state from exclusive focus on protection of national interests to include responsibility to protect ecological systems, wherever they are located, for the benefit of all.

States might be reticent to embrace the possible applications of CHM, but international law is no longer the sole province of states and international lawyers. Global civil society is playing an increasing role in the development of, and advocacy for, concepts such as CHM.

It is linked to renewed interest in cosmopolitanism, global constitutionalism, global ecological citizenship and justice, and the search for shared ethical principles to guide progress towards a more peaceful and sustainable future for all (Earth Charter Initiative 2000).

Prue Taylor (New Zealand) is a legal academic at the University of Auckland and Deputy Director of the NZ Centre for Environmental Law. Her research focuses on ecological approaches to law and ethical issues. She recently co-edited Property Rights and Sustainability: The Evolution of Property Rights to Meet Ecological Challenges (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers – BRILL, 2011).


  • Baslar, Kemal. 1997. The Concept of the Common Heritage of Mankind in International Law. The Hague, The Netherlands. Kluwer Law International.
  • Borgese, Elisabeth Mann. 2000. Arvid Pardo (1914–1999): In Memoriam. In Elisabeth Mann Borgese et al., eds., Ocean Yearbook (14th ed.). xix–xxxviii. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.
  • Committee to Frame a World Constitution. 1948. Preliminary draft of a world constitution, as proposed and signed by Robert M. Hutchins [and others]. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press.
  • Pardo, Arvid. 1967. Address to the 22nd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, U.N. GAOR, 22nd sess., U.N. Doc. A/6695 (18 August 1967).
  • Pardo, Arvid. 1975. The Common Heritage: Selected Papers on Oceans and World Order 1967–1974. Malta: Malta University Press.
  • Sand, Peter H. 2004. “Sovereignty bounded: Public trusteeship for common pool resources?” Global Environmental Politics, (4)1, 47–71.
  • Taylor, Prue. 1998. An Ecological Approach to International Law: Responding to Challenges of Climate Change. London. Routledge.
  • Tuerk, Helmut. 2010. The idea of common heritage of mankind. In Norman A. Martínez Gutiérrez Ed. Serving the Rule of International Maritime Law: Essays in Honour of Professor David Joseph Attard, 157–175. Oxfordshire, U. K. Routledge.
  • Weiss, Edith Brown. 1989. In Fairness to Future Generations: International Law, Common Patrimony, and Intergenerational Equity. Tokyo. United Nations University/Dobbs Ferry, NY. Transnational Publishers.
  • Wolfrum, Rüdiger. 2008. Common Heritage of Mankind. http://www.mpepil.com.


  • Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies(adopted December 5, 1979, entered into force July 11, 1984) 1363 UNTS 3.
  • Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (adopted November 16, 1972, entered into force December 17, 1975) 1037 UNTS 151.
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (adopted on May 22, 1992, entered into force on December 29, 1993).
  • The Earth Charter Initiative. 2000. The Earth Charter. http://www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/pages/Read-the-Charter.html
  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (concluded December 10, 1982, entered into force November 16, 1994) 1833 UNTS 397.
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (adopted on May 9, 1992 and entered into force March 21, 1994).
  • United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1962 (XVIII) Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space(13 December 1963) GAOR 18th Session Supp. No. 15, 15.
  • United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2749 (XXV) Declaration of Principles Governing the Seabed and the Ocean Floor, and the Subsoil Thereof, beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction, U.N. GAOR, 25th Sess., Supp. No. 28, 24. U.N. Doc. A/8028 (1970).

This essay is an adapted version of Taylor, Prue. 2011. “Common Heritage of Mankind Principle.” In Klaus Bosselmann, Daniel Fogel, and J. B. Ruhl, Eds. The Encyclopedia of Sustainability, Vol. 3: The Law and Politics of Sustainability. 64–69. Great Barrington, MA. Berkshire Publishing.

First published in The Wealth Of The Commons

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

  Read The Common Heritage Of Mankind: A Bold Doctrine Kept Within Strict Boundaries.
  October 3, 2016
Is There A Future For Our Species ?

by Gunther Ostermann, Life/Philosophy, Countercurrents.org


Only with honesty, truth and justice can there be a future for our species, and I don’t see any of it-anywhere
Edward Snowden is more than whistle blower. And so is Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. (They deserve a Presidential Pardon)

And-in a way, so is documentary filmmaker Sir David Attenborough, who warned that, ”We’re a plague to the world.”

And-so is Noam Chomsky, Americas greatest intellectual, who questioned“Can human beings survive the twenty-first century?”

And-so is Pope Francis, who warns of grave consequences, if Climate Change is ignored.

And-so is physics professor Stephen Hawking, who pleaded:”In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?

And-to what Vice President Joe Biden said, “how urgently we need to stop Climate Change, I’m not talking about leaving our children a better future. What is at stake is whether we have a future at all.”

In addition to the warnings of all these heavyweights, I came to this conclusion in my 80 journeys around the sun: “Only with honesty, truth and justice can there be a future for our species, and I don’t see any of it-anywhere.”

Simply stated – every lie and deception for money in society, politics or business is costing our planet irreplaceable natural resources, which are squandered in wars and needless competition, and is stolen from future generations.

Why will Snowden, like Manning, face a lengthy jail term, or even the gallows if Donald Trump has his way?

Imagine for us and the world, if he gets control, as commander in chief, if and when atomic weapons will be launched? And I don’t know about Clinton’s mentality, who laughed hysterically when Gaddafi was brutally murdered? Please Google-We came, we saw-he died.

Trump wants to build a massive wall between the USA and Mexico, to keep the Mexican people out, and to have Mexico pay for it. This shows the stone age mentality of Trump, who doesn’t care about anybody but himself, and maybe his family. The Mexican people only want what any human being desires and deserves, as a fundamental human birthright, food, clothing and shelter, and a little extra. that would make life worth living.

This would have been possible since the 1930s when the research organization Technocracy.Inc. was formed by scientists, engineers and accountants for the North American continent, inclusive Mexico. It would have replaced money with-the equal for all ENERGY certificate. It would have made political parties obsolete as they are beholden to puppeteers anyways, It would have eliminated poverty, homelessness prostitution, war and a host of other miseries. See UTOPIA or OBLIVION.

Unemployment seen as ‘success’ proclaimed newspapers in 1982, as John Farina, a professor of social work at the Wilfrid Laurier University stated: “Man invented machines so man would not have to work and we’ve succeeded to the point of one and a half million unemployed, but instead of cheering about it, we’re in despair. To me that is sheer, raging idiocy.”

Technocracy did not succeed for various reasons, one being lack of interest by environmentalists and scientist David Suzuki in 1971*, to investigate and promote an antidote, to what Suzuki feared would happen to humanity and the world. And after 45 years – it is happening. Sadly, in 1971-1989 and even today, Suzuki does not understand what Technocracy and John Farina’s research could have done for the world. It could have been a template for the whole world. *Source available per attachment.

Technocracy was also ridiculed for depriving people of their individual freedom and democracy, which for 99% of the population doesn’t exist anyways. And what do we have today? Poverty, homelessness, prostitution and never ending wars, based on lies, that bombed several countries back to the stone age. These are crimes against humanity, and Planet Earth. My fruitless appeal to Bill Gates and Ted Turner, cost a trillion dollars and a million lives.

On January 4. 1991 I wrote an open letter to George Bush, James Baker, Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark, John Major and all those who are ready to sacrifice somebody else life for freedom and democracy. I wanted to talk at the United Nation and to Javier Perez de Cuellar, who was prepared to ‘go to the moon for answers.’ On January 16, 2003 I wrote a similar letter and plea-in vain.

Why would an ordinary person want to talk to the United Nations? Because – as I experienced the war and privation in East Germany, which later became the German Democratic Republic, I wondered and researched the causes of poverty, war and a host of other miseries, and if there are possible solutions? They are actually very simple. Only with honesty and truth can there be a future!

In such an symposium, it would be interesting to hear Bill Gates, or any of the one percent, explain why they deserves billions, while others live in abject poverty, or don’t even have clean drinking water, or their tap is turned off for lack of money? And that happens in the US of A? A modern day Galileo challenged Bill Gates for a debate.

Correction…my loss shall be 20 Cents, instead of one dollar.

In the ‘possibilities’ that are described in Utopia or Oblivion, no human being could be coerced to join an army in senseless wars, as they are forced to do now. Edward Snowden was ‘brainwashed’ by years of indoctrination as a patriot to fight and kill for his country. Fortunately for him and us, he did not become a drone operator, like Brandon Bryant, who killed, from the comfort of his trailer, 1626 human beings with hellfire missiles thousands of miles away. Is this not murder?

After much regret, Brandon Bryant came to this conclusion: “I think it is completely unfair that we helped prosecute German Nazis in World War 2 who were just following orders, and we can’t put ourselves under that same umbrella. We helped create this current system, the international court system, and we are unable to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions. I think that’s completely unfair to the rest of the world.” Exactly!

Actually, Bryant echoed the words of Noam Chomsky from 1990: “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post war American President would have been hanged.” Maybe Obama, Bush, Cheney and Blair have much to worry about, when universal justice will be established in the world. Remember-only with honesty and truth can there be a future!

One thing that is very disturbing for freedom of speech in the world, and control of cyberspace is: “when Israel is about to legislatively force Facebook to censor content deemed by Israel officials to be improper, and Facebook appears eager to appease those threats by working directly with the Israeli government to determine what content should be censored,” (Glenn Greenwald, ICH, Information Clearing House, Sept. 13.2016)

And Israeli Defense Minister Ayelet Shaked “recently boasted that Facebook is already extremely compliant with Israeli censorship demand-and is now part of the government team helping Facebook determine what to censor.”(Greenwald)

And this person Shaked, who looks human, but does not act like one says: “mothers of all Palestinians should be killed, because these mothers have given birth to ’little snakes.’ They should die and their houses must be destroyed so that they do not give birth to terrorists.” The mothers of the terrorists who are dead should also be killed.” (Astro Awani, Kuala Lumpur July 17. 2014) Her statement was however not well received by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who “characterized her mentality as Hitler’s.”

And-what is hard to believe, Shaked’s post was shared more than one thousand times and received almost five thousand “likes.” And there is no outrage in the world from Mainstream Media?

It’s because, as former congressman Paul Findley said: “Virtually the entire U.S. news media and almost every national politician bends to the desires of Israel’s government regardless of its behavior, a reality that enables the persecution and even slaughter of Palestinians.”

Is it because some Jews consider themselves as ‘the chosen ones’ and therefore can do no wrong? But the opposite is all too evident, starting with the Nakba.

For any hope for peace in the world, let’s put our life in perspective with Carl Sagan’ video.

On Sept. 25. 2005, I saw a glimmer of hope for peace, when the late Andy Rooney on 60 Minute said: ‘I wish we could dedicate Memorial Day not to the memory of those who die at war, but to the idea of saving the lives of young people, who were going to die in the future, if we don’t find some new way, some new religion maybe, that takes war out of our lives, that would be a Memorial Day worth celebrating.”

I would have liked to talk with him and Phil Donahue, Bill Moyers, Paul Findley etc. about such an idea. But they were as unreachable as Leonardo DiCaprio is today.

Is There No Alternative? I ask in 2008. Of course there is.

There is so much more if you-Think like A Genius, Stephen Hawking

 Think like A  Genius, Stephen Hawking


Gunther Ostermann, Kelowna, BC.

  Read Is There A Future For Our Species ?
  October 3, 2016
The Atmosphere As A Global Commons.

by Bernhard Lorentz, Counter Solutions, Countercurrents.org


Competition and private property rights unleashed capitalism in the 19th and 20th century by enabling unprecedented economic and population growth. This growth was based on a lottery prize – the discovery of coal, oil and gas supplies (Sombart 1928). Humankind used to eke out a diminished existence in the northern hemispheres until well into the 18th century. People depended on the flow of solar energy. Food, fodder, heating and mechanical energy were drawn from biomass production, water cycles or wind power. Insufficient food production, wars and diseases repeatedly set back the economy to the subsistence level. The discovery of coal and its deployment in industrial steam engines suddenly endowed humankind with huge amounts of stored solar energy. These assets liberated people from the whims of nature and enabled building up a physical capital stock.

The combustion of fossil resources in the global industrial metabolism came with a hidden cost – the conversion of the atmosphere into a free CO2 waste disposal site. Today we know that the storage capacities of this disposal site are limited. Depletion of the atmosphere might cause dangerous and potentially catastrophic climate change. Thus, climate economists play the role of a spoilsport by demonstrating to humankind that its “carbon debt” might outweigh the fortune of resource supplies. What was once considered a lottery prize now turns out to be a burden.


Will the abandonment of coal, oil and gas set back humankind to subsistence levels? More than once the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been accused of destabilizing the very foundations of modernity. Large companies have mobilized strategists to discredit climate change by likening it to an attack on the modern liberal civilization. A simple correlation is ingrained in the historical memory of humankind: all nations that overcame poverty and became rich via industrialization used coal, oil and gas. No prosperity without fossil energy sources!

However, if it is true that overconsumption of fossil energy sources will melt off ice shields, dry out the rainforests, acidify the oceans, result in more frequent floods in Bangladesh and dry up harvests in Zimbabwe, then developing countries are facing an apparently tragic decision: either induce dangerous climate change or engage in dangerous emissions reductions; either pursue climate change mitigation without economic growth or economic growth without climate change mitigation.

As this suggests, a central question of global climate policy is whether decoupling wealth and emissions is feasible. Some observers in the environmental movement are hoping that market mechanisms will inevitably and automatically mitigate climate change. They argue that the limited supplies of coal, oil and gas will lead to increasing resource prices that in turn will induce a rapid switch to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. This, however, is an illusion. Up to 15,000 billion tons of CO2 are still stored underground, mostly coal that can be used for generating electricity, heating houses, and even for using coal-to-liquid processes to produce transport fuel. Hoping for a rapid, relative cost decrease of renewables is dangerous since this hope might deter further climate policy efforts. Renewables have indeed experienced large cost reductions in recent years, but their share in meeting global primary energy consumption is only about 12 percent, with half of that coming from traditional biomass (IPCC 2011). Without dispute, prices for fossil energy sources will rise at some point and costs of renewables will decrease. The question is: Will this structural change come about in time? The answer from almost all scenario calculations reviewed in the IPCC Special Report on Renewables (IPCC 2011) is: no.

Therefore, in order to achieve effective climate change mitigation, dedicated policies are needed to constrain global emissions. Scenario calculations show that with a cost-efficient transformation of the global energy system – and the exploit­ation of energy efficiency measures, renewable energy, as well as carbon capture and storage technology (CCS)– the global GDP loss could be limited to a very few percentage points (IPCC 2011). However, mitigation costs will rise if certain technologies such as renewables, in particular bioenergy or CCS, are not available (Edenhofer et al. 2010a). The next IPCC Assessment Report, due in 2014, will deliver a comprehensive overview of the current research on these questions.


The prosperity of the 21st century will be determined by the sustainable management of the global commons. This is a new challenge for the future of our economic system. Even if everybody benefits from a sustainable usage of global commons, there are incentives for free-riding. With every nation thinking this way, individual shrewdness turns into collective stupidity. Some form of cooperation will be a survival condition for humanity.

The atmosphere is a global common-pool resource in its function as a sink for CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Currently, it is a “no man’s land” that is available to everyone free of charge. Oceans and forests are closely linked to the atmospheric sink through the global carbon cycle and absorb some of the anthropogenic CO2 . Interestingly, oceans and forests are also global common-pool resources that serve as important sources of biodiversity, exhaustible minerals and fish resources. However, the atmosphere and the oceans are threatened by excessive CO2 emissions, and the forests are being depleted by increasing food and bioenergy demand.

The climate conference in Durban in 2011 – yet another attempt to deal with these new scarcities – failed to nail down a binding roadmap for global emission reductions. Solving this issue is a challenge to the international community. This challenge can be outlined as follows (Edenhofer et al. 2011): In order to assure with medium probability that the temperature of the global atmosphere does not rise another 2 degrees – the current target – only about another 750 billion tons of carbon dioxide can be disposed into the atmosphere. A less stringent target allows for another few additional hundreds of billion tons only. With 33 billion tons of global CO2 emissions disgorged by the global energy system in 2010, it can be easily calculated that the atmosphere as a disposal site will be full in only a few decades. Hence, the use of fossil energy sources must be capped globally.

This will precipitate profound distributional conflicts. If climate policy means that a big share of fossil resources is left unexploited, this involves a devaluation of the assets of owners of coal, oil and gas resources. Moreover, the scarce atmo­spheric exploitation rights need to be equitably distributed between Africa, China, the US, and other world regions. The political process would also need to determine how many atmospheric exploitation rights the next generation would be entitled to. In light of all these difficulties, it is astonishing that there are actually even attempts to reach a global agreement.

Is the efficient and equitable use of commons bound to fail? Elinor Ostrom demonstrated that communities on a local level can in fact enforce effective rules of use (Ostrom et al. 1994). Whether this capability can be replicated at the global level remains unclear. However, it would be dangerous to wait for the establishment of a global government that could regulate the climate according to a fully worked-out scheme before taking stringent climate change mitigation measures. There will not be a world government in the near future. But the management of the atmo­sphere as a global commons does not require one. In fact, it requires nested, interlinked policies at the international, national, regional and local levels. Elinor Ostrom and others call this multilevel or polycentric governance (Ostrom 2011). The question is: Which level is responsible for which issues, and how they can be coordinated?

In order to set out the legal framework for national commitments the international level is indispensable. The principles of burden-sharing, the support of developing countries, and a deliberative, coordinated plan to prevent free-riding must be tackled at this level. At thenational level, subsidies for fossil-fuel consumption – worldwide around US$400 billion in 2010 (IEA 2011) – could be phased out and spent on boosting renewable energy technologies. At the regional level, regions like California, Australia, and several large Chinese provinces are planning on introducing emissions trading systems following the European model. Regarding the environmental integrity of these systems, the choice of the absolute emissions cap will be crucial. At the local level, cities could reduce their emissions by enhancing their urban public transport systems and transforming their building infrastructure. An estimated 496 billion tons of CO2 will be emitted over the next fifty years just due to the already existing energy and transport infrastructures (Davis et al. 2011). In other words, there is little scope for further fossil-fuel based infrastructures.

An intergovernmental agreement remains indispensable. Otherwise emission reductions in one region will always lead to increasing emissions in other regions. However, waiting for a global contract before starting to implement good prototypes would effectively stop the development of climate policy. Such prototypes can prove, especially to emerging economies, that emission reductions do not entail decreasing wealth.

We are only gradually beginning to realize that global common-pool resources are assets to humankind that should be managed as commons. Wasting them would be disastrous. We are trustees of these assets and thus, trustees for future generations. We have the duty to invest so as to increase or at least maintain these assets. However, the distribution of a fixed carbon budget between humans can be a zero-sum game in which the gain of one country is the loss of another one. This is why some observers are very pessimistic regarding the chances of a stringent intergovernmental climate policy. The zero-sum dilemma can only be overcome by beginning a prudent transformational process that can decarbonize the world economy.


In order to tackle this task we still lack necessary knowledge. We require a better understanding of economic growth patterns in industrialized and developing countries as well as in emerging economies. The development of “hard” infra­structures like electricity grids, roads and apartments as well as “soft” infrastructures like education and health services need to be better understood. In particular investments in durable hard infrastructure will define emissions patterns for decades (IEA 2011). We are facing the question how to build up urban infrastructures in China, India and Africa without permanently increasing global emissions drastically. The international division of labor between spatial agglomerations determines not only the export and import of goods and capital but also of CO2 and resources (Peters et al. 2011). How can we assure that international trade does not lead to the waste of regional commons? In order to tackle these problems we need to improve our understanding of how effective subsidiary and polycentric governance can work on multiple levels.

We need maps of knowledge, pointing out feasible pathways for a sustainable management of global commons and their dynamics of use while exploring risks and uncertainties in the light of different value systems. This is the intention of the recently founded Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC). The maps that MCC intends to produce in cooperation with its partners will neither replace travelling nor will they prevent us from the surprises that travelling entails. However, travelling without maps can easily lead into the swamp or, for that matter, to going round in circles.

Ottmar Edenhofer (Germany) is professor of the Economics of Climate Change at the Technische Universität Berlin and Co-Chair of the Working Group III of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He is designated Director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), and will continue to act as Deputy Director and Chief Economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), where he leads Research Domain III – Sustainable Solutions.

Christian Flachsland(Germany) is researcher and designated leader of the research group “Assessment and Scientific Policy Advice” at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC).

  Read The Atmosphere As A Global Commons.
  October 4, 2016
Transforming Global Resources Into Commons.

by Gerhard Scherhorn, Counter Solutions / Resource Crisis, Countercurrents.org


The greatest problem of our time is that for centuries we have been steadily weaned away from treating our common resources responsibly and carefully so that they can either regenerate or be repaired or replaced after use. Until the Middle Ages local resources such as pastures, woods and fishing waters were really handled that way. But since the 16th century, when agricultural capitalism first began (Wallerstein 1974), these resources were enclosed and privatized by feudal lords. This soon led to the justifying myth that individuals take better care of their own property than communities. It was that myth which wiped out the ancient memories of responsibility for local common resources.

With global resources such as air, water, raw materials and entire ecosystems it has been quite different. These were once seen as inexhaustibly abundant, enabling everybody to use them for free and without any duties to preserve or replace them. In our day we have barely begun to realize that they are finally becoming scarce. But now it is property law that preserves the ancient perception of their unlimited availability. Since the law imposes few if any restrictions on access, the law continues to absolve owners of any obligation to respect global resources.

In seeking the reason we discover that this kind of freedom is the condition for an endless expansion of capitalism. The essence of capitalism is “to accumulate by dispossession” (Harvey 2003), since the progress of capital accumulation depends on the capability to find and exploit new external sources of wealth that can be appropriated.

In this sense property rights fuel the expansion of capitalism. They invite property owners toexternalize costs on to those resources that ought to be treated as common property. Externalizing costs means using shared resources to the point where they are exhausted while failing to maintain or reinvest in them. The displaced costs are borne by the resources themselves, which are diminished and depreciated, as a way to boost profits. Thus property law encourages the opposite of sustainability. It promotes the relentless consumption of resources and thereby enhances capitalism. What we need is the contrary: to encourage sustainable ecological stewardship by reinvesting externalized costs, i.e., profits, into the preservation of resources.


In order to illustrate how this could be accomplished, take German property law as an example. Its central rule is laid down in §903 of the German Civil Law (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, BGB), as follows: “The proprietor is entitled, as far as neither the law nor any third-party claims stand in the way, to deal with his property at his discretion, and to exclude others from any influence.” Now consider what might occur if the legislature would alter this rule by adding the clause, “…provided he upholds the responsibility to preserve the common resources he uses.”

The term “common resources” would refer to Article 20a of the German constitution (Grundgesetz), which requires that “the state protect the natural foundations of life,” and to the notable requirement in Article 14.2: “Property obliges. Its use shall as well serve the common welfare.” The insertion would restrict individual property rights by imposing a duty to preserve any common resource the proprietor has used or caused to be used. In other words, a proprietor would be required to pay for replacement of what he used or consumed (just as he might pay the costs of preserving his private possessions).

Such a legislative amendment is needed because present laws constitute a barrier to sustainable stewardship of natural resources, and a particular barrier to the task ofcommoning, Peter Linebaugh’s term for the self-determination of commoners in managing their shared resources (Linebaugh 2008). Without amending the law it would not only be difficult to create and manage local commons as exchange trading systems and complementary currencies (Lietaer and Belgin 2011), it would be nearly impossible to establish networks that manage the preservation of global resources as commons. Under current laws each single stockholder of a corporation can sue the management for having ordered investments in protection of the environment that go beyond existing law. Because corporations are so deeply committed – legally and economically – to make profits by externalizing costs, how could managers be persuaded to invest this profit into preserving the consumed global resources? It is impossible so long these resources are not acknowledged ascommon property.

Commoning the global resources, or some of them, must therefore begin with lobbying to convince legislative bodies to withdraw any legal rules that allow or even induce persons, companies, councils or governmental authorities to exploit global resources. Those rules must be replaced with responsible regulations preserving global resources.


That prerequisite being accomplished (or anticipated), the next step must be to transform a resource into a commons. The German term is allmende, a word that once referred to any local community of free people that decided on their common affairs by their own right; common pasture, common wood were historically just the most recent forms of the allmende before it was disbanded (Grimm 1854). Today, in reviving the term allmende we mean a common resource alone, but also the community that manages it as a commons. This is what the term “commoning” means: Managing the resource as a commons, in other words actualizing theallmende principle – the principle that the community members moderate their demands on the resource by mutual agreement and mutual monitoring and enforcement (Scherhorn 2012, following Ostrom 1990).

Thus the core of commoning is that the community members agree on all rules of conduct and procedure, and that they supervise resource use by social control. They determine themselves – often supported by public authorities – how the resource shall be handled and what sanctions for violations shall be imposed. That makes the commons distinct from both the market and the state, which rely upon prices and instructions, respectively, to affect people’s behavior. The members of a commons, by contrast, are motivated by their deliberate convictions, inner direction (Riesman 1950), or self-determination (Deci 1995), at least in smaller-scale commons. Commoners are surely not immune from anti-social behavior such as “free riding” deserving of sanctions, but such punishments are more likely to be effective if they have been agreed upon.

An example of a local resource commons, among many others, is the lobster fishery around the island of Monhegan on the coast of Maine in the US In a case study, Princen describes it as:

an evolving system of largely self-regulating fishery management, an evolution,, a series of experiments, that continues to this day…. It has three major developments: a self-imposed half-year closed season formalized in a 1907 state law; a self-imposed limit on the number of traps per lobster-fisher instituted in the 1970s; and, most recently, an unprecedented, state-sanctioned limited-access fishing regime for the island. The context is nearly two centuries of ever-increasing pressure on the lobster fishery along the Eastern seaboard of the US and Canada and the threat, realized in many places, of depletion and loss of livelihood (Princen 2005).


Perhaps the only example of an effective global resource commons is the famous Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international treaty which was signed 1987 by 48 countries and today has nearly 200 signatories. Over the years, the agreement has “been amended to further reduce and completely phase out CFCs, halons and other chemicals…Several subsequent meetings of the signing countries were convened to track overall progress…The full recovery of the ozone layer is not expected until at last 2049” (Encyclopedia Britannica).

The singular success of the Montreal treaty indicates how limited the range of effective agreements between states will be, especially if compared with the series of international conferences on climate protection. For the time being the attempts to build an international climate regime are altogether a trial-and-error process to transform a global open access resource into a global commons, as Wolfgang Sachs has observed (Sachs 2009).

Apart from treaties between states, there are currently two basic strategies for protecting global resources: emissions trading and commons trusts. Emissions trading requires that the emission of CO2-equivalents be restricted to the amount of emission rights the emitter has bought, and that the overall amount of buyable rights will be reduced over time. Hence the price of the emission rights will rise, the quantity of emissions will be reduced, and the climate system as a global resource will be preserved. A commons trust (Barnes 2006) is an independent non-profit enterprise assigned with fiduciary duties to look after the long-term interests of beneficiary commoners, and the power to sell and restrict emission and extraction rights. The trust should be assigned the sole responsibility of preserving a given common resource and be required to distribute any remaining receipts to the people who hold a stake in that resource.

Both concepts depend upon governments to set effective, enforceable rules. But where preserving a common resource results in shortages, governments must withstand the concentrated pressures exerted by buyers, sellers and workers who insist upon economic growth as a source of earnings, sales and jobs. The Monhegan example shows that such pressures can be overcome peacefully, if one group of buyers, sellers, and/or workers who are strongly motivated for sustainable development defend their interest in resource preservation against other groups with somewhat lower legitimation. The state’s role is then to mediate the conflict instead of imposing a regulation influencing people’s decisions by outer stimuli like prices or instructions.


The above-suggested legal regime – which stipulates the preservation of natural resources and thereby forbids the externalization of costs – would be a general rule intended primarily to stimulate a general understanding that we are as responsible for our common resources as for our private plants, facilities and investments.

At the same time it would be the basis of specific regulations that may prove to be a necessary condition of legal security. Since externalizing is still common practice, however, it would not be reasonable if we left it wholly to government authorities to find out and prescribe how externalization should be avoided or compensated in each of numerous specific situations. The general rule, if it were in force, would open a second way. It would encourage those who prefer cost internalization to contribute to that search process by joining in communities that work out agreements on what is needed to preserve specific common resources after use. These communities can be characterized by four basic elements: 1) community members 2) who moderate their demands on the resource and reinvest in its preservation by 3) mutual agreement and 4) mutual monitoring.

  1. The kind of cooperative social relations that result in taking care of a common resource can arise among suppliers of a specific product as well as among consumers. Suppliers who compete with each other are more aware than others of each other’s actions and even costs, and consumers may be in contact with each other through civic associations, Internet communities or advocacy organizations. In either case, the contacts can be local, national or worldwide.
  2. Commons of either consumers or suppliers can arise if the need to moderate demand for a specific resource – copper, wheat, fish, oil, electricity, water, soil, etc. – becomes evident, perhaps because the resource is becoming scarce, its price is rising or will rise, or the means can be found to use less of it – through recycling, substitutes or alternatives in production.
  3. Mutual agreements between competitors are prohibited by law if they restrain competition, but that should not hold for agreements to internalize costs.
  4. Mutual monitoring is a kind of what sociologists call informal social control. It occurs continuously since competitors cannot help but notice and observe each other, and buyers cannot help but compare and assess products and suppliers, and exchange their knowledge among themselves.

These four elements could themselves meld into a network of commons, because a growing number of both suppliers and consumers who long for the opportunity to preserve the resources, will be motivated to preserve the resources they use and to prevent others from continuing to externalize costs, which until now has worked to the disadvantage of those who want to internalize costs. Thus their activity would be helpful and even necessary to enforce the law, whether by recommending a government mandate or by agreeing on customary procedures as substitutes for mandates. In either case, a commons would likely be superior to an external government authority because competitors can better judge whether and what costs are being externalized than any public prosecutor or district attorney, and criticism by civic and consumer associations can be more powerful in persuading a firm to internalize its costs than the risk of litigation (provided there were a legal basis).

In order to make it easier to join in commons of the type indicated, the legal basis for accountability should be even further broadened by amending the com­petition law, too, which under the current property law forces competitors to externalize costs. Any hidden externalization of costs should from now on be treated as unfair competition, which is principally forbidden by law in several European countries and most states of the US, although with different provisions. Take, for instance, the German law against unfair competition (Gesetz gegen unlauteren Wettbewerb, UWG). It prohibits a supplier from enjoying a competitive market advantage by making deceptive claims about its product(s), as misleading advertisements or taking advantage of consumers’ lack of knowledge.

The amendment would consider it unfair competition if a company hides his externalizing practices rather than paying the full costs of protecting or renewing them. Since the UWG permits competing enterprises and civil associations like consumer unions to sue a firm for unfair competition, one can imagine that conscientious firms trying to preserve global resources would use this legal provision to prevent their competitors from achieving an unfair market advantage. And since courts can decide that profits from unfair competition be transferred to the federal budget, management would prefer to reinvest in and protect global resources rather than to be accused of externalizing costs.


In this way amendments to property and competition laws could help bring into being a network of commons-like communities of enterprises, civil associations and individuals that would monitor the use of global ecological resources. While there is a huge variety of separate problems that have to be solved in this field, encouraging the formation of commons would not only be an effective way to enforce the law but also a way to bring about a general awareness of common resources and everybody’s responsibility for them. This, in turn, could open the door for two hidden implications of sustainability that are already knocking at it but aren’t allowed to enter.

First, by getting serious about preserving global resources, and acknowledging that markets are not inseparably joined to capitalism (Braudel 1977), sustainable development could become separated from capitalism but aligned with the market economy.

Second, not only natural resources ought to be treated as global commons, but so should the many socially organized institutions that provide employment opportunities, public health systems, educational opportunities, social integration, income and wealth distribution, and communication systems such as the Internet.

To put it in a nutshell: Sustainability is commoning global resources by applying the commons principle of wisely moderating demands on common resources. It is time to ask what perspectives will open up when we proceed this way.

Gerhard Scherhorn (Germany) was former director of the Academy of Economy and Policy in Hamburg and is professor emeritus of the University of Hohenheim where he gave lectures on consumption theory and consumer policy until his retirement in 1998. He directed the working group “New Models of Wealth” at the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy from 1996 to 2003 as well as the research group “Sustainable Production and Consumption” until 2005.


  • Barnes, Peter. 2006. Capitalism 3.0. A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons. San Francisco. Barrett-Koehler.
  • Braudel, Fernand. 1977. Afterthoughts on Material Civilization and Capitalism. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Deci, Edward. 1995. Why We Do What We Do. The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy. New York. Putnam’s Sons.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica, “Montreal Protocol,” available athttp://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/391101/Montreal-Protocol.
  • Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. 1854. Deutsches Wörterbuch. Reprint München 1999: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.
  • Harvey, David. 2003. The New Imperialism. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
  • Lietaer, Bernard and Stephen Belgin. 2011. New Money for a New World. Qiterra Press.
  • Linebaugh, Peter. 2008. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberty and Commons for All. Berkeley. University of California Press.
  • Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons. The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge, MA. Cambridge University Press.
  • Princen, Thomas. 2005. The Logic of Sufficiency. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.
  • Riesman, David. 1950. The Lonely Crowd. New Haven. Yale University Press.
  • Sachs, Wolfgang. 2009. Proceedings of an International Meeting at Crottorf Castle, Germany, by Silke Helfrich. http://www.archive.org/details/crottorf-commoners.
  • Scherhorn, Gerhard. 2012. Die Welt als Allmende. Für ein gemeingüter-sensitives Wettbewerbsrecht. In: Silke Helfrich and Heinrich Böll Foundation, eds.Commons. Für eine neue Politik jenseits von Markt und Staat. transcript-Verlag.
  • Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1974. The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York. Academic Press.

The author wants to thank David Binder for effectively translating his German English into the native language.

First published by The Wealth Of The Commons

licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

  Read Transforming Global Resources Into Commons.
  October 13, 2016
A Nonviolent Strategy to End the Climate Catastrophe.

by Robert J Burrowes, Climate Change, Countercurrents.org


As the evidence mounts that we are fast approaching the final point-of-no-return beyond which it will be impossible to take sufficient effective action to prevent climate catastrophe – see ‘The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently’ – the evidence of ineffective official responses climbs too. See, for example, ‘Climate Con: why a new global deal on aviation emissions is really bad news’.

Even worse, we continue to be given response options that, even when they are well meaning, are naïve and inadequate whether they are suggested by individuals – see, for example, ‘Committing Geocide: Climate Change and Corporate Capture’ – or major environment organizations such as Greenpeace, 350.org and Friends of the Earth.

Moreover, given the myriad indications of progressive environmental breakdown in domains unrelated to the climate catastrophe, one must be terrified and delusional to suggest or even believe that anything less than a comprehensive strategy, which goes well beyond anything governments and corporations will ever endorse, gives us any chance of averting the sixth mass extinction event in planetary history. A mass extinction that will include us.

As an aside, if you believe the ‘end of century’ scenario (for human extinction) being driven by the same corporate interests that drove climate denial for so long, then you are simply a victim of their latest attempt to drive ‘business as usual’ while delaying action for as long as possible at any cost.

Another problem, if you understand anything about human psychology and political organization, is that mobilizing people in large numbers to act strategically and powerfully is not easy. Of course, if it wasn’t so difficult, this crisis would not have arisen in the first place. We would have responded intelligently and strategically decades ago as some aware individuals, starting with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi 100 years ago, suggested.

To briefly recap the wider nature of the crisis we face: Consider our synergistic and devastating assaults on the environment through military violence (often leaving vast areas uninhabitable), rainforest destruction, industrial farming, mining, commercial fishing and the spreading radioactive contamination from Fukushima. We are also systematically destroying the limited supply of fresh water on the planet which means that water scarcity is becoming a frequent reality for many people and the collapse of hydrological systems is now likely by 2020. Human activity drives 200 species of life (plants, birds, animals, fish, amphibians, insects, reptiles) to extinction each day and 80% of the world’s forests and over 90% of the large fish in the ocean are already gone. Despite this readily available information, governments continue to prioritize spending $US2,000,000,000 each day on military violence, the sole purpose of which is to terrorize and kill fellow human beings.

So what are we to do?

Well, if you are inclined to assess the evidence and to design a response strategy that has the possibility of success built into it, then I invite you to consider the strategy outlined on the Nonviolent Campaign Strategy website. This strategy identifies all twelve components of a nonviolent strategy to end the climate catastrophe, including the myriad of strategic goals necessary for such a strategy to be comprehensive and effective. You are very welcome to suggest improvements in this strategy and to invite other individuals and groups to participate in helping to implement it.

If you are happy to leave strategic responses to others but still wish to contribute powerfully, then you and others you know are welcome to participate in the simple fifteen-year program outlined in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’. You might also consider signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’.

One final point: a tragic outcome of modern humans terrorizing their children into obedience (to maintain social control) is that most of the human population is (unconsciously) terrified, self-hating and powerless. For a full explanation of this, see ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’.

So don’t wait around waiting for others to act first. It is your leadership that is required in this circumstance. And it is your leadership that might ultimately make the difference.

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ and his website is at

  Read A Nonviolent Strategy to End the Climate Catastrophe.
  October 13, 2016
Echoes From The Past Expressing Hope For Humanity

by David Anderson, Life/Philosophy, Countercurrents.org


A 2012 World Bank report stated that without quick action to curb CO2 emissions, global warming is likely to add 4 degrees Centigrade (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit) during the 21st century which is dangerously close to the temperature that initiated the Permian-Triassic extinction event 252 million years ago when 96% of all marine species and 70% of all terrestrial vertebrates were wiped out. The report pointed out that the cause of the warming will be an accelerated increase in the emission of Methane Hydrates from the Arctic.

Given the life threatening ecological challenges now facing humanity, (As seen in the Arctic meltdown seen in the captioned 2012 World Bank report) the question for our civilization has become: How should we be redefining our relationship to ourselves and to our planet ‑ and to the Cosmos?

In the year 1945 near an ancient monastery at Nag Hammadi, Egypt early Coptic writings were found in an earthenware jar. Among the tractates was a lost gospel that may give us insight into our current dilemma. It revealed a Jesus not found in the Christian New Testament. In many ways it challenged the Torah.

First some background: During the time Jesus lived, Abrahamic belief placed God up there and an imperfect earth and all on it down here. But it was not always that way. Before his time it was different. The change to the Abrahamic format began about 4000 BCE with the beginning of the Bronze/Iron/Agricultural Age. Before then ‑ the prior period known as the Late Pleistocene beginning about 40,000 years BCE the thought process was just the opposite.

In the newly discovered writings found at Nag Hammadi Jesus gave us a hint of the Late Pleistocene in the form of what we would call today a metaphysical understanding of our relationship to the material world. That “hint” we can see not just in the Gospel of Thomas but in the early cave paintings at Lascaux in southern France and others in Spain; also in the veneration of nature seen in the religiosity of the American indigenous peoples.

We have oral proof of this. Here are words from Chief Seattle (1786-1856) of the Duwamish tribe in the state of Washington. (15,000/12,000 years BCE his people had traveled across the Beringian (Alaskan) land bridge and then all the way down to the Americas)

Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays.

The Gospel of Thomas reflected the same thinking of that past age. For this reason, it is evoking great interest.

Most of those today with Abrahamic “God Belief” live under the God presumption of Abrahamic thought at the time of Jesus – as here described. God is up there. We defiled humans are down here. All life, human and nonhuman, is “separate” from any form of cosmic multi dimensionality.

Clearly, the Gospel of Thomas found at Nag Hammadi refutes this presumption. For that reason it was in the fourth century and remains declared “heretical” by the Roman Catholic Church. (Most likely the reason the Monks removed it and buried it) Many religious scholars today consider the “heretical” declaration to have been a grave mistake for a reading of it shows insight into a different way humans are to think of Planet Earth and all life and nonlife on it. Following are five sayings dealing with this:

(3) The Kingdom is in inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize who you are.

(17) I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.

(51) What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it.

(77) I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.

(113) His disciples said to him; When will the kingdom come? Jesus replied; it will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, look, here or Look, there! Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.

Jesus is telling us that The Kingdom of God is inside of us and outside of us. He is telling us that The Kingdom of God has already come. (Not later by way of Apocalypse) Also, he is challenging our current a-theistic post Enlightenment reductive thought. He says Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there. In total; our entire 21st century mind-frame is being challenged

One of the canonical gospels that led the early church away from this thought process was the Gospel of John. John tells us that to save ourselves all we have to do is to believe in Jesus as our personal savior. That understanding has been the bedrock of Christian orthodoxy through the ages.

The contrarian Gospel of Thomas also introduces what is called Gnosis. (Knowing oneself) It tells us that we save ourselves not by “by believing in Jesus” but by going through an inner search.

Scholars say another reason the Gospel of Thomas was excluded from the Canon and declared heretical is that it substituted Gnosis for a declaration of faith. If one could find salvation simply by “belief,” the process is simplified. The rigors of inner gnostic search become unnecessary.

It should be noted though that the idea of inner search nevertheless continued to hold among some through church history ‑ until the thirteenth century when Pope Innocent III (1160 or 1161 – 1216) said it was (Catharism as then called) a moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Church. He launched a bloody extermination of those who practiced it and it came to an end.

The following quotation from Elaine Pagels’ book; Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas supports this Johannine conflict.

“I was amazed when I went back to the Gospel of John after reading Thomas, for Thomas and John clearly draw upon similar language and images, and both, apparently, begin with similar secret teaching. But John takes this teaching to mean something so different that I wondered whether John could have written his Gospel to refute what Thomas teaches…. I was finally convinced that this is what happened.”

The Gospel of Thomas takes on enormous importance as we try to understand our relationship to this planet and the cosmos. It speaks to life and non-life, the material and the non-material. It has application for the serious ecological problems facing us today.

As we sort through all of this, we must remember that the sayings were originally set in writing shortly after the death of Jesus; also that they were likely originally in Aramaic, then in Coptic and then in the 20th century translated into English. So the phraseology was specific to the early first century period. Suffice it to say; those expressions such as The Kingdom of God in our modern age would have a broadened meaning such as; “cosmic dimension,” “other dimension,” “divine intelligence,” “implicate order” and “creative power.”

The words of Jesus were first century words having a value that spoke to those around him at that time and in that era, and can only speak to us today when expanded into our own vocabulary. This is of utmost importance in giving modern definition to the Gospel of Thomas. When he says that The Kingdom is in inside of you, and it is outside of you he is telling us today that our minds and our bodies, as well as the physical world surrounding them are a part of an all-encompassing cosmic dimension.

There are profound ecological implications here for humanity. Clearly we as humans today have not entered this state of understanding, or very few of us have.

An important condition to this understanding needs be noted: Jesus said that for some it will be painful. We see this in the following three sayings:

(2) When he finds, he will become troubled.

(58) Blessed is the man who has suffered and has found life.

(69) Blessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves. It is they who have truly come to know the father.

To begin to understand the significance of the Nag Hammadi discovery and its Gospel of Thomas as a way to approach our ecological problems in the twenty-first century we must understand the meaning of Jesus’ call for inner struggle. When Jesus said: When he finds, he will become troubled, he was referring to the abandonment of false gods worshiped, i.e., materialism, power, one’s ego, etc., gods that remove a person from the experience of being at one with the dimension to which Jesus refers as the Kingdom of God.

The words when he finds refers to finding The Kingdom of God not in some distant place in the sky, but within ourselves and all that is around us. It should be noted that this same search is often found in some of the mystical eastern religions as well as in some forms of ascetic Abrahamic belief. The individual is transported into an inner/outer dimension. The earthly physical “self” is abandoned as is the materiality of the earth.

Jesus makes it very clear that for many it will not be easy to become at one with this Kingdom of God … spread out upon the earth…. He says: Blessed is the man who has suffered and has found life and Blessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves.

Jesus was asking us to join in and be a part of another dimensionality. Given the materialistic and hedonistic society in which we live, it becomes obvious, as it was at the time of Jesus; that the pain for many will be harsh. So Jesus uses the words; When he finds, he will become troubled.

These words do not sit well in our modern 21st century secular society. The very idea of becoming troubled brings discomfiture. We see this in the response among many now being made aware of needed lifestyle changes in order to avert ecological disaster. Any form of material change in their lives that would force them to face recognition of ecological planetary reality is avoided.

An unforgiving planet, however, is demanding that we come face to face with this he will become troubled admonition of Jesus. Can you and I change? Can human society change? How? Again, we return to the Gospel of Thomas. Jesus is telling us that we cannot find The Kingdom of God until we have cast aside everything in this world that is taking us away from the “other dimensional” purpose of our lives as he is defining it. He is saying only then can we experience The Kingdom of God … spread out upon the earth.

I now ask you to take a huge visual leap; to imagine yourself as having turned away from those self-generated destructive forces that are destroying our planet. Imagine that a critical mass of the public has also turned with you. World political power has entered into agreement of a new societal paradigm. All of humanity has gone through an inner search and experienced the pain associated with that search. People have turned their backs on the false Gods of consumerism, egoism, greed and avarice that were distracting them. The world human population has been reduced to an earth sustainable population number enabling it to live in perfect union with The Kingdom of God … spread out upon the earth. The air is pure. The oceans are pure. Species extinction has been arrested. Human evolution into higher and higher forms is taking its course. In the words of Jesus to Thomas, we have found what is inside of us and what is outside of us. Suddenly human society has come to realize; we spent thousands of years looking for The Kingdom of God up in the heavens and it was not there at all. It was all along as Jesus told us inside of you, and it is outside of you. All Abrahamic ascension myths come to their end. “Heaven” and “Paradise” are no longer up in the sky. God is no longer “up there.” Armageddon turns out to be no more than the result of Freudian self-destructive psychosis. The meaning of the words “Holy Spirit” as Jesus originally defined them begins to make sense. We are at one here on Planet Earth with the eternal and the eternal is at one with us.

Can humanity live in consonance with this “Nature,” this planet earth as Jesus described it? Can the above scenario come to pass? Not without greater acceptance as to Jesus’ way to achieve it. Many in the Abrahamic West would prefer to place the blame on a cosmic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Many throughout the world are too hedonistic to care. Others are just too stupid to understand. Others are – and understandably so ‑ too desperate to be concerned.

Jesus identified the problem. We need to be troubled.

And we had better start soon. The World Bank report captioned here has the support of most of the world scientific community.

Is this our end?

Again to quote from the Gospel of Thomas:

(70) That which you have will save you if you bring it forth from yourselves. That which you do not have within you will kill you if you do not have it within you.


Elaine Pagels PhD, Department of Religion, Princeton University.

The Nag Hammadi Library in English


The Gospel of Jesus

James M Robinson, Ph.D, Leader, Coptic translator, Nag Hammadi discovery

David Anderson brings together a wide range of interests in his writings, namely; theology, history, evolutionary anthropology, philosophy, geopolitics, and economics.

He has written three books. A fourth is near completion. It can be seen on


His new book is about the need for a geo political, social, religious, economic paradigm shift for human survival. It calls for a radically different understanding of the relationship of Homo sapiens to Planet earth and the cosmos. It challenges the implicit ecological legitimacy of our political, social, religious, and economic institutions. It makes recommendations as to how they can be restructured in order to meet oncoming demands. It spells out in detail what is likely to occur if this does not take place.

David is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Hawaii (Harvard Asia Pacific) Advanced Management Program. Over a thirty-five year career he was an international risk manager and senior executive at several of America’s premier multinational institutions.

  Read Echoes From The Past Expressing Hope For Humanity
  October 14, 2016
Crowdsourcing The Food Commons Transition: De-Commodifying Food One Movement At A Time

by Jose Luis Vivero Po, Countercurrents.org

In the 2011 dystopian film In Time, Justin Timberlake works literally to earn his living, as the monthly currency is additional time for living. Billionaires can live for thousands of years, practically becoming immortals, while poor people struggle to survive every day, many of them failing in that endeavour. This science fiction film resembles painstakingly our real world, although instead of a time currency we have commoditised food. Today, the purchasing power of any given person determines how much and which type of food he can get access to – or physically produce it by own private means- as almost every single piece of food on Earth is already a private good. Or not?

Although cultivated food is a private food, several food-related elements are yet considered as commons, such as traditional agricultural knowledge accumulated after thousands of years of practices, agricultural knowledge produced by national research institutions, cooking recipes and national gastronomy, ocean fish stocks, wild fruits and animals, genetic resources for food and agriculture, food safety considerations and, more recently, maintaining food price stability and attaining global food security. Food and nutrition security should also be considered a Global Public Good (GPG), since it is neither rival nor excludable – unless we want starve somebody to death – but unfortunately food and nutrition security is yet an aspirational “situation”. But what about food itself?

Food, a limited but renewable resource essential for human existence, has evolved from a common local resource to a private transnational commodity. This commodification process, understood as the development of traits that fit better with the mechanized processes developed by the industrialized food model, is the latest stage of the objectification of food, a human-induced social construct that deprives food from its non-economic attributes just to retain its tradable features (durability, external beauty, standardisation). The nutrition-related properties of food were much undervalued in this process. The value of food is no longer based on its many dimensions (see below) that bring us security and health, including the fact that food is a basic human need that should be available to all, a fundamental human right that should be guaranteed to every citizen, a pillar of every national culture, certainly a marketable product that should be subject to fair trade and sustainable production and finally a GPG that should be enjoyed by all humans. Those multiple dimensions are superseded by the tradable features, being value and price thus mixed up. And everybody knows that only fools confuse price with value.


There are several implications of treating food as a mere commodity, and we just name a few of the most devastating. Food has many different uses other than direct human consumption as the best use of any commodity is where it can get the best price; a commoditised food is meant to be speculated with, no moral considerations seem to deter that. An out-of-control race for land- and water-grabbing for foodproduction is taking place in vast areas of Africa and Latin America. Transnational corporations are major drivers of obesity epidemics from increased consumption of ultra-processed food and drink. And hunger is definitely not abated by means of GMOs or patented seeds.

Human beings can eat food as long as they have money to buy it or means to produce it. Some of those means are also considered as private goods (land, agro-chemicals) although not all (seeds, rainfall, agricultural knowledge). The enclosure mechanisms, through privatization, legislation, excessive pricing or patents, have played a role in limiting the access to food as a public good. The conventional industrialised food system is operating mainly to accumulate under-priced food resources and maximize the profit of food enterprises instead of maximizing the nutrition and health benefits of food to all of us.

The dominant industrial food system is increasingly failing to fulfil its basic goals: feeding people adequately and sustainably, and avoiding hunger. The ironic paradoxes of the globalised industrial food system are that half of those who grow 70% of the world’s food are hungry, food kills people (the hunger-related death toll is 3.1 million children per year, the single major cause of child mortality in 2011), food is increasingly not for humans (since more and more food is diverted towards biofuel production and livestock feeding) and food is wasted due to its low price and low considerations (1/3 of global food production ends up in the garbage every year, enough to feed 600 million hungry people). Hunger still prevails in a world of abundance and obesity is growing steadily, already becoming a pandemic. We humans eat badly.

It was amply believed that market-led food security would finally achieve a better nourished population. However, reality has proven otherwise as a food system anchored in the consideration of food as a commodity to be distributed according to the demand-supply market rules will never achieve food security for all. It is evident that the private sector is not interested in people who do not have the money to pay for their services or goods, weather videogames or staple food. None of the most relevant analyses produced in the last decades on the fault lines of the global food system has ever questioned this nature of food as a private good, produced by private inputs or privately harvested in the wild, and therefore the common understanding sees food access as the main problem. If food security is a good thing for every human and cannot be provided exclusively by one state, the two features of the political definition of a GPG, the food and agriculture private sector does not seem to be the best institution to provide that public good, as it cannot completely capture the utilities of its trade.

The standard economic definition of public goods is anchored on non-rivalry and non-excludability features. In political terms, however, excludability and rivalry are social constructions that can be modified by social arrangements. Goods often become private or public as a result of deliberate policy choices and many societies have considered, and still consider, food as a common good, as well as forests, fisheries, land and water. For instances, fishes are continuously produced by nature and by human beings, so it is no longer restricted in number as there is not a limited number of fishes on Earth. As long as the replenishment rate outpaces the consumption rate, the resource is always available and food is considered a renewable resource with a never-ending stock such as air. Therefore, the main features that traditionally have been assigned to food as a private good can be contested and reconceived in a different way.

Food is a de facto impure public good, governed by public institutions in many aspects (food safety regulations, nutrition, seed markets, fertilizer subsidies, the EU CAP or US Farm Bill), provided by collective actions in thousands of customary and post-industrial collective arrangements (cooking recipes, farmers’ seed exchanges, consumer-producers associations) but largely distributed by market rules. These collective actions for food share this multidimensional consideration of food that diverges from the mainstream industrial food system’s uni-dimensional approach of food as a commodity.


The re-commonification of food is hence deemed an essential paradigm shift for the transition from the dominating agro-industrial food system towards a more sustainable food system fairer to food producers and consumers. Along those lines, based on Elinor Ostrom’s polycentric governance, food as a GPG could be produced, consumed and distributed by hybrid institutional arrangements formed by state institutions, private producers and companies, and self-organized groups under self-negotiated rules. The transition will require experimentation at multiple levels (personal, local, national, international) and diverse approaches to governance (market-led, state-led and collective action-led). This commonification will take several generations and self-governing collective actions cannot do the transition by themselves, as food provision and food security shall involve greater levels of public sector involvement and market-driven distributions. Governments have a vital role to play in countering the tendency toward economic concentration, through genuine tax, credit, and land reforms to disperse buying power toward the poor, so as to maximize the well-being of their citizens and providing an enabling framework to enjoy the right to food for all. Two recent examples of governmental rules that may contribute to facilitate the transition are taxing meat to incentivise a reduction in consumption or overtaxing junk food with high contents of sugar, fat and salt as unhealthy products. Nevertheless, that leading role should gradually be shifted to the self-negotiated collection actions by groups of producers and consumers, as the State provision of food does not surpass the net benefit that consumers would receive through the self-organized and socially negotiated protection, production and use of their own resources.

Civic collective actions for food (or alternative food networks) are key units for this transition and they are built upon the socio-ecological practices of civic engagement, community and the celebration of local food. The commons are gaining ground as a third force of governance and resource management by the people as a supplement to the market and the state. Unlike the market, the commons are about cooperation, stewardship, equity, sustainability, and direct democracy from local to global, and they are mushrooming all over the world, mostly in urban areas and usually at local level.

Nowadays, in different parts of the world, there are many initiatives that demonstrate that a right combination of collective action, governmental rules and incentives, and private sector entrepreneurship yield good results for food producers, consumers, the environment and society in general, and the challenge now is how to scale up those local initiatives to national level. People’s capacity for collective action is an agency that can complement the regulatory mandate of the state and the demand-driven allocation by the private sector. Millions of people innovating have far more capacity to find adaptive and appropriate solutions than a few thousand scientists in the laboratories. It is interesting to note the collective actions for food share a consideration of food as a commons that radically diverges from the mainstream industrial food system that merely considers food as a commodity. Moreover, these collective actions for food also contribute to the reconstruction of the infrastructure of civic life that has been eroded by our individualistic growth-oriented behaviour, as Michael Sandel explains so well.

For those who love to find concrete recommendations out of theoretical narratives, some practical consequences of this paradigm shift would be to maintain food out of trade agreements dealing with pure private goods and thus there would be a need to establish a particular governance system for production, distribution and access to food at global level. That system would entail, among others, binding legal frameworks to fight hunger and guarantee the right to food to all,cosmopolitan global policies and fraternal ethical and legal frameworks, universal Basic Food Entitlements or Food Security Floors guaranteed by the State (i.e. one leave of bread for every citizen everyday), levelling the minimum salary with the food basket, a ban on financial speculation of food, or limiting the non-consumption uses of food such as biofuels. In any case, all those political implications are geared towards establishing a Universal Food Coverage, a social scheme paralleling universal health and education, the very foundations of the social welfare state. If it was possible in the XVIII century to propose health and schools for all, why not such absolute need as food for all in the XXI century? Prof. Amartya Sen is already campaigning for that goal in India.

Finding the adequate equilibrium between this tri-centric institutional setup to govern food production, distribution and consumption will be one of the major challenges the humankind will have to address in the XXI century, as long as the population grows and Earth’s carrying capacity seems to be surpassed by human’s greed for resources, as Ghandi once mentioned. A fairer and more sustainable food system is possible, but we need to reconsider the food narrative to be applicable to transit towards that goal. I do not expect to see this change during my lifetime, but I hope my descendants may.

Jose Luis Vivero Pol is half anti-hunger activist (vocation) and half agricultural engineer (academic qualification) with fifteen years of nomadic experience on food security policies and programmes, right to food advocacy, nutrition interventions and food sovereignty in more than 10 countries. His current academic interest aims to understand the governance mechanisms that trigger and steer sustainable food transitions and to develop a normative rationale that considers food as a commons grounded on people’s valuation of the economic and non-economic dimensions of food.

  Read Crowdsourcing The Food Commons Transition: De-Commodifying Food One Movement At A Time
  October 7, 2016
The International Criminal Court Will Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment

by Tara Smith, The Conversation, AlterNet


The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But these people may now one day find themselves on trial in The Hague.

The move was announced by chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in a recent policy document that contains a new and welcome focus on the prosecution of individuals for human atrocities that are committed by destroying the environment in which we live and on which we depend.

The document doesn’t change the law applied by the court. There is no new crime of ecocide for instance. Instead, it sets out the types of cases that the court will now select and prioritise for prosecution. These will include the illegal exploitation of natural resources, cases of environmental destruction, and “land grabbing”, where investors buy up vast areas of poor countries.

The International Criminal Court, or ICC, has already shown a willingness to apply its laws to situations involving environmental destruction. Between 2009 and 2010, then-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo successfully obtained arrest warrants from the court against the president of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, for acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among other acts, these alleged crimes involved the contamination of wells and water pumps in Darfur to target and destroy certain groups of people. Al-Bashir’s trial has not yet commenced as he continues to

Refugees fleeing Darfur had to deal with deliberately contaminated water. (image: EPA)

But this is not the first time the world has witnessed genocide through environmental means. In the early 1990s, for example, Saddam Hussein diverted the giant Tigris and Euphrates rivers in order to drain the Mesopotamian marshes in southern Iraq, a place widely regarded as the location of the Garden of Eden. Hussein wanted to destroy the community of Marsh Arabs that lived there, in reprisal for attempting an uprising against him. While the ICC cannot prosecute cases that took place before it was established in 2002, this type of environment-based genocide may well be the focus of future prosecutions.

There is nothing to stop the court from holding individuals such as CEOs responsible for international crimes. Making entire corporations criminally accountable is a more controversial prospect, however, and would represent a paradigm shift in international law.

But the new emphasis on environment-based crimes needs such a shift. Imagine: the ICC investigating corporate officers and corrupt state officials who might conspire to kill or evict groups of indigenous people from their native land in order to exploit natural resources such as oil, timber and minerals. We could indeed see businessmen or politicians joining the warlords in the dock.

A focus on these issues at the highest levels of international justice would make it clear that nobody can hide behind the corporate veil, operate with impunity in the fog of war or commit gross human rights abuses in the name of “development” and progress. The growth of crops for palm oil, for example, is frequently linked to gross and systematic human rights abuses that could breach international criminal law. Making someone criminally responsible under international law for these acts could act as a catalyst for the entire industry to clean up its act.

Rainforest in Borneo is chopped down to make way for an oil palm plantation. (image: Rich Carey / Shutterstock)

We may nonetheless have to temper our expectations. It’s easy enough to think of previous conflicts that have resulted in serious environmental damage: the use of Agent Orange, along with cloud seeding to cause heavy rain to “make mud, not war”, during the conflict in Vietnam in the early 1970s; the 800 oil-rig fires set by Iraq in the Persian Gulf during the 1991 Gulf War; the pollution of the Danube as a result of damage to oil refineries and chemical plants in Kosovo during the 1999 NATO air strikes. But all these took place before the court was established in 2002 and thus are beyond its remit.

But what of those conflicts that have taken place since the ICC was set up in 2002? In Lebanon the 2006 bombing of the Jiyeh Power Station resulted in one of the largest ever oil spills in the Mediterranean Sea. In the 2008-2009 conflict in the Gaza Strip in Palestine toxic materials seriously contaminated the soil and water supplies. Both conflicts resulted in damage that may indeed breach the ICC’s definition of an environmental war crime. However, such situations remain outside the court’s jurisdiction as relevant states had not ratified the ICC’s statute at the time.

Oil from the bombed power plant in Jiyeh, Lebanon, washes up in Beirut, 30km away. (image: ZeNahla, CC BY-SA)

While the court’s new policy is welcome, it is not a silver bullet. People convicted may be responsible for causing harm to thousands of victims and irreparable environmental damage. Putting someone in jail won’t “unharm” their victims, regrow the forest or clean up the oil slick.

This is why we should look at compensation as well as punishment. Compensation-based models of liability may be more help for both human victims and the environment – and more of a deterrent to potential perpetrators. One example of this in practice comes from Iraq where, following the oil fires during the 1991 Gulf War, the UN Security Council established a Compensation Commission. The commission was funded by the sale of Iraqi oil and gave money to victims of the attacks and financed environmental reparations.

It’s great that environmental crimes are now being considered at the highest level of global justice. But the ICC alone isn’t enough. A thorough approach also requires individuals and corporate bodies to become financially liable for the consequences of environment-based atrocities.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dr. Tara Smith joined Bangor Law School in 2015, where she currently lectures and researches cross-cutting areas of international law. In 2013, after a period of study at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, Dr.Smith was awarded a Ph.D. in Law by the National University of Ireland Galway for her research into the protection of the environment in non-international armed conflict.

  Read The International Criminal Court Will Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
  October 6, 2016
Do Humans Have the Collective Will to Prevent Global Catastrophe?

by Richard Falk, Zed Books, AlterNet


The following is an excerpt from the new book Power Shift by Richard Falk (Zed, 2016): 

Does the Human Species Wish to Survive?

The question is deliberately provocative, yet relevant to reflec­tions on the future of humanity. The question is framed to encourage inquiry into whether the human species as a species has the collective will needed to overcome several global chal­lenges that confront humanity before the onset of catastrophic havoc. Such framing can be labeled as “prudent alarmism” given the risks arising from global warming trends and the continued possession, deployment, and development of nuclear weapons amid a politically fragmented global arrangements that continues to be embedded in a war system.

Apocalyptic thinking has acquired a deservedly bad name, a kind of cosmic “crying wolf.” In public consciousness ultimate warnings are primarily associated with crazed religious cults that point to a particular date as the biblically designated end of the world, and when the date passes without anything happening, there is a shrug of the shoulders among true believers, reassuring words from the leader, and a resumption of business as usual.

Science fiction writers long preoccupied with real­ world problems, especially the persistence of war, have developed a variety of apocalyptic and post­apocalyptic scenarios that at their best stretch our imaginative faculties. Such fiction usually entertains far more than it influences public perceptions, thrilling exploits of the imagination, but not to be taken seriously by the arbiters of power. There are occasional exceptions such as H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, but even such classics have a cultural rather than a political impact.

Imagining Threats to the Planet

One common theme encountered in science fiction literature does illuminate the failure to deal with common global problems through effective cooperation among sovereign states. The scenario is narrated as follows: a condition of intense fear on the part of political leaders is generated by confirmed reports of an impending attack on earth from a hostile advanced species located somewhere in the galaxy. The threat has been verified by the leading intelligence agencies of the world prompting an emergency global convention of political leaders to plan a unified defense. To ensure an effective defense of the planet persuades national leaders that it is expedient to establish a world govern­ment. In other words, the collective will to defend the peoples of the planet forges a planetary alliance preparing to wage a war of survival against threats of annihilation posed by alien intruders overcomes the political fragmentation that currently inhibits the protection of the human interest.

Such a scenario seems realistic if the credibility of the threat is accepted, although reactions could cover a wide range of responses. Political communities, whether tribal or national or even civilizational, have throughout history displayed a capacity for greatly heightened forms of cooperation, including extraordi­nary sacrifices of blood and treasure, if threatened by a common enemy. This experience of achieving exceptional cooperation rests on mobilizing the political will of existing communities. It relies on the logic of the war system as operating within a fragmented world order consisting of sovereign states, and presupposes an enemy. Without the menace created by an enemy, the record of coopera­tion for the sake of the human interest is not impressive. A prime example of both such expedient cooperation under conditions of perceived necessity and its fragility if the perception no longer exists is provided by the cooperation between the liberal democra­cies of the West during World War II and communist Soviet Union, and the onset of the Cold War shortly after the fall of fascism.

From religious visions of end time to science fiction depictions of inter­planetary warfare, we come to a contemporary secular envisioning of the end of human civilization in its most modern forms. The atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 created a widespread anxiety about what the future would bring if there was ever a third world war. Many dire warnings were made, perhaps most memorably by Albert Einstein: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” There were also artistic renderings in film and fiction that shared a sense that the species would likely survive a nuclear war, but in degraded forms identi­fied with urban barbarism and “bare survival.” One of the most rending portrayals of such a post­apocalyptic landscape is found in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The “lucky” survivors formed violent gangs of foragers that roam the countryside searching for scraps of food and sips of water. Such marauders are them­selves never more than minutes away from rival predators also desperately seeking the necessities of life. These accounts of a post­apocalyptic future rest on the premise that the species would survive, but in dramatically diminished life circumstances domi­nated by anarchic violence, without governing institutions and procedures, and lacking any pretensions of civic community life.

Preventing Human Catastrophe

What is missing from these accounts is some inquiry into what might have prevented the catastrophe from happening in the first place. I believe adopting such a focus is a necessary first step in meeting the global challenges. Humanity is in the midst of enduring unsustainable trends that increase the risk of a cata­strophic future that can be avoided, but only by way of a collective response that draws strength from species identity. Perhaps, the most severe danger is not the threat of bare survival of the kind we associated with life in Nazi death camps or in a social setting domi­nated by anarchic gangs running wild in the city and countryside. The greatest hazard is better understood as directed at humane modes of existence that have in modern times steadily extended life expectancy, provided empowering technologies, raised mate­rialist expectations, and eased the burdens of daily labor for many earthlings. That is, what is likely to be lost is what was long thought to have been the gains of modernity fueling illusions of inevitable progress thanks to the achievements of science and technology.

The experience with nuclear weapons illustrates vividly the inability of humanity to act like a species rather than as an antag­onistic amalgam of sub-species communities, bounded in space and consciousness to identities of nation, race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, and civilization. Expressed differently, to eliminate nuclear weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction, requires a strong dedication to the wellbeing of the whole that is absent from the collective consciousness of human societies and unsupported by the structures of either the world economy or the state system. The world continues to be organized and authority structured so as to give the highest and ultimate priority to the wellbeing and survival of the part. Some feel reassured that there has been no use of a nuclear weapon since 1945, but a more careful scrutiny of this period would suggest that the world escaped nuclear war on several occasions by the narrowest of margins. Recent research suggests that even a limited regional nuclear war would likely induce a global famine of ten years’ duration that would cause an almost total collapse of organized life on the planet.

After World War II, beneath the shadows cast by the recent massive devastation of the just concluded conflict and forebod­ings about the nature of major future wars, the United Nations was brought into being. The primary pledge of the UN “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” was from the outset a meaningless gesture of aspiration. The requisite political will to address the scourge of war was missing. Even the capa­bilities and independence needed by the UN to implement the promise and potential of collective security were not forthcoming. And the more modest task of ridding the world of the specter of a future nuclear war turned out to be beyond the reach of global reformers and inconsistent with the political will of world leaders.

There were some early initiatives taken by the United States to achieve nuclear disarmament, but always in a manner designed to ensure American dominance should any future rearmament process occur if the arrangement broke down. Besides, there was no indication that the Soviet Union, although lacking the bomb, was itself willing to trust its ideological and geopolitical adversary before it too had the comparable weaponry. And so a costly and dangerous arms race unfolded rather than a demilitarizing disar­mament process. The path of hard power security was chosen while the path of soft power security was not chosen.

The realism and consciousness of sub­species leaders of governments remained paramount. There were important grass­ roots initiatives in Western democratic societies throughout the Cold War exhibiting widespread fear of nuclear war and related expressions of ethical disgust about basing security on the threat of retaliatory omnicide. Despite this, the geopolitical rivalry between the two superpowers and their allies dominated the global stage. Significantly, the United Kingdom, France, and China each decided that their security would be more enhanced by possessing their own separate arsenal of nuclear weapons than by foregoing the option. Security based on deterrence, seeking to offset the omnicidal threats of adversaries by mounting count­er-­threats, was preferred to security based on disarmament. Additionally, the hierarchical side of world order was under­ scored by the nonproliferation approach, which rested on the perverse proposition that the main danger to world peace came from the countries that did not possess nuclear weapons rather than from those that possessed, deployed, and were continuing to develop this weaponry.

The Persistence of Statism

What is evident in this process is that the UN as an institutional framework was structured around the idea that sovereign states, and only states, deserved to be treated as full members of inter­national society. Even more revealingly, the most powerful (and dangerous) states were constitutionally exempted from any obli­gation to adhere to international law and the UN Charter. This exemption took the form of giving the five winners in World War II a veto power that was a guaranty that a valid UN decision would never override what the government of any one of these states decreed to be in its national interest. My point is to suggest that the menace of nuclear weapons could not be addressed in a manner consistent with the human interest given the primacy of sub­species identity that was deliberately embedded in the struc­ture and operations of the UN since its establishment. As a result, the treatment of nuclear weapons has been “normalized” in ways that resemble earlier weapons innovations that were not threat­ening to the civilizational circumstance of the human species as a whole, but deemed useful and relevant to the security goals of states. In that spirit, chemical weapons were effectively banned despite their battlefield potency because the leading governments did not require them, and their low cost and simple technology would mean that even far weaker societies could develop capabil­ities to challenge global power hierarchies.

This same dynamic is evident in relation to climate change, but in an even starker form. At least with nuclear weapons, there is the possibility, however remote, that their use can be indefi­nitely avoided by prudence and deterrence, and luck. With global warming there is no such possibility. Scientists have been warning us in constantly shriller tones that if we go on as we have been since the industrial revolution disaster awaits us in coming decades. Already the telltale signs of global warming such as the frequency of extreme weather, melting glaciers, desertification, water and food scarcities abound. And there is no sign whatsoever that governments are prepared even to consider abandoning the iron law of growth or taxing carbon emissions or discouraging consum­erism or restricting human fertility. That is, the main decentralized political units, sovereign states, are not able to summon the polit­ical will to respond responsibly to the near­scientific certainty that a terrible future awaits coming generations. True, the rich and sophisticated countries will be able to adapt better, and stave off many of the worst consequences anticipated by climate scientists, but only for an undetermined length of time, and during a period when less well endowed countries become a new type of “failed state,” sending waves of migrants across their borders in search of safety and livelihood. The mass of migrants seeking refuge from war­torn countries in the Middle East and sub­Saharan Africa have produced a variety of reactions that exhibit both the best and the worst in human traditions of hospitality to strangers in need.

This overall assessment is shared by a consensus of expert observers, perhaps most persuasively by Clive Hamilton in two recent books: Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change (2010) and Earthmasters (2013). As with such other sages of our time as Richard Tarnas and Slavoj Žižek, Hamilton places his hopes on a transformed consciousness that will find a way forward by overcoming the modern idea that human activity best progresses by thinking of the environment, and nature more generally, as there to be managed, exploited, and dominated for human benefit. The stress is placed on recognition of the danger, and then a resolve to act to overcome the radical disenchantment of human interactions with its environment that is the only home the human species can ever hope to have. I share completely this plea for active engagement in achieving this transformational shift in human consciousness, but it is not enough to rescue the species from impending doom.

Can the Human Species Learn to Survive?

I would call attention to two additional sets of fundamental concerns. First of all, the bio­political character of human nature as it has evolved over the centuries, and in diverse social and cultural settings. The simple question raised is whether there exists a sufficiently evolved species identity as compared to less encompassing collective realities as family, neighborhood, nation. As far as I can tell there is no evidence that a collective will of meaningful strength at the species level exists. Even nuclear weapons survival threats were generally treated as threats to such existential levels of community, especially to individual, family, and national survival, and at most, to civilizational survival.

The second concern relates to those features of human behavior that facilitate survival in the face of severe challenges. Jared Diamond has explored survival success and failure from a civilizational perspective in his fine book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005). In a later book Diamond investigates how we can learn and adapt survival skills from pre­modern societies. Put differently, until the middle of the last century, human survival was never really challenged except by reli­gious prophesy, science fiction and ominous fears prompted by pandemics posing unlimited threats to the health of the species.

For a more hopeful human future we as species need urgently to affirm the imperative of serving human interests and to recog­nize that this can only begin to occur if people are able to create a vibrant global political community that embraces the whole of humanity. Such a transformed identity does not imply the loss of more specific identities, but it does require their transcendence for the public common good when and as the need arises. The deter­mination of this need and effective responses does seem to require much stronger global structures of authority than exist currently, and how this comes about given the resilience of sub­species identities and uneven material endowments is beyond the current outer limits of the politically attainable. Hence, we drift mindlessly toward a condition of more and more serious species jeopardy.

This is an extract from Richard Falk’s latest book Power Shift: On The New Global Order, which was published in July 2016 by Zed Books.

  Read Do Humans Have the Collective Will to Prevent Global Catastrophe?
 October 13, 2016
Widespread Starvation Could Be a Reality Before the End of the Century

by Sam Woolfe, The Canary, AlterNet


A shocking new study by researchers at the University of Arizona underscores the alarming possibility that, by 2070, widespread starvation could plague the planet. Unless CO2 emissions are kept at zero by 2070, global warming could threaten the wild relatives of staple foods such as wheat and rice, which make up half of all the calories consumed by humans.

The study in question finds that climate change is happening 5,000 times faster than the ability of these wild grasses to adapt. Scientists say that staple foods are indirectly threatened by the lack of genetic diversity that would follow the disappearance of their wild relatives. Genetically diverse populations are associated with disease resistance, which means that crops in the future could become much more susceptible to parasites and pathogens.

It’s no easy challenge to overcome

The World Bank has estimated that cereal production needs to increase by 50 percent between 2000 and 2030 in order to meet demand. This is a significant challenge for many different reasons. Firstly, farmland is running out in many countries (take the U.K., for example). So we are simply running out of space to grow crops to feed a growing global population, leading to ambitious solutions like vertical farming.

Secondly, it’s an immense challenge for the very reasons pointed out by this new study—the crops that we can grow are under threat. It seems that the year 2070 will answer a lot of important questions facing us today, like ‘Can agriculture be both sustainable and sufficient?’ Researchers have claimed that the global population will peak at 9.4 billion by 2070, and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100. But there is still time to prevent global warming and find solutions to meet the needs of a growing global population.

The study also argues that moving grass species to a more favorable geographical location is not an option, because of limits to seed dispersal and obstacles such as human settlements. Adapting to a new ecological niche is simply a much slower process than the rate of climate change, and there’s no way around this.

Unless global warming is more broadly viewed as a very real and imminent existential threat, widespread starvation will become all too real before the end of the century.


Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in The Backbencher and Philosophy Now.

  Read Widespread Starvation Could Be a Reality Before the End of the Century
  October 12, 2016
Activists Shut Pipeline Valves, Halt Flow of Tar Sands Oil (Video)

by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, AlterNet


Ten climate activists were arrested Tuesday for attempting to shut down all tar sands oil coming into the United States from Canada by manually turning off pipelines in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Washington state.

The group, which calls itself Climate Direct Action, includes five activists and five other supporters and videographers. They posted pictures and videos online that showed them cutting chains and turning the manual safety valves to stop the flow through the pipelines.

The activists issued a statement on Tuesday saying the action was in support of the call for International Days of Prayer and Action for Standing Rock.

They also called on President Obama to “use emergency powers to keep the pipelines closed and mobilize for the extraordinary shift away from fossil fuels now required to avert catastrophe."

While all 10 activists remain in jail, we speak Jay O’Hara, co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, and Afrin Sopariwala, a member of Climate Direct Action and a part of Women of Color Speak Out, a climate justice collective.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Nine climate activists were arrested Tuesday for attempting to shut down all tar sands oil coming into the United States from Canada by manually turning off pipelines in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Washington state. The group, which calls themselves Climate Direct Action, includes five activists and four other supporters and videographers. They posted pictures and videos online that show them cutting chains and turning the manual safety valves to stop the flow through the pipelines. This is climate activist Leonard Higgins.

LEONARD HIGGINS: I’m in Coal Banks, Montana, just north of the Missouri River, at a block valve on the Spectra Express pipeline. It carries tar sands oil from Canada down into the U.S. for refining. And we have to stop especially burning coal and tar sands oil. They are major emitters of the carbon dioxide that is causing the planet to heat. In Paris, 192 nations agreed that we need to keep global warming to a limit of 1.5 degrees centigrade. And it’s obvious from the science, what we’re hearing, that we’re going to blow right past that. And we’re in a state of emergency to protect our loved ones and our families, our communities. We need to step up as citizens and take action where our leaders are not. And so that’s what I’m prepared to do when I close the valve, along with the other team.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Leonard Higgins at the site of the Spectra Energy’s Express pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Montana. This is Emily Johnston, waiting to turn the valve at one of the Enbridge lines in Minnesota.

EMILY JOHNSTON: When it’s done doing that, we’ll do this one, which, with any luck, will mean they can’t undo it. And [inaudible] over there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The activists issued a statement Tuesday saying the action was in support of the call for International Days of Prayer and Action for Standing Rock. They also called on President Obama to, quote, "use emergency powers to keep the pipelines closed and mobilize for the extraordinary shift away from fossil fuels now required to [avert] catastrophe."

AMY GOODMAN: The activists issued a statement on Tuesday, as Juan just said, calling for the International Days of Prayer and Action. We’re going to turn right now to Jay O’Hara, co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center and one of the lobster boat blockaders arrested in 2013 after they used their lobster boat to block a delivery of some 40,000 tons of coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. We’re also joined by Afrin Sopariwala. She is a member of Climate Direct Action, a part of Women of Color Speak Out, a climate justice collective. Why don’t we begin first with Jay? If you can lay out this whole multistate action and what took place yesterday?

JAY O’HARA: Thanks, Amy. So, around 6:30 a.m. Pacific time yesterday morning, we began in Minnesota with teams of activists approaching these safety valves that are placed along the routes of these pipelines in Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Washington state, and, in 15-minute intervals, calling the pipeline companies to let them know that we were going to be doing this, so that they could safely shut down and manage their pipelines, and then proceeding to close those valves at the locations where the activists were.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Jay, it’s really astonishing to realize that you were able to organize this, and there were no security guards on these—near these valves to be able to prevent your group from doing this.

JAY O’HARA: Well, I think—I think, certainly, there weren’t—there’s no security guards. They’re simply usually just enclosures surrounded by a chain-link fence, with maybe some barbed wire across the top of it. You know these valves really are for safety, and they are to be used when there is a leak or a spill or a problem along the line to shut down the flow of oil. So, these aren’t, you know, designed to be heavily guarded. They’re in fact supposed to be accessible safety equipment, in some ways.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Afrin, can you talk about how you got involved with this, the risks people are taking in all these states, from North Dakota to Minnesota to Montana, Washington state?

AFRIN SOPARIWALA: Absolutely. So, a lot of these people who took arrest and risk yesterday worked—have worked together for several years. And I’ve worked with them during Shell No last year and also Break Free earlier this summer. And a lot of research has been done into wanting to do this action. And so, as things started to get together, I was—I got pulled in. People have taken this risk—and these are ordinary people. These are parents and grandmothers, concerned citizens, who, after years and years of all kinds of different actions in the legal—in the legal realm of actions that we can do, came to a point were they felt morally compelled to engage in civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action and put their bodies in the line, knowing that this risk was—was not just going to be one day or one night in jail, but something that they will, you know, see over the course of the next few months, at least.

AMY GOODMAN: Responding to a request from Democracy Now!, Enbridge, Spectra and Kinder Morgan all condemned the actions. Kinder Morgan stated, quote, "reckless trespassers," unquote, broke into their location, but that they were not operating through the portion of the line that was targeted. Spectra Energy stated, quote, "Tampering with energy infrastructure places both the community and the environment at risk," unquote. They temporarily shut down the section of the Express pipeline that was impacted, and report that it was restarted a few hours later. And Enbridge Energy called the action, quote, "reckless and dangerous," unquote, adding, quote, "These are criminal acts that endanger the public and the environment. We take this very seriously and will support prosecution of all those involved." Jay, how many people got arrested? And what are they being charged with?

JAY O’HARA: Well, I’ll answer that in a second, Amy, but, first, it’s just beautiful to hear the words of those pipeline companies, because that is exactly the words that we need to be using to describe what their corporations and the fossil fuel industry is doing to our planet: reckless endangerment and reckless operation. So, I’m looking forward to being able to read those full statements, so we can really turn them around and republish them as our own words. Actually, at this point, there are now 10 people under arrest. An additional support person was arrested late yesterday in Montana. So, that includes the five activists who turned the valves themselves, as well as five folks who were there in some sort of support role, who generally did not trespass within the enclosures of the pipeline companies, as well as videographers who were part of a documentary team who were covering the action. So, last night, in jails in four different states were not only people, five people, who, with their hearts really open, were prepared to go and take action with the knowing consequences that they would potentially face these legal consequences, but also five folks who were there acting out of love and support for their friends, as well as people who were simply there to document what was happening.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Afrin, could you talk about your decision to take these actions in solidarity with Standing Rock?

AFRIN SOPARIWALA: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, as you mentioned earlier, Standing Rock put out this call, international call, for prayers and action. And we are absolutely responding to that, because what’s happening in North Dakota is so historic and so important. And around the world, as well, we’re seeing frontline communities and indigenous communities who are facing climate impact today. I am from India, and people are dying every year back home because of heat waves. And also, we have the privilege here to take direct action in ways that we are able to. I read news about four people in India who were shot for protesting at a coal power plant. And those are people whose lives are already—who are already victims of the climate crisis. And so, it is our duty and responsibility to act in solidarity with indigenous people and frontline communities around the world, and also with this historic moment in Standing Rock.

AMY GOODMAN: Jay, I wanted to ask you a quick question about your past, because we had you on, along with one of the people you were involved with this action in Massachusetts—and you could explain it briefly—and the highly unusual turn of events when your prosecutor came out on the steps of the courthouse and said he supported what the two of you did.

JAY O’HARA: Yes. So, in 2013, we—Ken Ward, who is one of the valve turners, the valve turner here in the state of Washington outside of Anacortes on this action—Ken and I were aboard a small, little white lobster boat that we anchored in the path of an incoming coal shipment to a power plant in Massachusetts. And I think the—what was amazing about that action, while it was exactly the sort of heartfelt expression of what we need to be doing on the day of the action, that same spirit seemed to carry through all the way into the courtroom almost a year and a half later, when the prosecutor, District Attorney Samuel Sutter, came into the courtroom and said, essentially, as we were prepared to prove in court that our actions are necessary—were necessary to avert the climate catastrophe, that in fact he had great sympathy with us and couldn’t, in some ways, in good conscience, argue that these sorts of actions are necessary in the face of government and corporate inaction, and declared then on the steps, waving Bill McKibben’s most recent article in Rolling Stone, that he’d join us during the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014, which he did.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s where I saw the three of you marching together, and we interviewed you.

JAY O’HARA: Indeed. Indeed, we were—we were there marching together for three or four hours. I think what’s interesting and beautiful about this action, similar to the action that Ken and I took a few years ago, is that this whole team approached this action with the same spirit of love and compassion and grief that the world that we are living in is not the world that we need, that the future we are leaving for younger people and generations to come is going to be disastrous, and that with that very deep, heartfelt sense of having no other recourse to change the course of events, these folks beautifully have gone out and taken the action that was necessary, in the face of what could be some serious consequences personally for them, but in light of the serious consequences already felt by people around the world, they knew that they had to act. 

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.

  Read Activists Shut Pipeline Valves, Halt Flow of Tar Sands Oil (Video)
 October 13, 2016
Polar Peaches? Climate Change Is Pushing Tree-Planting Zones Northward

by Ari LeVaux, AlterNet

This is the time of year to think about planting trees. It's a powerful, important and often fruitful thing to do, as well as a seriously long-term commitment. Planting a tree requires a deep look into the future, and the making of decisions based on one's best guess for what that future holds.

On a planet that wasn't warming at an alarming rate, planting a tree would require forethought. But as it is, with the climate shifting around us, planting a tree is like aiming at a moving target you can't see.

The USDA plant hardiness zone boundaries are marching steadily northward, as can be seen on a  climate.gov. In the 15 years since my friend Tom McCamant planted his peach orchard in northwest Montana, his land has been reclassified from Zone 5b to 6a.

Not so long ago, if one wanted peppers here in Montana, one had to plant them in a greenhouse. Now we get outdoor peppers every year. Ranchers who used to get two cuttings of alfalfa are now getting three. Pasta makers are looking northward, in search of the next hotspot for the best durum wheat. Some wine grape growers are preparing to move north as well.


Montana ginger from Deluge Farm. (Image: Ari LeVaux)

The plant hardiness zones are based on overnight lows, which determine both the growing season for annuals and which trees can hang through the depths of winter. These constraints can be increasingly finagled with the help of a growing arsenal of clever tricks that farmers are coming up with to control the climate around their crops.

Such measures can help extend the season for greens deep into winter, or set up an early start next year, or allow risk-tolerant growers to take a chance on some exotic thing that shouldn't have any business growing here. At the farmers market in Missoula, Montana, you can now get fresh ginger with your okra, artichokes and freshly roasted green chile (not necessarily a serving suggestion).

"Most of the country has moved up a zone from where they were in 1980," McCamant says. "The best opportunities in agriculture right now are in marginal spaces," he adds.

McCamant would know. When he was planting his Forbidden Fruit orchard, extension agents and agriculture academics told him that peaches were at best a marginal crop in Montana. Now his many varieties, some of which are grapefruit-sized, have become a prized delicacy in the region. The lengthening summers and shrinking winters have generally been good to his orchard, in terms of quantity as well as quality. Bumper crops have become the new normal at Forbidden Fruit.

But these changes have a foreboding side too, thanks to the ever-increasing menace of an early bloom. And the general sense that one doesn't know what to expect.

"It's a double-edged sword when you bloom early, because you still get those cold snaps. You increase the chance of frost damage," McCamant says. "Weather in spring and fall is a lot more unstable these days," he adds; both frosts and warm spells are more likely at any time.

McCamant has a frost protection system that consists of a series of fans called cold air drains, and the occasional sprinkler, which forms a brief line of defense against frost. Last year McCamant spent more time running frost protection than sleeping. He operated it for 14 nights between April 1, when the peaches bloomed, and April 20, when they used to bloom.


But a March bloom would be tougher to manage for his system, which can only buy a few degrees. And a February bloom would mean he could take the summer off, unpaid.

"Februarys have been warming faster than just about any other month," McCamant noted.

But while last year was stressful, this year the peaches were big and easy—that is if any aspect of farming could ever be called easy. McCamant only ran frost protection once. "Having an early bloom once in a while is to be expected," he says. "But having two early blooms in a row, that's a first."


Montana pomegranates are here. This year, anyway. (image: Ari LeVaux)

So while it seems clear that warmer days are coming, it's less clear what to do about it. My yard is home to a Chicago fig that is rated for zone 5, my current hardiness zone, and a Russian pomegranate that supposedly needs a zone 6, the edge of which is a few miles to the west and approaching. At the rate we're going, we might already be there.

In a vacuum, the prospect of homegrown mangoes is enticing. But the latest data on climate change isn't good. It seems to be happening faster than expected. And the faster it happens, the more violent it is.

Messing around with hobby plantings like this isn't a substitute for getting out there and doing something about saving the planet. But if there was any lingering doubt that things are changing, watching the trees might set that aside. And while some new plants will be growable, we can also expect others to die. Sugar maples, for example, are more vulnerable to disease during warm winters, which give many pests the upper hand as well. Pollination patterns are also changing.

With all of that in mind, it's time to order trees. No more pomegranates and figs for me, at least until the first ones prove themselves. I will bundle them up this winter and assess their suitability next year. Some peach trees are in order (McCamant recommends Reliance) and I'm going to order a plum tree, too, albeit with trepidation as plum is a cold-weather tree.

Fall and spring are the two best windows for tree planting. Which of these seasons is better depends on which species is being considered. But keep in mind that some trees must be ordered in fall, even if they will be delivered and planted in spring. I know it can be a bit disorienting to begin planning next year already, but that's part of what being human is all about: obsessing over the future. Maybe if we all obsessed a little more about planting more trees, we wouldn't be aiming for such a moving target of a growing season.

Ari LeVaux writes a syndicated weekly food column, Flash in the Pan.

  Read Polar Peaches? Climate Change Is Pushing Tree-Planting Zones Northward
  October 14, 2016
America's Southern Forests Are Being Decimated to Supply Europe With Energy

by Adam Macon, AlterNet

Hurricane Matthew and the aftermath of devastating flooding across the Carolinas has been a dramatic example of the costs our communities have to bear in the face of increased impacts from a changing climate. It is yet another reminder that it’s high time we get serious about addressing global climate change and reducing carbon in our atmosphere. But not all solutions are created equal and one in particular is actually making matters worse for the climate, forests and our communities.

In the past 60 years, we've lost 33 million acres of natural forests in the southern U.S. Many of them are coastal wetlands forests, which act as life jackets against hurricanes for coastal communities. These forests would have helped to save homes and lives in eastern North Carolina from the ongoing impacts from Hurricane Matthew—if they were still standing.

The intense European demand for wood pellets has put at risk 15 million acres of unprotected southern forests (about the size of West Virginia), and more than 600 imperiled, threatened or endangered species. It's become abundantly clear: Now is the time to act to protect southern forests.


Overhead of wetland clearcut in North Carolina linked to the biomass industry. (image: Dogwood Alliance)

In 2009 the European Union, in an admirable and necessary effort to increase renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions, passed a new energy policy. This policy considered any and all biomass material as “renewable energy.” It created a major loophole for energy companies, allowing them to now burn forest wood from industrial timber operations in power stations—and receive government incentives to do it. It raised a critical question: Where would Europe get all this wood to feed a growing demand? Energy companies quickly turned to one of the world's largest wood-producing regions: the southern United States.  

In just a few years, the southern U.S. has become the world's largest exporter of wood pellets, the prefered form of biomass for industrial use. Last year alone, over 5 million tons of wood pellets were exported from the South directly to markets in Europe. This arrangement has had serious impacts on the climate, communities and forests of the region.

Log pile at the Enviva wood pellet manufacturing facility in Ahoskie, North Carolina. (image: Dogwood Alliance While biomass was sold to policymakers and the public as clean, green energy—using only waste wood and providing massive carbon savings—emerging science and on-the-ground evidence have shown quite the opposite. In recent years, industrial biomass companies have been exposed by leading media outlets to be sourcing whole hardwood trees from endangered wetland habitats for their pellets—evidence contrary to misleading industry promotions of their use of sawdust and “waste” wood.

A recent comprehensive report by the EU commission found that “logging residuals (tops and limbs) are less suitable for industrial wood pellets due to high ash content.” As a result, “large industrial pellet mills … are not currently utilizing this feedstock category in any significant quantity.” Disclosures by Enviva, the leading wood pellet manufacturer, show that approximately 80 percent of their feedstocks come from hardwood forests.

Overhead shot of the Enviva Ahoskie Facility. (image: Dogwood Alliance)

In addition, the notion that biomass is a "carbon neutral" energy source is scientifically unsound and based on a serious carbon accounting error." According to the U.K. government's own science, the biomass that is sourced from whole trees can be up to four times worse than coal for the climate. It's a major problem for industrial biomass, since there is no possible way to meet Europe’s current demand without logging whole trees.

Allowing the biomass export industry to expand at current rates is a threat to us all. Renewable energy policies in Europe and in the U.S. are promoting cutting down our best defense against climate change in order to address climate change. For the health and safety of our planet and communities it’s imperative that we stop the unchecked growth of this dirty industry. At this critical moment, we must be supporting true renewables like wind and solar while valuing the standing natural forests that we have left.

Wetland clearcut in North Carolina linked to the biomass industry. (image: Dogwood Alliance)

This month, we have a great opportunity to influence the European policy for bioenergy, a policy that has great implications in the southern U.S. and across the globe. The European Commission is currently working on a new policy that will shape the future of bioenergy that is expected to be finalized by the end of November. Our participation will help ensure that this new policy protects forests, communities and the environment, and truly combats climate change.

Join communities and organizations across the world on October 19 for the International Day of Action on BioenergySign up for the campaign.

Adam Macon is the campaign director at Dogwood Alliance, an environmental nonprofit based in Asheville, North Carolina.

  Read America's Southern Forests Are Being Decimated to Supply Europe With Energy
 September 12, 2016



La paix est plus qu'un mot,
plus qu'une blanche colombe:
c'est le Petit Chaperon Rouge
sans loup ni menace,
c'est Blanche Neige sans la méchante sorcière,
c'est oncle grippe-sou
partageant son argent
avec les canards de duckland
c'est la tendresse
de papa et maman à la maison,
c'est le partage avec un autre enfant
de bonbons, guimauve,
et pomme de terre

Ce sont les bombes atomiques
enfermées dans le musée,
c'est le rugissement du despote
dans un chapitre
de l'histoire oubliée,
la botte vide du tueur,
le sabre dans sa gaine,
l'amour, l'amitié,
dans chacune de nos mots.
C'est la raison pour laquelle la paix,
est une des plus grandes joies de l'Humanité.

* * *
Peace is something more
than a word
something more than a white dove:
it is Little Red Ridding Hood
without wolves
or threats,
it is Snow White
without the evil witch,
it is scrooge MacDuck
sharing his money

among all ducks
in Duck-land 

is the tenderness
of dad and mom at home,
it is sharing with another kid
the sweets,
the marshmallows
and the potato chips;
It is the atomic bombs
locked in a museum,
it is the roar of the despot
in a chapter
of the forgotten history,
the hoodlum's empty boot,
the sword into its sheet,
love, friendlessness,
in every one of our words.
This is why peace
is the biggest of human joys.

* * *
La paz es algo más
que una palabra,
es algo más
que una paloma blanca:
es Caperucita Roja
sin lobos
ni amenazas,
es Blanca Nieves
sin la bruja mala,
es Tío Rico MacPato
repartiendo su plata
entre todos los patos
de Patolandia.
La paz
es la ternura
de papá y mamá en casa,
es compartir con otro niño
el caramelo
y los masmelos
y las papas;
son las bombas atómicas
en el museo encerradas,
el rugido del déspota
en el capítulo
de la historia olvidada,
la bota vacía del matón,
el sable entre la vaina,
el amor, la amistad,
el afecto,
en cada una
de nuestras palabras.
Por eso es que la paz
es la más grande
de las alegrías humanas.

* * *
A paz é mais qu' uma palavra,
mais qu' uma branca pomba:
c' é Pequeno Chaperon Rouge
sem lobo nem ameaça,
c' é Branco Neve sem a maldosa bruxa,
c' é tio gripe-dinheiro
compartilhando o seu dinheiro
com os patos de duckland
c' é a ternura
papa e mama à casa,
c' é a divisão com uma outra criança
de bombons, guimauve,
e batata
São as bombas atómicas
fechados no museu,
c' é rugissement despote
num capítulo
de l' história esquecida,
a bota vazia do do assassino, de
o sabre na sua bainha,
l' amor, l' amizade,
l' afeição
em chacunede os nossos palavras.
C' é a razão pela qual a paz,
é uma mais maiores de alegrias de l' Humanidate.

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