And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
Was a small pile of rocks, with one word… UNLESS.
Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn’t guess.

A lot of remarkable things happened fifty years ago that have helped to drive the difficult climb back to a sustainable global ecosystem. After exciting buds like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Barry Commoner’s Science and Survival emerged in the 1960s, the modern environmental movement really sprang into leaf in 1970 with the first Earth Day and the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The following year, Greenpeace was founded in Canada and Dr Seuss published The Lorax, a powerful parable of the dangers of linear economics.  “The Lorax tells the story of the industrial era,” says Kate Raworth, creator of the Doughnut Economics of social and planetary boundaries. “It shows what happens when you leave the living world out of economic thinking.”

This year, the theme of the 51st Earth Day (22 April) is Restore Our Earth. Here on Carbon Copy you can find many inspiring examples of how local communities are coming together to take on that restoration work, in areas like the natural world (Naturehood), community green energy (ESCO-in-a-box) and innovative land use (Devon & Cornwall Soils Alliance). The luminous insight in all these stories is that the actions taken to mitigate the joint climate and biodiversity crises have significant economic and social benefits too: providing new jobs and training; helping to counter social injustices like fuel and food poverty, and addressing health inequality in the community.

As Lucy Stone, co-author of the excellent IPPR report, The Climate Commons, puts it: “The pandemic showed us the importance and appetite for taking collective action. To address climate change, we tend to focus on individual or state action. As we manage the decline of the fossil fuel industries and a transition to societies living within the ecological boundaries, we need to confront our assumptions of who manages and controls the resources on which we all depend.”

In 2009, Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for her research challenging the unanimous and long-held view among economists that natural resources which are collectively used – ‘commons’ – will inevitably be over-exploited and destroyed in the long-term.  Ostrom disproved this idea (sometimes called ‘the tragedy of the commons’), conducting field studies on how people in small, local communities manage shared natural resources, such as pastures, fishing waters and forests.

She showed that when natural resources are jointly used by their local communities, rules become established for how these are to be cared for and used in a way that is both economically and ecologically sustainable. Ostrom and her colleagues came up with basic design principles for stable common pool resource management, including organisation and conflict resolution.  She proposed a polycentric approach, where key management decisions should be made “as close to the scene of events and the actors involved as possible”.

As we celebrate Earth Day this week, Carbon Copy is delighted to have just published our 100th story of and by people who are leading initiatives that address the environment and climate crises.  This is exactly the type of collective local action – described in the IPPR report and Ostrom’s ground-breaking research – that is the common factor among the huge variety of initiatives we are honoured to showcase on Carbon Copy.

But now, says the Once-ler, now that you’re here,
The word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not…
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.

For more information:

Webb J, Stone L, Murphy L and Hunter J (2021) The climate commons: How communities can thrive in a climate changing world, IPPR.

Elinor Ostrom Nobel Prize lecture (video)

The Lorax by Dr Seuss, Harper Collins Children’s Books

Image: Carbon Copy

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