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Gaia, Our New Common: Some Preliminary Questions on Earth System Science and Common-Pool Resources Theory in the Study of Global Human/ Environment Relationships

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Bravo, Giangiacomo
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Global Transition: Challenges, Risks and Opportunities, the Tenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Conf. Date: August 9-13
Date: 2004
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1975
Sector: Global Commons
Subject(s): IASC
global warming
climate change
tragedy of the commons
global commons
common pool resources--theory
Abstract: From pages 2-3: "There are no scientific doubts that anthropic activities - first of all the burning of fossil fuels - represent a key cause behind this impressive, global scale process. Though more uncertainty regards the consequences that the related increase of average temperature will have on human and other living beings, still a reasonable worry is growing (IPCC, 2001). Ecologists and natural scientists often wonder why 'irrational' human beings seriously risk to undermine their own future by undertaking activities that are clearly unsustainable at the global level. However, the answer is easy for most social scientists: that is just a large scale version of a collective action problem. Its most famous representation is probably Garrett Hardin's 'Tragedy of the commons' model, which leads to the prediction of common resource destruction (Hardin 1968). While Hardin's scheme appeared too pessimistic and has been contradicted by empirical evidence at the local level (Ostrom 1990), it unfortunately looks more fitting with many recent findings on a global scale, including climate change problems. This leads to a wide set of intriguing issues both from the social and the natural science point of view. They embrace topics like the following: the question of why only after the industrial revolution, after millennia of active interventions on ecological systems, human beings have altered global long lasting equilibria; the conceptual problem of the differences between local and global resources, including the issue of the application to the global level of common-pool resources (CPRs) theory findings at the local one; and the question of global externalities of action, which are not limited to anthropic activities but linked globally all beings living on Earth. "The present paper - which is a preliminary output of a long process of interdisciplinary work among physicists, natural and social scientists - tries to address some of the above questions. Its main argument is that the anthropocentric and institutional view of CPRs theory, although appropriate for the analysis of local resources, suffers from significant shortcomings when applied to global commons. Without discussing the foundations of CPR theory, we suggest the introduction of some basic elements of Gaia theory - which considers Earth (Gaia) as a complex self- regulating system producing a number of emerging properties like, for instance, climate and atmospheric chemistry regulation - alongside with the 'traditional' institutional analysis tools of CPR research, as a way to reach a better understanding of issues regarding global commons. While we recognize that CPR theory offers fundamental insights in a context where neither external authority management nor privatization of the resource is possible, following James Lovelock (1988, xvii) we also note that 'Gaia theory forces a planetary perspective' and represents a major drive for the abandoning of purely anthropocentric paradigms and for the development of new analytic and conceptual tools able to cope with topics like large-scale resources, global changes and a world of overwhelming complexity."

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