When J. Stephen Cleghorn realized that Paradise Gardens and Farm, his certified-organic farm in Pennsylvania that sits above the Marcellus Shale formation, was at risk of being “fracked” for shale gas extraction, he knew he had to act. But he did more than just act against fracking when he became the first private property owner in the United States to use a deed easement recognizing the Rights of Nature to ban all activities that would do systemic harm to the ecosystem both above and deep below the surface of his farm.
With Connecticut following Pennsylvania’s century-long lead by enacting legislation this year that applies the work of the Gilded Age economist and reformer Henry George, it is timely to look back at similar efforts in the U.S. of his Progressive Era followers, known then as Single Taxers.
“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” —American essayist E.B.White.
The fate of the commons appears dire today. The environment is under full-scale assault. Public services are being slashed. Community bonds are fraying. Campaigns to privatize what belongs to all of us are on the march.
What can we do to protect all we share?
In 2009, when Congress passed the health care bill, only one Republican voted in favor. In 2010, with opposition to the new health care law as their rallying cry, Republicans gained a net 63 seats and control of the House of Representatives. They also won control of 11 additional states, bringing their total to 25.
On October 1st, the first day of the new federal fiscal year and the launch of the new health care exchanges, the victors of 2009 collided with the victors of 2010. The entire nation felt the impact.
As controversy over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has captured most of America’s attention, Minnesotans have been dealing with a different pipeline carrying tar sands bitumen to the United States. On July 17, 2013, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted Enbridge, L.P. a 120,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) capacity increase to line 67, the “Alberta Clipper”, “from 450,000 bpd to 570,000 bpd”:http://www.startribune.com/business/215881221.html.
Americans’ #1 favorite physical activity is walking, reports the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Walking also plays a fundamental role in our transportation system, with 11 percent of all trips made on foot, according to the US Department of Transportation. Neighborhoods that rank high for walkability (where walking is safe and convenient) enjoy a greater sense of community and higher property values according to recent studies.
Since our founding twelve years ago, On the Commons (OTC) has played a lead role in advancing discussion and exploration of on-the-ground models for regenerating public life and the public sphere. One of our focuses has been the concept of shared-powered principles and structures—especially between municipal bureaucracies and communities—to fully tap the potential and creativity of the whole community.
Social customs are a force modern society underestimates when trying to influence desirable behavior in people. Even in troubled economic times when people vote down tax increases for essential public services, the vast majority of us voluntarily add 10-20 percent of the cost of a restaurant bill as a tip. There’s no law requiring this, no one will chase down the street after you shouting “thief, thief” if you don’t. But people tip anyway because it’s a time-honored custom. You feel guilty, like some kind of Ebenezer Scrooge, when you don’t.
With a palpable enthusiasm for collaboration, David Mahfouda is plotting a new future for taxi transportation in New York City—one that’s more cost-effective, more efficient, and more sociable. Bandwagon, Mahfouda’s new ride-share service that launched at LaGuardia Airport in July, fills underutilized capacity in taxis by matching passengers who have complementary destinations and getting them into the same cab.
The notorious “tragedy of the commons,” in which shared ownership inevitably tempts individuals to over-utilize resources to the point of destroying them, has been a stock argument for the superiority of private property and market exchange over property held in common. Green Governance by Burns H. Weston and David Bollier boldly argues that, on the contrary, the ancient institution of the commons may help us counteract the “tragedy of the market” – the ways in which unbridled pursuit of private accumulation is abusing human rights and destroying our environment.
Agricultural land trust: A legal mechanism that enables private or cooperative organizations to conserve and manage farmland, acknowledging that while the land may be privately held, it is nonetheless a commons upon which future generations depend.
Cooperative: A commons-based business structure in which employees or customers own an enterprise and share in all decision making.
For more than twenty-five years Alexa Bradley has dedicated herself to advancing social movements through community action as an organizer, facilitator, and popular educator. She has been a consultant to many social change organizations, a senior partner at Grassroots Policy Project, a co-director of the Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action, and a Bush Leadership Fellow.
A month before the 1932 election, Franklin Roosevelt traveled to Portland, Oregon to deliver a speech about government and governance. Some 80 years later, his talk, given in the depths of the Depression to a nation that had yet to accept government as a key player, remains one of the clearest and most accessible explications of the relationship between the public and the private.
FDR specifically addressed the relationship of government to electric utilities but one could easily translate the theory and principles he proposes to today’s banks, or cable companies or airlines.
After 40 years of what felt like progress in protecting our environment, the ecological crisis now seems to be worsening. Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, is heating up. The massive exploitation of the tar sands in Canada might be the tipping point, from which we can never return. Fracking for natural gas and oil threatens underground water supplies. The oceans are being massively overfished. Species extinction is accelerating.
The global commons faces massive threats no one could have dreamed on the first Earth Day back in 1970. What are we to do?
Since starting the Great Lakes Commons Map, (GLCM) I’ve had many conversations with people about what a commons is and what a water commons is.
The Commons Map is a collaborative map, a crowdsourced project connecting those who care about the lakes and articulating what a Great Lakes Commons would be like. People can use text, photos, and videos to share their data, story, and curiosity, and it’s all grounded by place—by where it nests in the bioregion.
Life began in a bountiful “commons”, or so the Bible tells us.
In Eden, animals, vegetation, water, soil, humans were all part of the web of life. They all took from, gave to and were part of the riches of the earth. Each occupied its niche, regarding, engaging and complementing the other. The earth was a whole. Having been fashioned by a force beyond them all, it could not by right be claimed by any less than all.
In his posthumous book, Our Common Wealth: The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work, Jonathan Rowe writes:
To get to San Francisco from where I live, I usually drive through the hamlet of Nicasio. It’s just a scattering of wooden structures around a community baseball field. The hills beyond are mainly ranches, not much changed from a century ago.
Two years ago I was among more than a thousand people who committed civil disobedience at the White House to oppose the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. Since then many more have been arrested around the country, often blocking the actual pathway along which the Keystone XL is being constructed. Nearly 70,000 people have vowed to risk arrest if the State Department recommends that the president approve the pipeline.
Juliet Patterson is a Minneapolis-based poet, teacher, and community activist who serves as an advisor to Commons Magazine’s new poetry series, UNCOMMON/WORD. (Learn about our Arts and Culture department, how to submit to UNCOMMON/WORD, and more here.)
Every civilization needs art—statues and paintings, myths and stories, music and dance, which should be available to everyone. But artists and cultural workers need to eat, and if they share their work freely or cheaply, how will they make a living?
In many countries, national governments proudly support the arts. But in the U.S., public funding has never been strong, and declined a lot over recent years. Here are some commons-based methods for supporting the artists we depend upon, which ideally would augment more generous public funding.