The history of the commons—jointly owned land or other resources such as fisheries or forests set aside for public use—provides a useful context for current debates over sustainability and how we can act as “good ancestors.” In this book, Derek Wall considers the commons from antiquity to the present day, as an idea, an ecological space, an economic abstraction, and a management practice. He argues that the commons should be viewed neither as a “tragedy” of mismanagement (as the biologist Garrett Hardin wrote in 1968) nor as a panacea for solving environmental problems.
Since the 1970s, conservative activists have invoked free markets and distrust of the federal government as part of a concerted effort to roll back environmental regulations. They have promoted a powerful antiregulatory storyline to counter environmentalists’ scenario of a fragile earth in need of protection, mobilized grassroots opposition, and mounted creative legal challenges to environmental laws. But what has been the impact of all this activity on policy?
Energy utilization, especially from fossil fuels, creates hidden costs in the form of pollution and environmental damages. The costs are well documented but are hidden in the sense that they occur outside the market, are not reflected in market prices, and are not taken into account by energy users. Double Dividend presents a novel method for designing environmental taxes that correct market prices so that they reflect the true cost of energy.
China’s carbon dioxide emissions now outstrip those of other countries and its domestic air quality is severely degraded, especially in urban areas. Its sheer size and its growing, fossil-fuel-powered economy mean that China’s economic and environmental policy choices will have an outsized effect on the global environmental future. Over the last decade, China has pursued policies that target both fossil fuel use and atmospheric emissions, but these efforts have been substantially overwhelmed by the country’s increasing energy demands.
In this provocative call for a new ecological politics, William Ophuls starts from a radical premise: “sustainability” is impossible. We are on an industrial Titanic, fueled by rapidly depleting stocks of fossil hydrocarbons. Making the deck chairs from recyclable materials and feeding the boilers with biofuels is futile. In the end, the ship is doomed by the laws of thermodynamics and by the implacable biological and geological limits that are already beginning to pinch.
The “golden era” of American environmental lawmaking in the 1960s and 1970s saw twenty-two pieces of major environmental legislation (including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act) passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress and signed into law by presidents of both parties. But since then partisanship, the dramatic movement of Republicans to the right, and political brinksmanship have led to legislative gridlock on environmental issues.
The future is not what it used to be because we can no longer rely on the comforting assumption that it will resemble the past. Past abundance of fuel, for example, does not imply unending abundance. Infinite growth on a finite planet is not possible.
For as long has humans have lived in communities, storytelling has bound people to each other and to their environments. In recent times, scholars have noted how social networks arise around issues of resource and ecological management.
Attempts by local governments to privatize water services have met with furious opposition. Activists argue that to give private companies control of the water supply is to turn water from a common resource into a marketized commodity. Moreover, to cede local power to a global corporation puts communities at the center of controversies over economic globalization.
We often enjoy the benefits of connecting with nearby, domesticated nature—a city park, a backyard garden. But this book makes the provocative case for the necessity of connecting with wild nature—untamed, unmanaged, not encompassed, self-organizing, and unencumbered and unmediated by technological artifice. We can love the wild. We can fear it. We are strengthened and nurtured by it. As a species, we came of age in a natural world far wilder than today’s, and much of the need for wildness still exists within us, body and mind.