Attachment #4 for CAUN
Post2015 Consultation on Environmental Sustainability, Proposal to the UN
A Global Commons Based Approach to Sustainable Development
General Introduction + Foreword & Original for three 2012 Rio+20 Dialogue proposals
a common trust and place to enjoy being at home
A new kind of commons approach, a vision of a real global commons strategy, is encapsulated in these three recommendations to the 2012 Rio+20 Dialogues. One was contributed by Helene Finidori, one of my regular correspondents, and the other two by me. They're related in that mine were responses to hers, as the kind of new "commons based institutions" needed for the world economy to take on the task of caring for the Earth rather than exploit it ever more. It seems like the obvious thing our world culture needs to learn how to do. That's what our three proposals are about, comprehensive concept proposals for "how the world could work". Her proposal got good attention in the 2012 Rio+20 Dialogues and mine some. Mine specifically outline a matching pair of strategies for how the world's financial choices could be made in the world’s common interests.
Helen’s was a general cultural vision and model of the need for new institutions to pave the way to solving the world’s problems with a commons approach (1). My two proposals were each for new global economic institutions to allow free market economies to follow their own common interests to become eco-balanced and self-regulating (2,3). Both followed general principles of natural design, visible to anyone in how nature creates enduring complex systems that thrive in growth, and then also remain creatively evolving and thriving in stability.
The notable difference between these approaches and the numerous other models for world sustainability is that they don’t rely on government regulation as the primary means of protecting the economy’s self-interests. The models offered by Herman Daly in Beyond Growth, Gus Speth in The Bridge at the Edge of the World, H.T Odum in A Prosperous way down and Tim Jackson in Prosperity without Growth, all use science as the basis of direct government regulation of the world’s resource use and development decisions. They don’t say how government would either make successful choices for the economies or fail to avoid the “race to the bottom” that has always foiled regulation of conflicting self-interests before.
The common approach starts with the cases where those competing interests can be led to the information needed to understand their own common self-interests. It’s then in their interest to use their positions to collaborate on creatively solving their own problems. Very few new rules are needed. Natural choice and fiduciary obligation then applies to making the right choices.
The difficult challenge of a commons approach is finding the “boundary crossing” ways of communicating with other stakeholders, those having different intentions and speaking of different parts of the problem. Some important economic values can be reduced to numbers, like identifying when a resource is overinvested and how much any product relies on using it. But finding common ground for collaboration with people with conflicting interests is hard, even if obviously possible because it’s necessary.
Still, the thriving complex systems of nature are the model, evidence of all kinds of collaborative systems that evolve naturally without computers to tell them how. They include biodiversity “hot-spots” like fresh water ponds, and forests, and many other kinds of thriving eco-systems. They also include the thriving human ecologies that people create, the cities and thriving social cultures, the complex emergence of new industries, etc. They’re all the same general kind of dense networks of diverse subcultures. All the parts are acting individually, hardly aware of what each other are doing, but somehow building toward their common interests.
Our understanding of the word "commons" comes importantly from the classic “tragedy of the commons” by Garrett Hardin and following debate (1). Individual self-interest can lead individuals to destroy their common resource, as when people put more cattle on a shared meadow to individually gain at other’s expense, leaving the meadow barren though, as everyone does it. So the community makes choices for being productive, that leads to destroying what was making them productive. Now we’re doing that with the whole earth, and need a better solution.
A way to overcome that is for everyone to be presented with where their choices would lead, so their neighbors of someone making the mistake can understand, and intercede in a polite way, before the community faces a tragedy from over-taxing their environment. As they all recognize that this is the new way of doing business, they’ll help each-other find ways to work together. The "commons sense" is that there's no reason not to act in our common interest, if we can understand what that is.
1) Tragedy of the Commons - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons
2) This draft originates from the “News of the Commons” blog post of June 7 2012
Helene’s proposal won the voting for the “Sustainable Development as an Answer to the Economic and Financial Crises” topic in the RioDialogues vote, and good recognition! The idea is to NOT use development, as the solution to the world economic crisis, but to create new institutions allowing development efforts to work together, to serve the whole.
Helene’s idea builds on her own thinking about the nature of systems and the recognized methods of constructing commons solutions advocated by the Nobel laureate, Elinor Ostrum, collaboration that competitive interests need so the whole can thrive.
She also adapted the ideas discussed in an exceptionally wide ranging debate on the whole issue she led on a LinkedIn forum called Systems Thinking World , catalogued in Systems Thinking World discussions on the UN Call for Action,
Her more recent writings give a broad picture of her poetic
vision of the commons and her reasoning of how people can make the world work as
- “Commons-Sense” (Aug 2012)
- In my dreams… the Living WE… accelerating emergence…
- The Commons at the Core of our Next Economic Models?
I. Sustainable development requires new institutions to cooperatively steward and manage the global commons and adopt commons-based economic models
Proposal of May 28, 2012, with minor edits and added references
on the Rio+20 Dialogues 2012 site: https://www.riodialogues.org/node/240649
This recommendation calls for the development of a commons sector, alongside the private and public sectors, conferring rights and responsibilities to communities over resources on which they depend. This would ensure that the people who have a long-term stake in the preservation of these resources (natural, physical, intellectual, social, cultural; from local to global) would protect them while enabling the development of a flourishing commons-based economy around them. Commons are the shared resources that we inherit, create and use and transmit to future generations. Vital for our sustenance and livelihood, our individual expression and purpose, our social cohesion, quality of life and well-being, commons also embody the relationships between people, communities and these shared resources.
It seems the current definition of Sustainability as the ability to: “meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (WECD, 1987) is not unifying enough to get the ‘forces for good’ to converge and create some action around a shared intention."
The Global Sustainability Panel of the UN which presented its Resilient People Resilient Planet: A future Worth Choosing report to the Secretary General last January suggested policy frameworks based on new indicators, means for innovation and entrepreneurship, for resilience and empowerment, incentives for long-term investments, adoption of some forms of externality accounting, institutions for increased civil society participation. It also quite clearly states in its vision outline that the answers revolve around choice, influence, participation and action, and calls for a process “able to summon both the arguments and the political will necessary to act for a sustainable future.”
So, how can political will be summoned? How can a collective intention for sustainability be generated?
In this perspective, it is interesting to look more closely at sustainability in relation to the concept of commons dear to Nobel Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom and other economists such as James Quilligan who oppose the inevitability of the tragedy of the commons and show how commons can be co-governed through stakeholder and civil society based institutions in effective ways.
Quilligan defines the commons as the collective heritage of humanity, the shared — natural, genetic, material, intellectual, digital, social and cultural — resources that we inherit, create and use and transmit to future generations. Vital for our sustenance and livelihood, our individual expression and purpose, our social cohesion, quality of life and well-being, commons also embody the relationships between people, communities and these shared resources.
If we consider commons as assets that must and can be preserved and nurtured -just as private and public assets are currently meant to be-, then we give them some materiality and tangibility as socio-economic objects -even when they are intangible-. And if we adopt a patrimonial approach of replenishment and growth of the commons (whether material or immaterial) as the basic discourse for sustainable development and starting point for new economic models, we have a ground for creating new institutions for governing the commons and new kinds of metrics, accounting systems and economic instruments that would help the development of a sustainable economic and financial system and the reconstruction of the relationship between individuals, institutions and the commons. The UN could play a leading role in helping the constitution of civil society / stakeholder governed institutions to steward global commons (commons sector), in complementarity with the nation states (public sector) and the corporate world (private sector).
I am just back from
London where I attended a series of seminars by James Quilligan on the emergence
of a commons-based economy. Here are the video and transcript of the seminar he
held at the Finance innovation Lab on May 10th: How would a commons approach shape the future of finance?
The Commons Action for the United Nations team at the UN has drafted recommended Measures to Shift to a Sustainable Commons Based Global Economy as well as Measures to Finance that shift for Rio+20 and additional documents that are attached below that constitute the basis for this recommendation.
Adopting the principles of a commons based economy at the UN level would accelerate the emergence of new practices and behaviors by the mainstream.
To make this happen, the first step to be taken would be for the UN to establish a High Level Panel on the Commons. This would be a natural follow up on the vision of the Global Sustainability Panel, the orientation of which is much in the spirit of the commons.
Tags: #recommendation, Sustainable Development, commons, metrics, commons-based economy, accounting system, externalities, governance institutions
Jessie Henshaw is a scientist doing advanced work on the nature of uncontrolled systems, using a new scientific method for studying their behavior from the succession of their natural development processes, The Physics of Natural Open Systems .
The ability to study the organizational changes of individual complex systems allows useful research to be done on all kinds of “spontaneous”, “uncontrolled” and “emergent” behaviors of natural systems and societal behavior, like economic growth. I’ve published some important papers, under my pen name P.F. Henshaw, and made several discoveries that aren’t quite understood yet. One is a very firm finding that the average energy use per dollar, globally, is going to be a far more accurate estimate of the energy cost of any consumer product than any effort to trace the contributing energy uses individually, Systems Energy Assessment (SEA) the basis of my articles on “reality math”.
This becomes a key to calculating scientifically accurate energy cost assessments, so people can measure the true benefit of their energy choices. That is what is used in my second proposal, on how businesses can construct “ecobalance” sheets to guide their choices and reputation for making good choices.
My first proposal is for a way to gauge the point of economic overinvestment in the earth, when compounding investment in obtaining wealth from the earth as our commons is “turning the corner” to become counterproductive. That’s the point when increasing investment is making the earth decreasingly profitable, like putting more milk cows on the village green for individual profit, leaving it barren.
Recognizing and responding to that turning point is fundamental to the sustainability of free market economies. They’re designed otherwise to exhaust their own resources as fast as possible. Numerous complex societies of history seem to have actually succeeded in doing that, destroying themselves in the process.
So, if we recognize that the profitability of the whole is threatened, it would be just commons sense to do what’s needed for us to not exhaust our commons by indecision. Thus the people with a stake in the earth remaining profitable would devise a way to transition from a common investment strategy for growth, to a common investment strategy for sustainability.
The science is that all natural systems initially develop using a “bootstrap” mechanism, a growth process like economic growth, of using the system’s products to expand its process, and so multiplying its control of its environment, until that becomes unprofitable.So there’s a point in any system’s emergence when the need for self-investment switches from being for multiplying control of its environment to learning to get along with it, becoming responsive as a survival strategy, instead ever more controlling.
paradigm: The next big challenge,
For the economy to become self-regulating in responding to its environment will require our having better information. There’s a more accurate way to make physical measurements of our environmental impacts that would change the picture of how we’ve been responding to them. I starts from recognizing what our usual method can’t measure.
Systems that work by themselves, like an economy, a community or an organism, have complex networks of internal organization, necessary for how they work. That organization developed by itself too, with the system. In such systems we just can’t trace the working networks of effects. So.. the “billiard ball theory” of traceable cause and effect, just doesn’t work, for complex self-organizing systems.
Recognizing that happens to greatly help solve the measurement problem too, that our usual method of tracing things doesn’t work. It prompts you to look for a better alternative. Recognizing that any business depends on the whole economy as such a system, allows your to test ways of estimating the business’s share of the whole economy’s impacts, and if you can’t, assume they’re closer to “average per $” rather than “0”. I showed that assumption is actually quite accurate for business energy use, and FAR more accurate than what you could trace, Systems Energy Assessment (SEA).
So the strategy is to recognize which affects you can and can’t directly trace and find ways of assigning a share of the total for ones you can’t. The same will apply to the environmental impacts of businesses as to the economic liabilities for those impacts. You work with the ones for which you have high confidence, and that also informs you on the relative scale of impacts of the whole system you can’t assign at all.
It’s a strategy that greatly increases what is accountable, using a physical science rather than an economic science method. It importantly exposes the real scale of the impacts we’ve been treating as unaccountable, that are not at all.
The business community has been hiring teams of experts for comprehensive sustainability reporting (CSR) to track Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) factors. Having measures that expose a new scale of hidden impacts would generate a proportionate response, as business is already making many decisions to avoid the looming liabilities of previously hidden impacts.
Advanced CSR then needs to be combined with similar improvement in Economic Liability Assessments (ELA). ELA reports are that would be the basis of the “Eco-balance sheets”, financial impact statements for environmental impacts. They’d be what consumers, investors, governments and businesses themselves would use to understand our common interest in their choices.
Fig 1. Slices of a business energy pie mostly go uncounted when relying on traceable records, leaving out all the energy demands of business services.
for “the commons” needs business “ecobalance” sheets” , to compare environmental liabilities and