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That overharvested Europe. In memory of Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom passed away. She received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for her “groundbreaking research on the ways that people organize themselves to manage resources”.

She recently wrote, in Insights on linking forests, trees, and people from the air, on the ground, and in the laboratory, with Harini Nagendraa:

Evidence from all (three) research methods challenges the presumption that a single governance arrangement will control overharvesting in all settings. The temptations to overharvest from natural resources are always large. If the formal rules limiting access and harvest levels are not known or considered legitimate by local resource users, substantial investment in fences and official guards to patrol boundaries are needed to prevent ‘‘illegal’’ harvesting.

Without these expensive inputs, government-owned, ‘‘protected’’ forests may not be protected in practice. On the other hand, when the users themselves have a role in making local rules, or at least consider the rules to be legitimate, they are frequently willing to engage themselves in monitoring and sanctioning of uses considered illegal, even of public property. When users are genuinely engaged in decisions regarding rules that affect their use, the likelihood of users following the rules and monitoring others is much greater than when an authority simply imposes rules on users.

These results help to open up a previously undescribed frontier of research on the most effective institutional and tenure arrangements for protecting forests, from public protected areas to private forests to community forests, under various conditions.”

You know very well where all this is leading me to. Yes, you are right, to the issue of how to protect our Europe, our most precious institutional resource, currently at risk of being overharvested and depleted.

If the formal rules limiting access and harvest levels are not known or considered legitimate by local resource users, substantial investment in fences and official guards to patrol boundaries are needed to prevent ‘‘illegal’’ harvesting.”

Isn’t this what happened? Haven’t we spent and wasted an incredible amount of resources of our best public minds in the first decade of the euro, forcing them in a useless surveillance from the Center that was felt as a cold intrusion with little value for societies? And aren’t we in the process of perversely continuing to do so in the mist of the worse fire in this dry season?

What else could we have done?

On the other hand, when the users themselves have a role in making local rules, or at least consider the rules to be legitimate, they are frequently willing to engage themselves in monitoring and sanctioning of uses considered illegal, even of public property. When users are genuinely engaged in decisions regarding rules that affect their use, the likelihood of users following the rules and monitoring others is much greater than when an authority simply imposes rules on users.”

Oh yes. Just like for a parent with a son, at a certain point you have to let go, teach by example, help when needed but refrain from imposing. Because when you impose your own rules, the vicious circle of recklessness starts. All you have to hope for is that your good example and his pride let the child grow into a man able to take his future in his own hands with responsibility.

This is true for Greece, for Italy, for Spain, Portugal, Ireland.

The time for external rules is over. Forget about endless negotiations in Brussels that humiliate countries and alienate their people from the European project. Paradoxically, better is to let each country decide its own fate with no EU-based imposition and with help when needed. Allowing this  might turn out to be the only good thing that a true leader of Europe will have done in these past 10 years of wasted opportunities.

2 comments

  1. Stefano Caiazza

    13/06/2012 @ 06:55

    Mi dispiace, come per tutto coloro che ci lasciano.
    Non sapevo fosse deceduta e lo apprendo dal tuo blog.
    Spero riposerà nella pace della Vera Conoscenza.

    Reply
  2. Tha hard fact is the UE (very) formal rules has been established only to protect the marc-area “forests” since the beginning…and doesn’t suffice that they’ve been told to be “absolute” and unquestionably correct standards (whereas they actually ended up self-”questioning” by themselves). Moreover, germany seems to be sawing the branch on which it’s sitting, indeed a very odd behavour when it comes to preserve forests…

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