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Summer 2020

Commoning Our Way through the Climate Crisis by Lucy Stone & Gustavo Montes de Oca Illustration by Sophia Checkley the pandemic has forced a retreat into our homes in the grand finale of our atomisation and separation from nature, which started with the enclosures. Physically distanced, with the fragility of the economic system exposed, we have remembered our interdependence. Many of us have rediscovered ways of self-organising and the culture of commoning that has been overlooked as a vital way to address climate change.

Across the country collective responses to the crisis have flourished at local levels, particularly where there were existing networks of support and democratic enterprise. Community energy organisations sent thousands of pounds to support neighbourhood responders before governments had figured out how to reach people. New groups sprung up without waiting for direction, policy, or funding. They started from what they had around them. Old bedsheets became face coverings, pubs became food distribution hubs, gossips became vital network weavers helping pool resources and identify needs. These organisations were porous with the populations they served; elderly residents volunteering on the phone lines also made use of the services.

Flexing this collective but atrophied muscle has felt like a very new way of working. John Vervaeke describes how it is this that once saved humanity before. A near-cataclysmic moment in the Upper Paleolithic period gave birth to modern humans. This was an environmental degradation of such a scale that humanity was reduced to scraping survival in huddled pockets. Our re-emergence from that period was enabled by a flourishing of new social practices of collaboration: trading rituals of trust with strangers, initiation rituals of loyalty to the group. It took a near-extinction level event for humanity to upgrade in the Paleolithic. Our response to covid-19 could see us adapt to meet the challenge of climate change without the cataclysm.

Commoning as collective action on the collective crisis of climate As lockdown is lifted, the analysis of failures gives way to the focus on rebuilding our society and finding a way to deal with the climate crisis. We supposedly must decide between a dependence on massive centralised state intervention, such as the Green New Deal, or the runaway techno-utopian beliefs of the private sector. But, if we know where to look, we can see that a new world is already emerging and it is not led by market or state, or by Left or Right political traditions. It is fractal, messy, adaptive, and exciting – it is ‘commoning’. As the Nobel prize winning scholar of the commons, Elinor Ostrom said, commoning rejects the blueprint model or ‘test and scale-up’, and instead enables empowering, self-organised approaches designed within the specifics of the local context. While the old fossil assets are retired, we need to common the green assets to ensure the transition is just and demanded by, not foisted on, people.

“Historically the commons referred not just to the physical land but to the people who inhabited and used it. The word meant ‘together-as-one’, and bound together by obligation.” ­—Heather Menzies, Reclaiming the   Commons for the Common Good

Commoning is the process of creating or bringing resources into collective ownership and management. It is also the social practices, the rituals, rules, and labours of people working together as one to manage them. The Enclosures in Britain, where common land was fenced off into private ownership, had been happening informally for many centuries but was applied with legal force with the Scottish Clearances and an Act of Parliament in the 18th Century.

Lucy Stone leads Our Common Climate, a collective that amplifies, nurtures and advocates for commoning solutions to climate change. Lucy has set up climate initiatives at global, national, and local levels.


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