Act: Inspiration

The Commons and Climate Change

January 15, 2020

There is much to be said about the relationship of commons to climate change, but let me offer this short glimpse into the clash of worldviews that must be negotiated. Whatever the outcome in ongoing arguments with capitalist climate-deniers, our best recourse will be to build and fortify our many commons as a failsafe against the earthly reckoning that is coming.

A recent editorial in The Daily Telegraph (UK) resentfully noted the toll that climate collapse is wrecking on human civilization: “As if climate change does not engender enough worries about flooding, storms and bush fires, there is another consequence we often fail to appreciate — the impact on financial services and pensions in particular.” The editorial went on to conclude:  “In the end, in spite of what Greta Thunberg believes, it is the capitalist system, the economic growth it generates and investment in green technologies that will make it possible to move to a carbon-free future without triggering a global recession.”

Just another day in the Anthopocene Era:  a self-absorbed denial of the encompassing realities of the living Earth.

Michael Dunwell, a painter who works with Transition movement in Bristol, England, took issue with this myopic, anthropocentric attitude – the idea that, as if flooding, storms, etc., were not enough, the financial system is being affected!

To which Dunwell indignantly replied:  “As if!  As if climate change was some purely arbitrary and isolated event that for some unknown reason menaces the basic necessity for our existence on the planet of our financial services!”

He continued:

“I am continually taken back to the story of the enclosure of the commons, which perfectly illustrates the problem of the market and the environment. There is no denying that you can make more money by putting a fence round a piece of land and grazing sheep, when the market for wool is thriving, than you can by letting a group of men who have helped you conquer that territory pursue a subsistence living on it, with their families.

“This ‘fact of life’ justified the conversion of half the land in England, over three or four centuries, from common land to private property, and instilled in the minds of everyone the ‘necessity’ of an economy based on productivity for the market.  The massive increase in productivity and wealth produced by the industrial revolution simply emphasised what had already been effected by enclosure, i.e., the marketisation of land and labour. The resulting woes of social injustice and environmental ruin now confront a global economic culture in an entirely new way; it is no longer just a matter of inequality and differing values, but of survival.  If we cannot reclaim land and labour from the market it will devour us.

“But the neoliberals now in power complain that not enough people realise that climate change has an impact on their core institutions! In Opposition we complain that the neoliberals are in denial of the impact of an unregulated economy on all the natural and social systems in the world. It looks inevitable that the breakdown of these systems themselves will be more likely to settle the argument than any rational debate, in the course of the next decade. So what do we do in the meantime?

“We get together in groups that have already shown signs of resilience through their awareness of the danger of the growth economy. We plan for food and energy security on local bases regardless of existing policies – or lack of them. We sustain ourselves with the love and comradeship we have experienced in the Transition and XR movements. We do not wait for politics to change; we just concentrate on reconnecting with our human instinct of collaboration. We are about to say goodbye to a lot of luxuries we can manage without, and re-discover the principles of the biosphere.”

I feel strangely comforted by the series of giant paintings that Michael exhibited in 2016.  Here is one that I especially like:

David Bollier

David Bollier is an activist, scholar, and blogger who is focused on the commons as a new/old paradigm for re-imagining economics, politics, and culture. He pursues his commons scholarship and activism as Director of the Reinventing the Commons Program at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics and as cofounder of the Commons Strategies Group, an international advocacy project. Author of Think Like a Commoner and other books, he blogs... Read more.

Tags: building resilient communities, climate change responses, enclosure of the commons, the commons