In the aftermath of the Climate Conference in Copenhagen, many environmentalists and world leaders alike are feeling defeated and disillusioned. However, it is little surprise that attempts to draft an international agreement with any clout result in gridlock.
What the international community is facing is a classic 'tragedy of the commons' problem: it is in every nation's short-term individual best interest to emit, but, the collective result of each nation's self-interested actions translates into a less-desirable outcome for all parties involved. And according to some, the only way to solve this tragedy is through strict management of the commons (emissions in this case) through regulatory bodies. While this may work for a pasture (Garrett Hardin's metaphor), global emissions are decidedly more complicated; no credible international body exists with the ability to act impartially and effectively. And even if such a body did exist, their task namely overseeing and enforcing international emissions laws' would be a regulatory nightmare.
So, are we doomed' Not necessarily; Elinor Ostrom, awarded the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics with Oliver E. Williamson, is decidedly more optimistic with regards to governing common resources. In her book 'Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Ostrom uses case studies to show that, in some instances, private associations have avoided the tragedy of the commons and use resources efficiently. 'For Ostrom, it's not the tragedy of the commons but the opportunity of the commons. Not only can a commons be well-governed but the rules which help to provide efficiency in resource use are also those that foster community and engagement.' (from marginalrevolution.com)
So perhaps it is time, to borrow a phrase from JFK, to ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country.' Perhaps, with the New Year approaching, we can all resolve to do our part to lessen our impact on the environment and become more responsible global citizens, rather than waiting around for the leader's of the world to decide for us what steps need to be taken to save the planet. Besides, it is more enjoyable and empowering to decide for ourselves the steps we can take to make a difference.