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The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. The resources held in common can include everything from natural resources and common land to software. The commons contains public property and private property, over which people have certain traditional rights. When commonly held property is transformed into private property this process alternatively is termed "enclosure" or more commonly, "privatization."
The term "commons" (German "Allmende") refers to the traditional legal term of common land (short commons). While it might have been owned collectively, by a legal entity, the crown or a single person, the commons were open to different forms of usage, as e.g. grazing of livestock, hunting, lopping of foliage or collecting resines. In general use, commons refer to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth.
A failure (tragedy of the commons) was a widespread metaphor of early economics, which came up in the 18th centuries. Early econonomic writers and scientists supporters the British Agricultural Revolution and Land reform laws and were in favour of unified ownership of the land. They tried to get rid of the traditional usage rights of the commoners and used the tragedy of the commons as a suitable metaphor. They quoted, among others, Aristotle's polemic against the Polis of Platon in the sense of “everybody's property is nobody's property” respectively "the most common good is the least guarded". The conflict around the dissolution of the traditional commons played a watershed role in landscape developement and cooperative land use patterns and property rights. Among others, pamphlets as of William Forster Lloyd 1833 on herders overusing a shared parcel of land on which they are each entitled to let their cows graze became part of the common wisdom in economics. The same concept is sometimes called the "tragedy of the fishers", because fishing too many fish before or during breeding could cause stocks to plummet.
According Joachim Radkau, the alleged failure of the commons in the early economic literature and the status and functionality of the actual commons (or "Allmende") did not correspond at all. While the commons tragedy was used as means for the enclosure movement and the clearances and in general to get rid of collective rights in favor of private property, the actual commons or "Allmende" provided no signs of an uncontrollable failure at all.
As well Elinor Ostrom found the tragedy of the commons not as prevalent or as difficult to solve. She and her coworkers looked at how real-world communities manage communal resources, such as fisheries, land irrigation systems, and farmlands, and they identified a number of factors conducive to successful resource management. One factor is the resource itself; resources with definable boundaries (e.g., land) can be preserved much more easily. A second factor is resource dependence; there must be a perceptible threat of resource depletion, and it must be difficult to find substitutes. The third is the presence of a community; small and stable populations with a thick social network and social norms promoting conservation do better. A final condition is that there be appropriate community-based rules and procedures in place with built-in incentives for responsible use and punishments for overuse. Locals have often come up with solutions to the commons problem themselves; when the commons is taken over by non-locals, those solutions can no longer be used. Robert Axelrod contends that even self-interested individuals will often find ways to cooperate, because collective restraint serves both the collective and individual interests.
Today, the commons are also understood within a cultural sphere. These commons include literature, music, arts, design, film, video, television, radio, information, software and sites of heritage. The crowdsourcing movement and among others Wikipedia are examples of the production and maintenance of common goods by certain communities in the form or videos, music, or encyclopedic knowledge that can be freely accessed by anyone without a central authority. Tragedy in the Wiki-Commons is avoided among others by community control and trading status and attention of individual authors within the Wikipedia community.
Economist Peter Barnes has proposed a 'sky trust' to fix this problem in the genric commons. He claims that the sky belongs to all the people, and companies do not have a right to over pollute. It is a type of cap and dividend program. Ultimately the goal would be to make polluting excessively more expensive than cleaning what is being put back into the atmosphere.
The information commons may protect the community. Companies that pollute the environment release information about what they are doing. The Corporate Toxics Information Project and information like the Toxic 100, a list of the top 100 polluters, helps people know what these corporations are doing to the environment.
Caring for the commons is an act of individual stewardship (long-term care for a given resource for the benefit of oneself and others including the resource itself) and collective trusteeship. It is the very essence of being ‘whole’, the fundamental basis of interdisciplinarity. It is one of the few ways we have to acknowledge our debt to the past generations, and to embody our link to future generation. It shows we believe in ourselves as an enduring civilization, not an economy.
Caring for the commons can stress relationships between otherwise friendly neighbors- especially if they come with unrealistic expressions. Caring for a shared commons requires an equal balance of stepping forward and getting the work done by creating an informal atmosphere that allows everyone to relax and enjoy. So, caring for the commons can not only build relationships but also strain them.
Caring for the commons means more than just regulating. Caretakers are needed, that is, a system nurturing societal cooperation, sharing of goods and thoughtfulness of generations to come. It entails establishing norms that reduce free riding and hold communities together. For our generation seems to be moving beyond viewing commons only as a norm, and taking action to enable and protect them in all spheres of our lives.
Mayo Fuster Morell proposed a definition of digital commons as "as an information and knowledge resources that are collectively created and owned or shared between or among a community and that tend to be non-exclusivedible, that is, be (generally freely) available to third parties. Thus, they are oriented to favor use and reuse, rather than to exchange as a commodity. Additionally, the community of people building them can intervene in the governing of their interaction processes and of their shared resources".
Originally in medieval England the common was an integral part of the manor, and was thus legally part of the estate in land owned by the lord of the manor, but over which certain classes of manorial tenants and others held certain rights. By extension, the term "commons" has come to be applied to other resources which a community has rights or access to. The older texts use the word "common" to denote any such right, but more modern usage is to refer to particular rights of common, and to reserve the name "common" for the land over which the rights are exercised. "Common land" does not mean state-owned or public land, but is owned by private individuals or corporations called partition units. A person who has a right in, or over, common land jointly with another or others is called a commoner.
In middle Europe, commons respectively small-scale agriculture in especially southern Germany, Austria and the alpine countries in general were kept, in some parts till the present. Some studies have compared the German and English dealings with the commons between the late medieval times and the agrarian reforms of the 18/19th century. The UK were quite radical with doing away and enclosing former commons, while southwestern Germany (and the alpine countries as e.g. Switzerland) had the most advanced commons structures and was much more willing to keep them. The Lower Rhine region took an intermediate position. However, the UK and the former dominons have till today a large amount of Crown land which often is used for community or conservation purposes.
Alfred Thomas Grove and Oliver Rackhams history of the Nature of Mediterranean Europe see a rich heritage of the tradition of highly varied land use patterns there, including commons, which are base of the ecological variety in the Mediterranean.
Based on a research project by the Environmental and Cultural Conservation in Inner Asia (ECCIA) from 1992 to 1995, satellite images were used to compare the amount of land degradation due to livestock grazing in the regions of Mongolia, Russia, and China. In Mongolia, where shepherds were permitted to move collectively between seasonal grazing pastures, degradation remained relatively low at approximately 9%. Comparatively that of Russia and China, which implemented state-owned pastures involving immobile settlements and in some cases privatization by household, was much higher at around 75% and 33% respectively. A collaborative effort on the part of Mongolians proved much more efficient in preserving grazing land.
Widespread success of the Maine lobster industry is often attributed to the willingness of Maine’s lobstermen to uphold and support lobster conservation rules. These rules include harbor territories not recognized by the state, informal trap limits, and laws imposed by the state of Maine (which are largely influenced by lobbying from lobster industry itself). Essentially, the lobstermen collaborate without much government intervention to sustain their common-pool resource.
Implemented in late 1980s, Nepal chose to decentralize government control over forests. Community forest programs work by giving local areas a financial stake in nearby woodlands, and therefore increasing the incentive to protect them from overuse. These local institutions regulate harvesting and selling of timber and land, and must use any profit towards community development and preservation of the forests. In twenty years, locals have noticed visible improvements in the number of trees. In addition to this, community forestry contributed to community development in rural areas such as school construction, irrigation channel & drinking water construction and road construction. Similarly their fund allocated into the poor focused activities as well. Furthermore, community forestry has become an example of an appropriate institution for democratic practices at grass root level, where we can see absolute inclusion into their executive committee.
Acequia is a method of collective responsibility and management for irrigation systems in desert areas. In New Mexico, a community-run organization known as Acequia Associations supervises water in terms of diversion, distribution, utilization, and recycling, in order to reinforce agricultural traditions and preserve water as a common resource for future generations.