Global Natural Common Goods: Prevailing Circumstances and Ethical and Political Proposals

Global Natural Common Goods: Prevailing Circumstances and Ethical and Political Proposals

Carmen Velayos Castelo (University of Salamanca, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3636-0.ch008


During premodernity, the argumentation about natural common goods goes a long way towards explaining that nobody can be excluded from them, and this view in the West has been deepened, for example, by philosophers/jurists in the 16th century such as Francisco de Vitoria. But it was progressively abandoned, and in the 19th, it was not definitely a popular topic of reflection. Anyway, it begins to be recuperated by the work of Olson and others during the 1960s. The author's aim is to analyze the ethical basis of all these new recuperations by social scientists, especially characterized by Elinor Ostrom (The Govern of Commons) and to introduce a proper philosophical debate about them. Questions and proposals that have to do with the common sphere (res publica) would lead us to introduce new political, anthropological, and ethical clues. The results of the exacerbation of modern individualism are essentially contradictory with commons. Then, the author analyzes the current methods to guarantee the commons and their limitations.
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Peoples, social classes, families, individuals, may be enriched, but they will only be fortunate, when be sited, like gentlemen, around the common wealth (Mauss, Essai sur le don, Paris, Quadrige/PUF, 247-248)


Topicalization Of Common Goods

Normally, issues relating to public res, or to all, especially when it comes to access to and use of common global goods, such as fresh water, should lead individuals, communities, and governments to cooperate. However, politically they have given rise to timid international treaties dealing with cross-border goods, sea use, among others. And, as some authors claim the European Union's own concept would have arisen from “…the need to consolidate efforts to address these issues relating to common concerns” (Leal-Arcas, 2016, p. 805).

See generally how the European Union was partially created to foster economic cooperation and to avoid future conflicts in the post-World War II era. (The EU in Brief, 2000).

The idea of decarbonizing the Union would be one of those common goods that we should achieve together as soon as possible. But energy policies remain national and there is still no efficient collective effort to move forward together. In addition, recent data show that in 2014 the European Union imported fifty-three percent of its energy, making it the world's largest energy importer. (Loyal-Coffers, 2016)

When I write this, in addition, much of humanity, especially in my country and in Italy, lives confined to their homes because of the crisis caused by a virus, COVID-19. Deaths are counted in thousands and much more are affected. A strong welfare state and a united Europe are required to ensure these essential common goods threatened, especially the health of the population, as well as to avoid a dilapidated economic situation that prevents us from meeting basic needs. Fortunately, the European Union has already injected money to collectively tackle a problem that challenges us as humanity. It is at this time that collective and joint responses, solidarity and cooperative, to common problems and ills are valued.

Because this terrible pandemic clearly shows what it means that a problem is global and affects common goods or ills: not only that it knows no borders, but its spread, its appearance and its outcome have an inevitable international dimension. And we do not have international institutions to address them.

In fact, jumping into the planetary sphere is far away for almost all citizens when we do not even conceive as common the nearest thing, such as the street, the parks, our country, the sky (Barnes, 2001).

It is curious that they have constitutions, as the one of the Republic of Poland, that states in Article 1º of its Constitution,

“…that the supreme power belongs to the Nation” (Sobol, 2017, p. 11).

Curious because the contemporary citizen has not generally been educated in respect for totalities, even if these are the sustenance of his life and chores; nor it is also not easy to understand being part of assumed goods, as his neighborhood, city, country, world and, of course, Earth.

The international dimension of the guarantee of common goods is becoming more and more apparent. But what are these common goods?:

“Common goods have been defined as those goods that, irrespective of any public or private origin, are characterized by a binding destination and necessary for the realization of the fundamental rights of all people.” (UNESCO, 2015)

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