Thought, Law, Rights and Action in the Age of Environmental Crisis

Thought, Law, Rights and Action in the Age of Environmental Crisis

Edited by Anna Grear and Evadne Grant

In the climate-pressed Anthropocene epoch, nothing could be more urgent than fresh engagements with the fractious relationships between ‘humanity’, law and the living order. This collection draws together theoretical reflections, doctrinal analyses and insights drawn from rights-based praxis to offer thoughtful – and at times provocative – engagements with the limitations of law at it faces the complexities of contemporary socio-ecological life-worlds in an age of climate crisis.

Chapter 9: Reimagining ecological governance through human rights and a rediscovery of the Commons

David Bollier and Burns H. Weston

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights


One of the most distressing realities of our time is the failure of governance institutions to confront well-documented ecological and social problems with vigour, honesty, and imagination. A kind of political and institutional paralysis is precluding the growth of promising alternatives. In this chapter, we argue that the Commons paradigm, especially when guided by human rights law and policy, can help us imagine and implement a new vision of provisioning and democratic governance. We do not propose an abrupt, revolutionary change, but one that can feasibly evolve within the fragile, deteriorating edifice of existing institutions. The Commons as a discourse and set of ethical social practices offers many attractive features in navigating a transformation in ecological governance. It offers a coherent economic and political critique of existing State/Market institutions, and its history embraces many venerable legal principles that help us both to imagine new forms of law and to develop proactive strategies for effecting change. Perhaps most importantly, the Commons is supported by an actual transnational movement of commoners who are co-creating innovative new provisioning and governance systems that work. It is important to understand that the Commons is not an ideological agenda or an impractical, utopian vision. It is a useful new/old framework and vocabulary for building a new societal vision and for imagining constructive alternatives to the neoliberal economics and policies that now enclose (commodify and privatise) shared resources at virtually every opportunity, dispossessing communities and degrading our natural environment and public order.

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