Elinor Ostrom and Global WarmingUnited Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 24, 2010
The Economic Daily News is part of the United Daily News Group. Its "2010 Masters Forum" opened today. Its guest of honor was Elinor Ostrom, last year's Nobel Laureate in Economics, a professor at Indiana University and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. Climate change is a difficult problem. According to Ostrom, modern man's selfishness and greed have reached extremes. Modern man must reclaim his lost integrity, his sense of altruism and other moral and ethical ideals. He must address the pressing issue of global warming from the level of the individual. Modern man must cherish the shared environment and resources. Only then he talk of sustainable development.
In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, Ostrom said that we must all work together for our communities, large, medium, or small, and for the sustainable development of the globe as a whole. In particular, she championed the concept of community. Tribes, nations, and the world as a whole may be different in scale. But their members are all mutually interdependent. Only by understanding our mutual interdependence can we design a system for "us." Only then can we abandon struggles for advantage, share resources, and enjoy sustainable development.
Ostrom is powerfully committed to "common pool resources." She hopes to prove that the outlook for mankind is not as pessimistic as suggested by Professor Garrett Hardin in his 1968 publication, "The Tragedy of the Commons." The two professors have arrived at very different conclusions. Hardin believes that human greed and selfishness will inevitably lead to environmental tragedy. The traditional solution to this problem is external intervention, either forceful government management or privatization. Only these can prevent tragedy. Ostrom on the other hand, firmly believes in people's "capacity for self-governance." She also believes that public affairs should not always be turned over to the government to handle. That is why she designed a system of "collective action." Public affairs require public participation and public concern. Only through collective study and cooperation can one ensure management efficiency. This is particularly true for the management of natural resources, and is no different for the management of global resources as a whole. They require the participation of everyone on earth. Backroom deals by politicians simply will not do.
Ostrom stressed the concept of "community." When managing common pool resources one must not overlook the power of cultural constraints. Social trust and social consensus is a prerequisite for successful public policy. Common pool resources need not end in disaster or tragedy. Whatever size or scope, as long as members of a community recognize their mutual interdependence, we can begin with the individual and avoid disaster to our common pool resources.
The theme of this year's Masters Forum was "Climate Change and Global Governance." Ostrom proposed new solutions and new ways of thinking about the depletion of earth's natural resources, global warming, and wild fluctuations between droughts and floods. One need not wait for the leaders of each nation to issue binding action plans. One can begin now, starting with the individual. Each individual's experience can become teaching material for members of the "community." Honesty and ethics can replace selfishness and self interest, Only then can one solve these problems.
Ostrom notes that the management of common pool resources faces a major obstacle -- internationally binding agreements. The first of these was the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to curb global warming and control carbon emissions. Its ratification allowed each nation to continue polluting until the protocol took effect in February 2005. Disputes over national interests delayed progress in global carbon reduction. The Copenhagen summit late last year was even worse. It was supposed to establish legally binding carbon reduction standards for the post-Kyoto era, beginning in 2012. Who knew a huge summit with 13,000 attendees would achieve absolutely nothing.
This year, early in April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel convened a small-scale climate summit. She hoped to address the problems overlooked during the Copenhagen summit. To her surprise, her own summit was utterly ineffectual, It even foreshadowed the debacle of the 16th UNFCCC in Cancun, Mexico. The chaos did not end here. US President Barack Obama promised the international community he would pass a Climate Change Bill promoting domestic carbon reduction. This did not even clear Congress. Since the 1992 Earth Summit, global efforts to reduce carbon emissions have all come to naught.
All this confirms Ostrom's conviction that common pool resources can no longer be managed in a traditional top-down manner. Instead of listening as world leaders yammer on, it is better to step forward and take action. Ostrom's convictions are the result of extensive field experience accumulated during her 40 year long academic career. Her experience with fishing grounds, pastures, forests, groundwater, even management studies of police systems, in both developing and developed countries, has confirmed that people have a strong "capacity for self-governance." The ability to participate in public affairs is the key to avoiding disaster in common pool resources.
Ostrom's visit to Taiwan coincides with drama-filled local controversies over the management of common pool resources. Should the mudflats at the mouth of the Cho Shui Creek be devoted to Chinese white dolphins, or the petrochemical industry? Can we strike a balance between agricultural revitalization and industrial development? Taiwan is a major contributor to carbon emissions, both total and per capita. The establishment of a system for the declaration and verification of greenhouse gas reduction is pending within the Legislative Yuan. The government once led environmental protection. Now the public is becoming increasingly involved.
Public controversy indicates demand for change. We look forward to greater public action in response to global climate change. We look forward to changes in the governance of public affairs on Taiwan. We look forward to the impact of new thinking by Professor Ostrom.
2010.08.24 01:51 am