Environment Blog

Copenhagen: Be All and End All? A Nobel Winner Doesn’t Think So

Elinor Ostrom, a Nobel winner in economics, finds climate change answers lie close to home.

October 12, 2009

Elinor Ostrom knows how to manage money, resources and pretty much the whole globe. The first woman to win the Nobel prize in economics, along with fellow scholar Oliver Williamson, tackles everything from the global financial crisis to local resource management, and looks at it in terms of climate change. And for all of this, she isn’t even an economist.

Awarded the Nobel for “her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons,” Ostrom, a political scientist, specializes in common pool resources and exactly how people interact with ecosystems to support long-term sustainability. She studies how groups in society can successfully oversee natural resources like groundwater basins, fish stocks, woods, lakes and pastures without governmental involvement. She found that individual actions that promote sustainability work better than standard theories that suggest across-the-board solutions in policy economics.

Instead of sitting around and waiting for international policy to fix global warming, Ostrom says, do it yourself. Based on her evidence, individuals and communities that develop their own decision-making tactics for managing their resources tend to have better results.

This notion challenges predominating theories of resource management that view common property as something that should be made private or governmentally regulated. Furthermore, it will take some of the pressure off the Copenhagen conference in December if we make solutions in our home communities. Perhaps international politics doesn’t hold all of the cards after all.

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