Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 13: Studying the Global Commons: Governance without Politics?
John Vogler The global commons are conventionally defined as areas and resources that do not fall within the sovereign jurisdiction of states. This would include the oceans, the seabed beneath and the airspace above as well as Antarctica, outer space, the radio spectrum (possibly cyberspace) and, latterly, the global atmosphere itself. They form a tightly coupled complex – consider, for example, the many interconnections between Antarctic science, changes in levels of atmospheric carbon and its consequences, and access to outer space orbits used for earth observation. Global commons have a significant place in the study of international politics. For military analysts the problem is defined in terms of access to spaces essential for commerce and the projection of national power.1 “Global commons” can serve as a significant rhetorical device – comprising demands for shared ownership and responsibility in the face of exclusion and privatization. For students of international environmental politics the concept provides a powerful way of framing problems as diverse as the degradation of wilderness, the looting of maritime resources, or the loss of stratospheric ozone. The key element is once again access, but in this instance the consequences of unregulated access to scarce or degradable resources, including the idea that the commons provide a free sink for pollution. Although the idea of the commons is very old, it has become inseparable from Hardin’s well-known metaphor of tragedy.2 At the global level many problems, including those of atmospheric pollution and climate change, have been represented as commons tragedies where desecration and...
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