Category Archives: The Commons

About the commons, private property, and social change and about the relationship between them and with rising waters and climate change.

THE COMMONS is a social regime for managing a collectively-owned resource.

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The Rising Waters Confab Report / Visual Book is complete.  Click here for the document.


Rising Waters Confab Report

2 Participants
3 Introducing the Rising Waters Confab | Buster Simpson
4 Captiva’s Outlook | Leonard Berry
5 In the Dry Morning | Gretel Ehrlich
8 How the Arctic Drives the Climate of the Temperate World | Gretel Ehrlich
11 What Happened 120,000 Years Ago Could Repeat | John Englander
12 Surging Seas | Climate Central
14 We Have Time to Adapt, but No Time to Waste | John Englander
16 Digging for Water | Glenn Weiss
18 Is it Fair? | Thomas Ruppert
19 How to Talk About the Climate | Florida Sea Grant College Program
21 Week Two | Jeremy Pickard
22 Climate Change Is Gradual | June Wilson
24 Commons at Ground Level | Anne Focke
27 Commons Reader | Anne Focke
28 Rising Waters Blog | Anne Focke
30 Who Should be Our Allies? | Orion Cruz
32 Agitprop at Rally | Buster Simpson and Edward Morris
33 Statues of Brave Heroes of Climate Change Skepticism | Lewis Hyde
34 Drowning Man Festival | Lewis Hyde with Others
36 5 Actions to Stop Rising Seas | Xavier Cortada
38 Captiva Island H.V.A.C. Wedge | Buster Simpson
39 Making Ice Bags to Refreeze the Glaciers | Xavier Cortada
40 Glenn Weiss, Jungle Seeds
41 Week Two | Jeremy Pickard
42 L’Arctique est Paris | All Confab Collaboration, Lead Authors Mel Chin and Gretel Ehrlich
49 Mangroves | Xavier Cortada, Walter Hood, and Buster Simpson
51 Removing Exotics | Xavier Cortada
Raked Free Zone | Buster Simpson
52 Pine Island Sound Expedition
54 Underwater Affair and Palm Column | Walter Hood
56 Hurricane Remodel…Hire an Artist | Lewis Hyde
57 The Graceful Retreat | Buster Simpson
58 National Midden Mound-ument Preserves | Buster Simpson and Andrea Polli
60 Rising Gas | Andrea Polli
62 Islands and Global Forces – Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary | Andrea Polli and Buster Simpson
64 Voxel Frog // Mangrove | Buster Simpson
66 Limestone | David Buckland
68 Charcoal Sketch 2 for Neptune (A Play About Water) | Jeremy Pickard
72 SOS Life Float & Reliquary | Buster Simpson
74 Suggesting Palm Readings | Laura Sindell
76 Charley and Bob | Andrea Polli
78 Luxury Island and American River Archive | Edward Morris and Susannah Sayler
80 The Water Table | Jeremy Pickard
82 Pinhole Cameras | Laura Sindell
84 More Sugar, Dear? | Laura Sindell
86 Grounding Line – I’ve Seen the Water on the Wall | Lewis Hyde
87 The Manatees at Blue Springs | Lewis Hyde
88 Becoming Water | Gretel Ehrlich
89 Death and Poetry | Gretel Ehrlich
90 Fathom’s Portal | Buster Simpson
91 Stacked Chairs | June Wilson
92 Table to Deploy // The Arctic is Captiva | Buster Simpson

Why talk about the commons when the water’s rising?

This is the final installment of ground-level panels on the commons that are installed in the main studio here. Other commons panels are  here and here.

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Insights on the commons from Elinor Ostrom

More ground-level panels on the commons for the main studio. Other commons panels are here.

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What is the commons? part 2

These are being temporarily installed as 40×12 inch panels along the baseboards of the big studio at the Rauschenberg Residency – at ground level, providing a kind of foundation.  (My first post with this title is here.)

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A Climate Club?

Is a “Climate Club” a solution, 
and is a club a kind of commons?  

Following my own curiosity about why the commons matters to rising waters and climate change, I read “A New Solution: The Climate Club” in the June 4, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books. In it, William C. Nordhaus reviews a new book, Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet, by Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman.

In his introduction, Nordhaus says,

“While the entire book is worth careful study, its singular contributions are in three areas: the discussions of how nations may ‘free-ride’ on the decisions of others, the ultimate curse on international climate policies; the uncertainties surrounding both climate change and its consequences; and the particular perils of geoengineering to reverse carbon-induced climate change.”

After a healthy discussion of the perils of these three topics, Nordhaus concludes that, “The major challenge for climate policy is to overcome free-riding.” The answer he suggests is a redesign of climate treaties to create a “Climate Club.”

“A club is a voluntary group deriving mutual benefits from sharing the costs of producing an activity. Members get the benefits but also pay the dues. The benefits of a successful club are sufficiently large that members will pay dues and adhere to club rules in order to gain them.… A central feature of the club is that it creates a strategic situation that is the opposite of today’s free-riding incentives. With a Climate Club, countries acting in their self-interest will choose to enter the club and undertake high levels of emissions reductions because of the penalties for nonparticipation.”

In addition to all the other reasons that the review is worth reading in the context of our Confab, it raises questions relative to our discussion of the commons.

One pertinent quote I’ve put on the big studio wall is from David Bollier:

“The commons is a resource plus a defined community and the protocols, values, and norms devised by the community to manage its resources.”

And another that I’ll add later this week is a summary of one of Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom’s eight principles for reliable, working commons:

“People must be able to devise systems to monitor how the resource is used and to identify and punish people who violate the rules.”

What is the commons?

The commons is a social regime for managing a collectively-owned resource. The commons is a resource plus a defined community and the protocols, values, and norms devised by the community to manage its resources.

I’m grateful to David Bollier for these and many other observations about the commons.

Many patterns, many voices going the same way

Many patterns heading the same way

A Dividualist Creed

Talking to the “Rising Waters Confab” group on Monday I introduced the idea of dividualism as opposed to individualism. Here’s a bit of what I had to say.

Some years ago we got the results of the Human Microbiome Project which had set out to catalog all the bacteria, fungi and otherwise non-human stuff that live in the human body–that live there usefully, helping us digest food, absorb vitamins, fight diseases. Here are a few surprising numbers: counting these organisms one by one, each of us is host to about 100 trillion non-human life forms. In each of us these organisms taken together weigh between two and five pounds.

As one microbiologist put it, human beings are like coral: “an assemblage of life-forms living together.”

The word ‘individual’ means ‘not divisible’; so conceived, an individual is assumed to be the elementary particle of social life, the atomic unit from which other things are made. In the Human Microbiome Project we find a neat example in science of the way that assumption can be called into question. In what sense, exactly, am “I” an in-dividual if I couldn’t live without the scores of other species that make my life possible?

Or let’s move from biology to social science. Anthropologists in recent years have shown an interest in splitting this individual atom, speaking now of a dividual self.

Working in Melanesia, for example, anthropologists find that persons are thought of as having the complexity of the social world inside the self, not just outside. By this notion, your friends, your family, your setting in nature, the animals you live with, the god or gods you worship…, all of these things are not just around you, they are inside of you as well; they are part of what makes you the person you are and if they were to disappear you would disappear (or, at the very least, you would not be your old self).

We are a nation that celebrates individualism, of course, though that has not always been the case. There have also been times when dividualism was valued just as much or more.

In 1630, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, preached a sermon called “A Model of Christian Charity” and famously imagined, in an phrase lifted from the Bible, that Boston might be “as a city upon a hill,” a shining example for all to come.

If you read the sermon as a whole you will find that it has nothing good to say about individualism. Here is just one Winthrop sentence: “We must delight in each other, make other’s conditions our own…, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes…our community as members of the same body.” For Winthrop, that was a religious creed; it is also a dividualist creed, the demand being that we live for and in one another, not just for and by ourselves individually.