According to David Bollier, cofounder of the Commons Strategies Group, the “commons” should no longer, in the environmental movement, be associated with the words “tragedy” or “wasteland.”
Rather, Bollier presented the notion of the “commons” as a means of imagining a sustainable movement and world. The global “commons” paradigm is about collaboration between different people and organizations. Through collaboration, a drive to benefit the common good as opposed to the individual good (while appreciating the diversity of the parts of the “commons””) can be achieved. Three critical theories as well as practices behind the “commons” are a stewardship of resources as opposed to ownership of private property, a focus on moral and social connections and an escape from market culture. By gearing away from market dependence, Bollier hopes to see a decrease in externalities such as pollution, waste, etc. In critiquing neo-liberal capitalism, the “commons” ideology can help us re-conceptualize “development” to be beyond fiscal or infrastructural and to include human development. By leading away from a monetary lens of resources, ideas, etc., the “commons” model can help us reconnect to nature and to each other in cultivating a new cultural identity.
Gary Flomenhoft, fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont followed Bollier on the panel with a frightening scene describing how the average American citizen—is being robbed of our assets and resources. He used the example of bottling companies that are not charged for the water they take, and yet they sell that water at a marked up price. The same goes with mining companies and their minerals, StarKist and other organizations related to major fisheries and the fish in the ocean, timber companies and the woodlands. These are all common assets that are being privatized. Gary blames the government officials for “not barking” at the large companies, comparing the government to dogs who, in the case of a home robbery in which they are bribed, do not bark to protect the robbed. Gary concluded with a proposal that each state take their valuable assets and put in a fund that can be managed sustainably and allocated to the states people. This is following the Alaska Permanent Fund example, which sends a check to state residents from the sale of resources, primarily the revenue from oil.
Liz Walker, executive director and founder of Ecovillage at Ithaca, was the final panelist. She concluded the session with a description of a working community embodying the “commons” notions. Liz described ecovillages in general as communities of people trying to integrate the best practice in food production, land stewardship, education and more facets of what it takes to live sustainably. Ecovillages are vibrant communities that are wholesome and experiential, which try to draw the best of traditional practices and knowledge and combine it with modern advances. At Ecovillage Ithaca, co-housing is utilized so that people have private homes though there is a strong emphasis on shared space such as the common house, a large kitchen for community events and public gardens. 90% of the land is saved for open space as opposed to development projects. Cars are not allowed within the interior of the community to make it a safe space for children and pedestrians and, I felt, to avert the fast-pace culture that can be associated with cars. Walker described the development at Ecovillage at Ithaca as experiments of alternative ways (such as energy production) and forgotten ways to connect with the earth and with each other, thereby touching on a previous note made by Bollier—cultivating a new cultural identity.