There are different ways of thinking about commons. We can think of the ideas of Garrett Hardin (1968) wherein commons are in a constant tragedy because of the greediness of humans. Humans only think about themselves and will therefore not act in a way that is best for the community (ibid.). An example of this could be overfishing, too much woodcutting or air pollution (ibid.). Or we can sympathize more with the words of Elinor Ostrom et al. (1999). She argues that humans can and will act in the good of the community regarding commons (ibid.). Here humans are capable of self-managing commons and can act in a matter that would benefit them all (ibid.).
However, my idea of a common is simply: something we all share. This could be the air, the rivers, the forests or just the complete earth. I believe that we as humans have a responsibility to care for these commons and especially protect them from our species. I do not think that it is a case of ‘if’ we should manage our commons, but more of a ‘how’ should we manage it.
This managing of commons was also the topic of our symposium on January the 4th. Here my peers and I looked at different perspectives regarding commons. We were analyzing our relation to commons and different ways to connect ourselves to the world around us. We had 3 groups focusing on different aspects of commons, the spirit group, the grassroots group, and the policy group.
My group focused on the policy aspect of commons. We were mainly interested in how governmental policies could help managing commons. Therefore you could say that we where more in line with Hardin’s (1968) ideas regarding commons. We believe that a governmental structure and policy could help encourage citizens to think more, invest more and improve their surrounding commons.
This idea started with a news article describing a new European Union policy (SkyNews 2020). With this policy, they want to encourage farmers to be more responsible (ibid.). The policy entails that farmers will get more subsidies if they implement environmental practices (ibid.). This could be anything from more biological farmed vegetables to bettering the lives of farming animals (ibid.). After reading this article we believed that a policy like this could be a great incentive for taking care of our commons. The policy can better the diversity, the air, the water, and even the ground. Therefore bettering the commons for all local people. The changes of the farmers might even affect the bigger ecosystems, nature, and climate. So we strongly believed that this could be a way towards fighting climate change and living more sustainably.
However while listening to the other groups and discussing our viewpoints, I realized that we were missing a crucial thing, education. The other groups rightfully mentioned that education is a vital part of changing our lives for the better. Because if we do not know what we need to do and what is happening, how can we then ever achieve our goals? So education is a key component towards not only creating awareness but eventually towards creating sustainable societies and saving our world.
Education was a component found in every single one of the presentations. The grassroots group was talking about educational grassroots organizations to create more awareness for nature for children. While the spirit group also highlighted the importance of awareness and education. Even our group mentioned education and awareness for farmers as an important point in the policy. So is education the magical bullet needed to finally change our ways into a more sustainable one?
I say yes, however, there is another important component that we should intertwine with education to have a good effect. This component is environmental ethics, a topic that we also discussed during our classes. Environmental ethics is the idea that we expand our moral and ethical questions to not just include humans, but also the natural world (Palmer et al. 2014). Herby, we make sure to keep in consideration all things on this earth, when making decisions (ibid.). For example, if we want to start a business we make sure that we do not harm humans, but also not animals, nature and other commons. This idea is very much linked with our idea of protecting our commons. With every decision we make we have to analyze who or what we hurt with it. We have to make sure our choices are sustainable. This is an important factor in achieving a sustainable world. But for humans to be able to make the conscious choice they will need to have the knowledge to make sustainable choices. If you do not know that your actions hurt the environment or you do not know of any alternatives then you can not change your actions. This will make you stuck in an unsustainable cycle. Therefore we first need education and then we need to gain skills to apply these things we learned into an environmentally ethical way.
I think that is what this course has done for me. I already had some knowledge about sustainability and climate change from my mayor at Leiden University. However, I sometimes missed the link with environmental ethics. Cause it is not enough to just know things, you also need to know how to apply them. This course showed me this with plenty of examples. With examples in class with guest lecturers and experts. But the most impactful ones were the ones where we could experience these ethical choices being made. The Kamakura field trip showed us how to make a sustainable and green restaurant, inspiring many others. While the Takahata field trip put us directly into contact with a community working hard to protect their common. They both showed us how you can make an environmentally ethical choice with the resources around them. They did not just change their own lives and those of their community they also changed the lives of the students visiting them during a field trip. They inspired me and showed me another way of living. This is the kind of education and environmental ethics that eventually will be the magic bullet for change.
Written by: Demi Brugel
Student ID: 1H195G27-6
Date: 3 February 2020
Hardin, G. (1968) “Tragedy of the Commons” Science. 162(3859), pp 1243-1248.
Ostrom, E.; Burger, J.; Field, C. B.; Norgaard, R. B.; Policansky, D. (1999). “Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges” Science. 284 (5412), pp 278–282.
Palmer, C., McShane, K. & Sandler, R. (2014) “Environmental Ethics” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 39 (1), pp 419-442.
SkyNews (2020) “Farmers to be Paid to Protect the Environment and Improve Animal Welfare” retrieved from https://news.sky.com/story/farmers-to-be-paid-to-protect-the-environment-and-improve-animal-welfare-11909574.