On the Commons

The Tomales Bay Institute, organized a few years ago to promote and reinvigorate the theory and culture of the commons, seems like it’s picking up some traction. There’s a lot of activity on the site, and we can recommend two postings in particular as starting points:

* In Whose Atmosphere Is It, Peter Barnes (father of the Sky Trust) argues that the authors of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, in which seven northeastern states have banded together to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, are making a key strategic error — “a huge giveaway of a common asset, the atmosphere, to a few private companies.” “It’s the equivalent of giving the airways away for free, or selling timber from National Forests at below-market prices.” Good realists would no doubt argue that the “grandafthering” of 75 percent of the emission permits created by the RGGI to existing polluters is a political necessity, but Barnes claims (and we tend to agree) that “it will set a dangerous precedent for other regional plans, as well as for the nationwide plan we must eventually adopt.” This is a crucial debate, and its outcome will have consequences, as Vermont has realized. A state committee recently voted to recommend that 100 percent of the revenue from state RGGI carbon permits be reserved for consumers. For more from Barnes, see his blog here.

* In Slavery and the Takings Clause, Jonathan Rowe (Exec Director of the Tomales Bay Institute) draws our attention to an irony of history that few of us ever knew, one that involves the “takings clause” of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This, of course, is a clause that many US enviros have encountered under less than favorable circumstances, for it is beloved by property-rights fundamentalists (who “contend that this clause applies not just to actual takings — by eminent domain for example — but to regulation of any kind that inconveniences and owner financially”). The twist is, as Rowe learns this from Cassandra Pybus’s Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty, is that it originated, in no small part, in the outrage of American colonial slaveholders “over the way that the British, during the Revolution, provided sanctuary for escaped slaves, and then paid no compensation afterwards.”

Makes you think!