The Commons

Explore our archive of articles on The Commons.

Commoners Converge on Berlin

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What might the world look like if governments and public policy actively helped people create and maintain their own commons? A major international conference hopes to find some preliminary answers at an historic gathering in Berlin, Germany, from October 31 to November 2, 2010.

Commons Action for the United Nations-FW10

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The commons is the main focus of a group of collaborators from around the world called Commons Action for the United Nations. We are bringing awareness of our shared ecological and social resources— our commons—to UN policy and programs. Our goal is to highlight the necessity of commoning processes, where people at local levels claim sovereignty over the resources they depend on for their livelihoods and quality of life.

Knowledge Commons for the Global Commons

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Dr. Terri Homan: “Six months ago I had never heard of the commons. Perhaps the starting point for a world movement is spreading awareness, so there are more banner-carriers to work toward the change in consciousness that is required. Unless a critical mass of world citizens demand change, it is too easy for the rest to look away." Terri is a physician in the Chicago area, one of 49 people from four continents who enrolled in Common Course: An Introduction to the Global Commons. The four-week program consisted of readings, on-line discussions and weekly conference calls. On one occasion economist James Quilligan joined as a guest speaker.

The Rise of the Commons

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We, the people of the world, own most of this planet in common. Our future depends on learning to use and develop this commons for the good of the total, and not just for the few. Here in the Far North we built a new state based on that concept. It’s the only place like it. The Alaskan people, through our state government, won ownership of much of our land and our natural resources. Using neither classic capitalism nor socialism, we have developed a new way to prosperity, based on common ownership and rooted in constitutional democracy.

Maine Activists Protect the Commons

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Communities in Maine have been engaging in a struggle to protect their groundwater resources from the multinational corporation Nestlé Waters N.A., the largest food and beverage company in the world. Nestlé, which is in the business of mining water to fill plastic bottles for their labels such as Poland Springs, seeks to expand its business by increasing the number of wellheads throughout the state. It is pumping millions more gallons of spring water from aquifers each day.

Reclaim the Commons Manifesto

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Humankind is suffering from an unprecedented campaign of privatization and commodification of the most basic elements of life: nature, culture, human work and knowledge itself. In countless arenas, businesses are claiming our shared inheritance— sciences, creative works, water, the atmosphere, health, education, genetic diversity, even living creatures—as private property. A compulsive quest for short-term financial gain is sacrificing the prosperity of all and the stability of the Earth itself.

Commons Action for the United Nations

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All of us share sources of wealth that are beyond market goods and monetary prices but critical to our survival and quality of life.The global commons consists of these shared resources, as well as the committed people who work for the common good and serve as stewards of our collective resources. Neither today’s problems nor their solutions exist without people. Appreciating the valueof a commons is as old as humanity itself, yet as forward-looking as our most advanced technology.

What, Really, Is the Commons?

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The term may be unfamiliar, but the idea has been around for centuries. The commons is a new use of an old word, meaning “what we share”—and it offers fresh hope for a saner, safer, more enjoyable future. The commons refers to a wealth of valuable assets that belong to everyone. These range from clean air to wildlife preserves; from the judicial system to the Internet. Some are bestowed to us by nature; others are the product of cooperative human creativity. Certain elements of the commons are entirely new—think of Wikipedia. Others are centuries old—like colorful words and phrases from all the world’s languages. Anyone can use the commons, so long as there is enough left for everyone else. This is why finite commons, such as natural resources, must be sustainably and equitably managed.

The Spirit of the Commons

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Long ago, the ‘commons’ simply meant the place we villagers shared and the resources of which we all partook. Here we pastured our small flocks, gathered herbs and mushrooms, and hunted game. And we were protected by an unspoken and unwritten understanding. No individual or group could draw down the resources of the commons to the detriment of the community. It was a simple but binding covenant.

Commons for Peace

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Although the term ‘human security’ has various meanings, two have predominated. Following the Cold War, several major studies—including the UN Secretary-General’s 1992 report, Agenda for Peace; the 1994 World Development Report of the UN Development Program; and the 2003 report, Human Security Now, by the UN Commission on Human Security—proposed peaceful alternatives to military security.