Thursday, February 23, 2012

News Article: 'We have this image that people are helpless — I want to get rid of that'

Nitin Sethi Feb 13, 2012, 12.00AM IST

Tags: The situation|The National

Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom , the first woman to win a Nobel for economics, has done path-breaking research in political economy, focussing on managing common pool resources like forests, fishe-ries and irrigation systems to maximise long-term returns from these. Challenging notions about elaborate governmental regulation needed to manage environmental resources, Ostrom spoke with Nitin Sethi about changes individuals can make, the urgency to move beyond debates - and the role of information:

You have written extensively about not waiting for nation states to resolve climate change - but can't only nation states manage the effort to reduce emissions?

No. Individuals owning a house can do a fair amount within their house. Communities can do quite a bita yes, there is a definitive role at the national level but right now, we have this image that people are helpless - that's the image i want to get rid of.

However, the big issues of emission reductions are deter-mined by altering industrial patterns and commercial systems. Changing these is beyond individual citizens who can only change their own lifestyle - your view?

That change does take various public officials. But what i'm concerned about is that sometimes, there's this suggestion that a paper is going to solve the problem - but it isn't. There's been a lot of natio-nal legislation that has not really accomplished some of the goals. And i'm particularly anxious that we don't wait more. But yes, we've got to elect officials who are concerned about climate change.

You've researched environmental commons - how different is dealing with a 'commons' of atmosphere?

There are differences because of scale. But if we think the scale is only global, then we have to wait for international agreements and debate who created the situation, who should pay for it and in what proportion. These are big debates between developing and developed countries about historic responsibilities. I think they're important but we can go on for five or 10 years having these debates without doing anything. What i am very worried about is more years of not doing anything isn't a good situation for you and i.

How do you see individuals and communities reacting to climate change beyond their governments in the West today?

In Europe, they're doing a lot better than many other places in the worlda¦the gas tax in Europe is much higher than in the United States - their tax is ridicu-lously lowa¦but if information is available, it can make a huge difference. Imagine this simple thing - campuses in the US are beginning to drive competition between their residential dorms as to who can use the least energy. That gets the undergra-duate much more informed of what they can do. While they're competing with each other, they're learning things. When they have really good meters which can tell them what's going on, they can make choices.

But in a country like India, where you have roughly 400 million people without electricity and no question of meters, can you really ask them to do more?

Well - but we take their forest away from them.

What can the West do to assume more responsibility for lowering emissions?

Well, for one, i'm very concerned about clean cooking stoves. I get mad when they talk of making inexpensive solar cooking stoves in Chicago and importing these in India and Nepal. Instead, they should be looking for entrepreneurs and small-scale factories here, not so far away from where they're going to be sold.

© 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved

This article does not directly relate to the Supreme Court's judgment on Commons, however, it is being shared as it is important in the overall context of governance of Commons which the Supreme Court relates to in its judgment.

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