Ecological Policy and Emergent Order

* Bromley,David (ed.) Making the Commons Work: Theory, Practice, and Policy, San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1992. 318 pp.

The commons are traditionally considered the form of ownership least able to maintain sustainable practices. Bromley’s volume offers case studies from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Africa suggesting that decentralized self-governance by communities of stakeholders can, in fact, practice sustainable management, sometimes for many hundreds of years. The volume concludes with a general theoretical piece by Elinor Ostrom, “Rudiments of a Theory of Common Property Institutions” pulling together the insights offered by these case studies.

diZerega, Gus. Sustainable Communities: Self-Organization, Politics, and Gore’s Environmental Marshall Plan,” in Goring the Earth: A Constructive Response to Earth in the Balance, San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1994, pp. 227-248.

DiZerega argues that while the problem of developing sustainable practices in modern society is quite real, attempts to design and enforce such strategies are ill-advised, both because they require more knowledge of environmental circumstances than is likely to be centrally known, and because they misunderstand the character of democratic politics. Al Gore’s proposal for an “Environmental Marshall Plan” is analyzed to illustrate these arguments.

Hess, Karl. Visions Upon the Land: Man and Nature on the Western Range, Washington: Island Press, 1992. 272 pp.

Using the Western range as a case study, Hess argues that local accommodations to ecological circumstances have proven superior both to the Jeffersonian and Progressive public policy “visions” implemented by government and to the attempt to replace these architectonic visions with a new “environmental” vision. Hess concludes with a detailed proposal on eliminating central control over public lands democratically, and in a way, he argues, that will maximize both ecological and social diversity and sustainability.

* Ostrom, Elinor. Self-Governance and Forest Resources, Center for International Forestry Research, Jakarta, Indonesia, Feb. 1999. 15 pp. Go to search for Ostrom, Occasional Paper No. 20.

Conventional theories applied to forest resources presumed that forest users themselves were incapable of organizing to overcome the temptations to overharvest. Extensive empirical research, however, challenges this theory and illustrates the many ways forest users themselves devise rules that regulate harvesting patterns ensuring long term sustainability. There is now a large body of literature analysing common-pool resources such as many fisheries, irrigation systems and rangelands. A growing consensus exists in this literature concerning the attributes of common-pool resources and of resource users that enhance the probability that self-organization will occur. Many of these attributes seem also to help predict when forest users will self-organize.

* Ostrom, Elinor. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. 244 pp.

Ostrom argues from a number of careful studies that common pool resources are often best managed not through central control, but rather when appropriators themselves develop institutional frameworks to solve the problems they confront. Such solutions fit neither traditional public nor private property models. The evidence is they cannot be imposed but must be developed by appropriators themselves when certain enabling conditions are met. She criticizes leading models of collective action, arguing they give scholars and policy makers unwarranted illusions of knowledge of complex phenomena where local knowledge and autonomy can make the difference between success and failure.

Titles not yet annotated:

diZerega, Gus. “Rethinking the Obvious: Modernity and Living Respectfully With Nature,” The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, Winter, 1997.

diZerega, Gus. “Towards an Ecocentric Political Economy” The Trumpeter, Fall, 1996.