A backlash against the over-commercialization of science seems to be gaining new momentum. Two eminent Nobel prize winners — Sir John Sulston, a British geneticist and American economist Joseph Stiglitz – are working with leading scientists and ethicists to formulate a “Manchester Manifesto,” http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=3805 in connection with the newly created University of Manchester Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation.
Many are wondering if the commons will emerge as a bona fide political issue in this year’s presidential election.
Even if it doesn’t become a centerpiece of policy for the next administration, discussion of an issue like the commons on the campaign trail can significantly raise public awareness.
In Barack Obama, the Democrats have a candidate willing to think expansively about a wide range of issues beyond the usual electoral perimeters.
Last week I woke up in a room with twenty other people sleeping in bunk beds stacked four high. It was part of my induction into one of the great social commons in New England, the community of hikers who love the White Mountains of New Hampshire. With three friends, my wife and I hiked the Presidential Range and stayed in two of the fabled “huts” that give hikers spartan overnight accommodations, hearty food and the camaraderie of other hikers.
When Howard Rheingold wrote about “smart mobs” five years ago, many people assumed that that the rapidly assembled Internet “mobs” would be a marginal phenomenon confined to cyberspace. But as a series of major protests in South Korea have demonstrated over the past month, digital technologies are helping large masses of people to coordinate their actions in highly sophisticated and powerful ways. Their political will suddenly matters.
Modern culture seems so steeped in the market mentality that any effort to restore the commons to our lives is seen, by definition, as a brash and controversial move. But if you take a closer look, that’s not necessarily so. The commons endures in a number of forms we take for granted today.
Walk into a restaurant, and the waiter will usually bring you a glass of water right away. This act acknowledges water as a life-giving resource that we all share in common. Simple decency demands that everyone is offered a drink to slake his or her thirst.
Most Americans recently received a water quality report from their local utility, detailing what’s in the tap water they drink. This is a required by the Safe Drinking Water Act so that citizens know about potential dangers in their water supply.
Creative Commons license by Debcil, NC, from Flickr
Brad (lt) and Vernon (rt) present the WeJay at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco.
David Rovics hates the word “protest singer,” probably because it conjures up so many clichés about the Sixties, music and political change. And in truth, he and his music are about much more than politics. I’d say he speaks more about the human condition in these times….. which, for any sentient being in the Bush era, necessarily involves politics.
On an unseasonably warm and sunny winter morning—the kind that lulls you into thinking global climate change can’t be so bad—a group of environmentalists and sustainable agriculture advocates gather over muffins and coffee on a California ranch to discuss a bold initiative to reverse the greenhouse effect. It’s a diverse group—longtime ranchers, a forestry professor from Berkeley, organic food activists, a Vermont dairy farmer, the author of a famous children’s book—united in their belief that current proposals to address the climate crisis don’t go far enough.
A van named Self-Defense cruises up and down Calibeshie’s one street in the early morning light. Four passes as the village gradually wakens, nets only six passengers. Calibeshie is strung out along the highway taking up almost half a mile of the Northeastern coastline of the Caribbean island of Dominica. The houses are ramshackle, once mostly tin and now tending towards the concrete. Every second house doubles as some kind of commercial establishment either a “snackett” where you can grab an early morning “bake” or a shop selling some kind of “provisions”.
For those of us who don’t venture into the laboratories of science, it’s difficult to appreciate how fragmented, proprietary and inefficient drug and disease research truly is. At a time when the Internet is making it easier than ever to share and collaborate, some of the most well-funded, high-tech scientific projects today still operate in their own isolated silos. They are effectively cut off from vast quantities of potentially useful research, scientific literature, emerging ideas and potential collaborators.
Dr. James E. Hansen might be described as Paul Revere in a labcoat.
In 1988 the physicist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies first sounded the warning that global climate change was coming—soon. Speaking before Congress, he testified that global climate change was not a potential problem for the distant future. It was happening all around us.
He spoke to Congress again this week, 20 years to the day of his famous testimony, and took the opportunity to discuss what can be done to curtail climate change.
The water commons as a concept is easy to understand. And in a time when our planet is threatened by global warming, the importance of the idea is all-too-obvious.
Put simply, the water commons means that water is no one’s property; it rightfully belongs to all of humanity and to the earth itself. It is our duty to protect the quality and availability of water for everyone around the planet. This ethic should be the foundation of all decisions made about use of this life-giving resource. Water is not a commodity to be sold or squandered or hoarded.
The question on everyone’s minds here in the Upper Midwest is: What’s causing these floods? In 1993, Des Moines and many Mississippi River towns were devastated. Then in 1997, Grand Forks, North Dakota, was nearly wiped off the map as the Red River rose to record highs. Last year, huge floods struck southern Minnesota in the midst of what had been a serious drought. And now, a number of cities in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri have been submerged.
The familiar storyline of science fiction is the evil dystopia – the totalitarian society of the future in which large, faceless government agencies and corporations use sophisticated technologies to pry into every corner of our lives. The goal is to neutralize dissent and shield the exercise of power from accountability. However necessary at times, surveillance is a crude display of power, a unilateral override of the “consent of the governed.”
The point of patents for drugs is to give pharmaceutical companies a chance to recover their significant research costs, and turn a profit, before a drug enters the equivalent of the public domain. At that point, under a 1984 law that authorizes generic drug-making, any company who satisfies basic safety standards can also manufacture and sell the drug – usually at significant savings to consumers.
The biggest international gathering of people devoted to free culture will convene in Sapporo, Japan for a four-day confab, from July 29-August 1. Hosted by iCommons, the spinoff organization created by Creative Commons, the event will feature ten keynote addresses by leading figures in the commons world (including OTC’s own David Bollier).
That great, reliable engine of daily news, the Associated Press, has just given us a case study on the dangers of treating copyrighted works as “property.” The AP apparently regards its news articles as its exclusive property, and treats even partial use of them as theft.
The destruction of a commons is sometimes felt as a dramatic loss— a “no trespassing” sign posted at a popular gathering spot or the corporate takeover of an important public asset. This loss often inspires opposition, which can reverse the decision or at least raise awareness about the issue.
The New York Times Book Review’s front-page review of Elizabeth Royte’s Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It (Bloomsbury) is full of striking nuggets of information from what people are now calling “the water wars.”
• The CEO of Quaker Oats, which markets Propel Fitness Water and Gatorade, once declared, “the biggest enemy is tap water.”
• The National Coalition of American Nuns opposes bottled water on the moral grounds that life’s essential resources should not be privatized.