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Governing commons still a struggle, but fight not without hope, according to new report

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Thirty-five years after biologist Garrett Hardin issued his prophetic essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons," which warned that human beings would ultimately destroy commonly shared resources, a re-examination of the state of common pool resources by three researchers, including Indiana University Bloomington political scientist Elinor Ostrom, offers an urgent yet hopeful message.

The authors of a new report, "The Struggle to Govern the Commons," which will appear in a special Dec. 12 issue of Science, say they are "guardedly optimistic" about mankind's ability to govern such critical commons as the oceans and the climate. They point to systematic multidisciplinary research showing that widely diverse adaptive governance systems have been effective stewards of many resources.

"In many areas of commons governance, we have witnessed significant improvement," said Ostrom, the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis and the Center for the Study of Institutions, Population and Environmental Change. "Certainly the world is not uniform, but there are signs of some resources improving even though others are deteriorating. People have devised ingenious ways to manage and govern the commons."

"Of course, we also recognize that human beings still have an incredible capability to harm themselves," she added.

In Hardin's 1968 essay, which appeared in Science and launched an entire field of ecological research, he claimed that only two institutional arrangements -- centralized government and private property -- could sustain commons such as air, groundwater and forests over the long run. To illustrate his point, he used a little-known pamphlet written in 1833 by mathematician William Forster Lloyd about the use of public lands by herdsmen. In Lloyd's story, a pasture is open for grazing to all herdsmen. This arrangement works for a while, even for cen
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Contact: Ryan Piurek
rpiurek@indiana.edu
812-855-5393
Indiana University
11-Dec-2003


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