for meaningful change, this risks instilling learned helplessness. These campaigns tap into the desire for agency, only to strip it. Commoning, on the other hand, builds agency as it creates a mandate. Commoning signals commitment to desired solutions: it comes at a cost (which it more than rewards). The result, even in the absence of national policy change, is a new relationship of participation in a shared asset. Such is the impact of participation, that commoning generates more commoning and this could build political mandate, and expertise in the relationships of commoning.
As we watch a new era of nationalism that can't even coordinate in the face of a present and immediate danger, strong global governance on climate change seems a distant hope, one we cannot give up on but also not solely rely on. On the other hand, local responses have proven effective at buying time for lumbering governments and multinationals to adapt. The next act should be not to help legacy institutions to continue, but to help the people and ecosystems enclosed within them to bring forth new, common ones. Hospice the old economy, common the new one The transition to a low carbon economy necessitates ‘hospicing’ fossil fuel assets (managing the impacts of their closure and keeping much of it in the ground), while also creating new assets (in renewable energy and heating, forests, regenerative agriculture for our food and water). The mainstay of climate policy and campaigns focus on shifting the carbon load rather than focusing on who owns, controls, and benefits from these assets. Refocusing on commoning these new assets, we have the potential to accelerate the transition, as the broader benefits will encourage more people to be receptive. This is not pie in the sky. Nearly half of Germany’s renewable energy is citizen owned.
Commoning renewable energy assets ensures the social and financial benefits accrue locally to people, creating virtuous circles of resilience. Commoning, though, does not deny national governments a role. Government has the critical enabling or disabling role, but it is in service to the local commons management rather than the current narrative which assumes ‘community’ only steps in to fill the absence of public delivery.
Applying a commons approach to addressing climate puts the focus on enabling the emerging new economy. In a forthcoming report with IPPR for Local Trust we map the ways this new economy is already happening. Communitymanaged indigenous forests are already proven to sequester more carbon than governmentmanaged forests. Community-owned wind turbines gather the kind of local support through the planning process that is difficult for commercial companies. Community Land Trusts are building Passiv housing and platform co-operatives are being set up to manage community car clubs.
Policy and funding should prioritise these common ownership models because of the multiple social and economic benefits alongside the climate outcomes. Many European cities are experimenting with urban commoning – where the government is in service to a collaborative social ecosystem designed, run, and owned by the citizens.
Climate citizen assemblies which have proliferated as a way to open up the decision making to a process of deliberation amongst ‘common people’ could be seen to be fostering a commons culture. Ostrom described the importance of mechanisms for citizen dialogue and conflict resolution as a critical element of commoning.
As we embark upon this great transition that is already taking place, all efforts need to be focused on retiring the dying fossil fuel assets, what Vinay Gupta calls the ‘heroin of the economy’, while commoning the renewable and healthier assets being created in their stead. This will be the surest way to ensure a fair and just transition, one that addresses the deep rooted inequality from a fossil fuel system built on colonial exploitation not just of the planet but its people. First, as David Bollier says, we have to identify as commoners.