Communal conservation

A return to The Commons is in order, but on a different scale and with more focus than ever before.

The Commons is defined as the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, and which are not owned privately. This vast definition encompasses all kinds of tangible and intangible assets throughout history and different contexts, but invariably includes the bulk of the ecosystem inhabited by a given human group and by extension the services provided by the ecosystem (have a look at the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service’s list of Nature’s Contributions to People for the specifics on what these are).

With the contemporary push towards privatization, land and resources that have historically been part of The Commons, continually managed and enjoyed by local populations in constantly negotiated ways that have tended to integrally serve the needs of the community, are now being exploited by private enterprise for their economic gain – to the detriment and exclusion of traditional stakeholders.

As communities and capitalists themselves question and reflect on (and often react to), the ethical implications of this trend, opportunities arise to redefine our relationship to The Commons and our very notion of what they are.

Miniature examples of what might be possible are found in community food gardens literally sprouting up in every European and North American city. More robust examples exist in countries like Mexico and Brazil, where agricultural cooperatives are managing large landscapes to produce benefits not only in the economic realm, but also in quality of life, ecosystem services, and community and cultural health.

Communally managed landscapes can foster livelihood and business opportunities for local populations who are invested in the sustainability of their environment. The challenge lies in creating legal frameworks that empower local communities to manage their environments communally, without facing the risk of having their territory sold from under their feet.

If we are to meet the reforestation targets necessary for mitigating the destructive impacts of climate change and global warming, we will need to look beyond carbon taxes and protected areas. Perhaps a return to The Commons could have a positive impact.

Published by ecosocialdesign

I am a graduate of Gaia University's action learning program where I developed a number of experimental techniques on rooftop gardening and the use of bamboo in the construction of human powered machines. I later focused on ways to use action learning to bring higher education recognition to Indigenous holders of traditional knowledge. I currently collaborate with my family in Chiapas, Mexico to promote agroecology and alternative markets with Indigenous communities there. My interest is in the burgeoning field of integrative eco-social design, specifically as applicable to landscape and habitat restoration. I am interested in the nexus between productive human activity and biodiversity conservation as I believe there can be no sustainable conservation that does not directly address and resolve the needs of human populations. Other areas of interest for me include traditional Indigenous knowledge around habitat management and food production. I am specifically interest in creating business opportunities for landscape and forest restoration specialists to engage with industry and community stakeholders in long term management contracts, as I believe this will become an essential part of all projects from their inception and design moving forward. This blog is a repository for my ideas on conservation and human productivity in the post-natural age.

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