Here is a thoughtful essay about a disappearing concept: the commons.
We live on and in the commons, even if we don’t recognise it as such. Every time we take a breath, we’re drawing from the commons. Every time we walk down a road we’re using the commons. Every time we sit in the sunshine or shelter from the rain, listen to birdsong or shut our windows against the stench from a nearby oil refinery, we are engaging with the commons. But we have forgotten the critical role that the commons play in our existence. The commons make life possible. Beyond that, they make private property possible. When the commons become degraded or destroyed, enjoyment and use of private property become untenable. A Montana rancher could own ten thousand acres and still be dependent on the health of the commons. Neither a gated community nor high-rise penthouse apartments can close a human being from the wider world that we all rely on.
We have been able to ignore and damage the commons without acknowledging the consequences for far too long. But now, the press of human population and the rise of industrialism make the question urgent: how will we own our shared resources? How will we protect them for the benefit of all? There are no more frontiers to run away to, and no more pretending that what we do on one piece of property has no effect not only on neighbours next door but on ecosystems hundreds of miles away. In my great-great-grandparents’ time, a driving question for European immigrants or descendants was how to gain the freedom granted by private property. For our future, it’s not just a question of who owns the earth, but how.