Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egyptians, Inuit and fish

"In science you need to understand the world; in business you need others to misunderstand it." Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Today, the country of Egypt is apparently imploding due to the repressive regime they have. The police have vanished and the army is doing nothing. Where this ends is anyone's guess. Also on this morning was the Alaska Wilderness Wings reality show. The only Alaska reality show that isn't just a plain waste of time in my opinion. Maybe because I used to fly out of Petersburg with my dad when I was young, never went king crabbing, or found anything to like about Sarah Palin. And the only time I was ever fooled while making commercial vessel loans was in dealing with an ex-state trooper, so heck with that show too.

I don't want to delve into flying in the bush in Alaska today, but I appreciate Western Alaskan's dependence on all types of aircraft. The show today included a segment on the only people living inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Talk about remote. There also was a segment on flying in explosives for the whalers' harboons on St. Lawrence Island. It's a lonely battle for survival out there. Even in the villages on the mainland, very few have a road connection to anywhere except their own garbage dump. Not that they don't have a lot of government help. And not that some don't bemoan that fact either, given that there is a lot of time for a lot of people out there to sit around and think about how bad they have it. Same thing happens in a city.

Those folks out there are like most small owner/operators of fishing boats. There just isn't a lot of strategic thinking long term. Which many people in condos in Maui aren't good at either. But this could be a good time for Western Alaskans to do a little just for drill. The lessened amount of sea ice is allowing more sea time up there. Not a good thing for walrus. It could be good for some village folk who got the idea to go throw some commercial fishing gear in the ocean though. Not that it's culturally ingrained like in other societies, but they might want or need to get into it before long. Some are already thinking about going to sea. In places like Dutch Harbor the locals did. After they got a ten mile buffer around them to keep the trawlers out, that is.

There is a cold storage plant in Nome that will buy any amount of fish you want to bring in. Teller, too, has some thoughts of commercial fishing, as they are behind a sand spit, behind a sand spit to keep boats. It used to be the wintering spot for the Nantucket whaling fleet. They could winch their boats up on shore in lieu of a boat harbor like in the Mediterranean.

If the Bering Straits are going to be open an extra couple months a year, then you have a crack at bringing in some cod to salt down. Then you'd be looking at a small boat fueled economy like the northern part of Norway where my ancestors came from. It was working well until they industrialized the harvesting of the cod, like what happened on Eastern Canada's Grand Banks as well. And if you had a little larger vessel to fish from like my great-grandfather had, you could sail somewhere and trade them or sell them.

Where am I going with all this? Get a load of this e-mail I just received from our subject area:

"There is so much ice out there now that the idea of open water is a dangerous rumor, difficult to believe. The co-op of bottom trawlers has been meeting behind locked doors here in Nome, no reporters or public, with the regional nonprofit, Kawerak, and elders flown in and hoteled at great expense, from the Kuskokwim delta to the Artic circle.
The co-op wants to move north. And assures that there's no salmon bycatch. Neglecting to mention (king) crab, halibut etc.
NSEDC (Norton Sound Economic Development Corp.) funded the Kawerak shindig. But when people are engaged in their own holocaust it's such a monumental irony that it defies description."

Then a few days later I get this addendum. The writer was hot, despite the sun only just clearing the horizon in Point Barrow for the first time all winter.:

"The break-in and attempted theft at the hatchery here by ADF&G was 'passed' on by the DA to 'Special Prosecutions' in Anchorage. They kicked it back to the Troopers for more investigation. Basically the State in this region, in fish and game issues, is subservient to the political dictates of certain hypercorrupt tribal leadership, or quasi-tribal amalgams like NSEDC. I'd be shocked if they prosecute."
"Tyler Rhodes, a (Nome) Nugget reporter, moved to a public relations job with NSEDC a couple days ago after printing in the Nugget some slavishly flattering pieces about the CDQ group."

To tie the repression of the regime in Egypt to the life and death struggle for survival in Western Alaska; you know that any opportunity to establish a commercial fishery in Northwest Alaska will be coveted by those with the best connections to the U.S. regime. Not that the trawl companies needed to sneak around and try hoodwink the tribal leaders out of a chance for them to have community fisheries of their own, with living wages and a good multiplier effect of fishing income spent locally. Their lobbyists who control the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council repeatedly flout National Standards No. 8 (Economic development consideration). Their response to wreaking havoc on Alaska community economics is, "so sue me."

I doubt poor Egyptians thought suing President Mubarak was much of an option either. So where does that leave us? Big Japanese, Norwegian and a couple of Seattle trawl companies meeting in the frozen north of Alaska with the elders of coastal villages, without any transparency, about fishing off their shores. The elders should ask the Pribilovians how that worked out for them. Part of the justification for the massive investment in harbors in the Pribilof Islands was to develop a small boat fleet. But after the trawlers circled their islands a thousand times there wasn't much left to go out in a little boat and fish for.

The Elders need to keep in mind that lying is company policy by the trawl companies. There are no shortage of examples. And way up in the Bering Straits, like out at Adak, nobody is going to see what they are doing. And keep in mind that bottom trawling extinguishes 30% of the species complex of the bottom where a trawl has passed, per Oregon State University where the NOAA chief worked. Don't grey whales just munch on the mud and filter out all the good stuff? Would anyone want the trawlers to filter out the good stuff first. Maybe they would promise on a stack of bibles not to do that.

Bottom line: the trawl companies have been eying Northwest Alaska waters since the moratorium was put in effect there. No new research has been done. Why conduct these meetings in secret? And, there are much better fishing methods than trawling if fishing was so desired out there, ie., live capture by jig and pot. There would be any number of takers using these sustainable methods if fishing were allowed in those sub-arctic waters. It's amazing what the new fish attractants can accomplish.

Reference is made to the Tholepin blog for the true damage that bottom trawling has on crab and halibut stocks alone.
Good crab bycatch picture here:
Video of serious halibut bycatch here:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Social Ecological Systems

The following letter was written by me to some villagers I know scattered around Alaska, with supporting material on a recent Nobel Prize winner. Then I thought I'd add anecdotal information for the fun of it. Like the Easter Islander's story, which I never knew, until I saw it on the History Channel recently. And I saw plenty of parallels to what is happening on the whole space island we're on.
Many hundreds of years ago, the Easter Islanders started sculpting rocks in abstract images of men for good luck. It became a competition to see who could make the biggest one, which gave them some social advantage or other. They became possessed with sculpting these huge figures, and too, the island got hit with a mammoth storm or tsunami which left no trees standing. So they ended up eating each other.

Their solution was to have a competition once a year to climb down a thousand foot cliff by hand, swim a mile or two off-shore, and get the first bird egg of the year, swim and climb back and give it to the elders. Then the winner's family could rule Easter Island for the next twelve months. The culture stabilized after that, that is, until the British started hauling them off into slavery.

But I heard of a superior competitor in Western Alaska thinking along the same lines, although at the moment his mandate is tenuous and maybe non-existent. The comparison of the Easter Islanders to some Western Alaska villages might not be too distant in certain regards. I know one thing for sure, the big mining and oil companies aren't concerned.

Think Pebble prospect versus a good chunk of the world's salmon. The biggest gold miner in the world is interested in building a bigger port for his yacht, and those of his friends, in the Mediterranean Sea. I saw an artists drawing of a LSV mega yacht with hydroponic farms and trawl gear. What??? (The LSV means Life Support Vessel.) So does this mean the rich are going to just float off over the horizon after they have raped the land in the name of free market capitalism? Are you home Sean?

My letter and the news articles follow:

You know, I was going to write something, wasn't sure what, with the lead-in of working together. You folks in the villages have been on my mind and then I saw the attached material again. I can't imagine a large segment of society working together, for instance, all fishermen. Even if there was a pat definition of 'fisherman,' given that more of them all the time sit on shore while they rent their boat and license out. I've been writing for some time about working together, since Elinor Ostrom won a peace prize for her work on cooperative resource management.

The article below highlights the issue in regards resource management. However my thoughts have been on a community level and I wonder how much communities CAN work together to manage local resources, or do 'barn raising' projects. There are articles written about how everyone is so independent these days, the family unit is disintegrating, etc. The 'me generation' and all that. We might want to think about some very tried and true stuff to 'make it' if things keep going the way they are: peak oil, devaluation of the dollar, etc. After all, most public policy is fairly new, untested, stuff. Some is downright warped.

I started writing on low-tech fish preservation methods some years ago, and tried a low-tech processing project last winter, except with a high tech 'processor.' That processor just happened to be available, and I think it signaled to me that going low tech is safer. A blend of good, new, sustainable technology blended with good old technology. Like 'integrative medicine.' Can we look forward with courage, as communities, and decide what strategies will work if we have only ourselves to rely on? Is there any commitment for this kind of thing any more?

To develop strategies, we have to be brutally honest about what our assets are. Just about every town profile I've seen repeats the mantra of 'strong sense of community.' Even Petersburg: so why did half of the seine fleet jump ship and join the Silver Bay bandwagon in Sitka. They may maintain homes in Petersburg, and their winter moorage, but so much for the 'close knit community' business.

A new leadership paradigm could turn things around, and it must. I don't think there is a town in Alaska that isn't going down a little or a lot. The thinking is that 40 to 100 cities in the U.S. are basically bankrupt. Even whole states. And the Fed says it isn't going to bail them out with bond issues and all like they did for the banks. Remembering that the Fed was set up BY the banks.

I probably should have continued to 'fast' after 'my procedure.' You know, the kind of oscopy that nobody likes to discuss in polite company. I was starting to see pretty darn clearly. Since I had put your communities on the front burner of my mind, I did get one gem. And that is that knowledge takes a much lower position than community spirit. Although the thought included good family and interpersonal relations as well.

So after all this pondering on the fate of the coastal community, and all the key-pad racket, I conclude there is enough love in a community to 'git 'er done.' Just look at the parents with children and there's your answer right there. But we do need to stop sculpting statues.

Rewriting the “Tragedy of the Commons”

What cooperation and sharing have to do with saving the world.

"Mexico has become a global leader in safeguarding its expansive forests. And it has done so not by fencing the forests behind "no trespassing" signs, but by giving local communities ownership rights and an opportunity to take responsibility for their stewardship."

-Luis A. Ubiñas, "At Climate Talks, An Answer Grows Outside."

It was two years before the first Earth Day in 1970 when Garrett Hardin penned the famous essay “Tragedy of the Commons,” and it fit a certain bleak and despairing mood of the time. Paul Ehrlich had just published The Population Bomb, a Malthusian account of a world overwhelmed by sheer numbers of people. Against the backdrop of that gloom, Hardin’s theory came as another dose of bad news, “proving” that we also had no hope of controlling our appetite for natural resources. Since no one owned the oceans or the atmosphere, we would inevitably fish and pollute them into oblivion. Hardin offered a few suggestions, but his title summed it up: we were witnessing a tragedy whose script could not be revised.

Oddly, a decade later his argument fit just as easily the exuberant, privatizing mood of the Reagan years. No one owns the sky or the sea? Well, then, let’s sell them! The race was on to privatize everything, from fishing rights to kids’ playgrounds, on the theory that this was the only way to manage them well. Society was the problem, the individual was the solution.

The race was on to privatize everything, from fishing rights to kids’ playgrounds, on the theory that this was the only way to manage them well.

The only thing that Hardin’s argument didn’t fit was the facts, at least not all of them. For eons communities had managed to protect all kinds of resources without private ownership. In America and in England, it’s true, a couple of centuries of enclosure and corporatization made this harder to recall. But around the world most of the pasturelands, forests and streams, had long been controlled by communities, drawing on deep traditions of custom and collective wisdom. Even in the U.S. we had classic examples—the acequia irrigation systems of New Mexico, which may be the only sustainable water systems in the American west, or the lobster fishery of Maine, protected from overfishing less by law than by long custom.

And in the years since “The Tragedy of the Commons” appeared, even a cursory glance around the landscape reveals that Hardin’s gloom has been disproven a thousand times. For example, I’m willing to bet that many of the people reading this book turned on their local public radio station this morning. Here’s how public radio works: give away your product for free with no advertising, and then twice a year wheedle people to make a donation to pay for it. Turn that in as your business plan at some bank and they’ll laugh you out the door, but public radio has been the fastest-growing sector of the broadcast industry for years. And now we have low power F.M. and community radio, not to mention the explosion of free content on the Internet.

I’ve spent most of my life as a writer—and one of the sweetest parts of that job is knowing that whatever I produce ends up in a library, an institution dedicated to the idea that we can share things easily. There are innumerable other examples—and they are the parts of our lives that we usually care most about. They don’t show up on balance sheets because they’re not producing profit—but they are producing satisfaction.

These things we share are called commons, which simply means they belong to all of us. Commons can be gifts of nature—such as fresh water, wilderness and the airwaves—or the products of social ingenuity like the Internet, parks, artistic traditions, or the public health service. But today much of our common wealth is under threat from those hungry to ruin it or take it over for selfish, private purposes.

We have to figure out how to cooperatively own and protect the single most important feature of the planet we inhabit—the thin envelope of atmosphere that makes our lives possible.

The most crucial commons, perhaps, is the one now under greatest siege, and it poses a test of whether we can pull together to solve our deepest problems or succumb to disaster. Our atmosphere has been de facto privatized for a long time now—we’ve allowed coal, oil and gas interests to own the sky, filling it with the carbon that is the inevitable byproduct of their business. For a couple of centuries this seemed mostly harmless—CO2 didn’t seem to be causing much trouble. But two decades ago we started to understand the effects of global warming, and now each month the big scientific journals bring us new proof of just how vast the damage is: the Arctic is melting, Australia is on fire, the pH of the ocean is dropping fast.

If we are to somehow ward off the coming catastrophes, we have to reclaim this atmospheric commons. We have to figure out how to cooperatively own and protect the single most important feature of the planet we inhabit—the thin envelope of atmosphere that makes our lives possible. Wrestling this key prize away from Exxon Mobil and other corporations is the great political issue of our time, and some of the solutions proposed have been ingenious—most notably the idea put forth by commons theorist Peter Barnes and others that we should own the sky jointly, and share in the profits realized by leasing its storage space to the fossil fuel industry. For that to work, of course, we would have to reduce that storage space quickly and dramatically. Barnes’ Cap-and-Dividend plan offers one way to make that economically and politically feasible.

But for this and other necessary projects to succeed, we need first to break the intellectual spell under which we live. The last few decades have been dominated by the premise that if we privatize all economic resources it will produce endless riches. Which was kind of true, except that the riches went to only a few people. And in the process they melted the Arctic, as well as dramatically increasing inequality around the world. Jay Walljasper performs the greatest of services with this book. It is—choose your metaphor—a bracing slap across the face or the kiss that breaks an enchantment. In either case, after reading it you will be much more alive to the world as it actually is, not as it exists in the sweaty dreams of ideologues and economics professors.

The commons is a crucial part of the human story that must be recovered if we are to deal with the problems now crowding in on us. This story is equal parts enlightening and encouraging, and it is entirely necessary for us to hear it.

This article is excerpted for YES! Magazine from All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons by Jay Walljasper and On the Commons (The New Press). Noted environmental author Bill McKibben is scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College and one of the founders of the 350 campaign to curb climate change. His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

“The Commons Offers a New Story for the Future” by Bill McKibben originally appeared in All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons: How to Save the Economy, the Environment, the Internet, Democracy, Our Communities, and Everything Else That Belongs to All of Us Copyright © 2010 by Jay Walljasper, published by The New Press, Inc. and reprinted here with permission.

A Nobel for Common(s) Sense
ALSO SEE BELOW: An interview with economics laureate Elinor Ostrom,

who studies the way communities self-organize to solve common problems.

Elinor Ostrom Wins Nobel for Common(s) Sense

The newest Nobel Laureate in Economics has built her career on the science of cooperation.

Elinor Ostrom was an unusual choice for the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

For one thing, she is the first woman to receive the prize. Her Ph.D. is in political science, not economics (though she minored in economics, collaborates with many economists, and considers herself a political economist). But what makes this award particularly special is that her work is about cooperation, while standard economics focuses on competition.

Ostrom’s seminal book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, was published in 1990. But her research on common property goes back to the early 1960s, when she wrote her dissertation on groundwater in California. In 1973 she and her husband, Vincent Ostrom, founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University. In the intervening years, the Workshop has produced hundreds of studies of the conditions in which communities self-organize to solve common problems. Ostrom currently serves as professor of political science at Indiana University and senior research director of the Workshop.

Fran Korten, YES! Magazine’s publisher, spent 20 years with the Ford Foundation making grants to support community management of water and forests in Southeast Asia and the United States. She and Ostrom drew on one another’s work as this field of knowledge developed. Fran interviewed her friend and colleague Lin Ostrom shortly after Ostrom received the Nobel Prize.

Fran Korten: When you first learned that you had won the Nobel Prize in Economics, were you surprised?

Elinor Ostrom: Yes. It was quite surprising. I was both happy and relieved.

Fran: Why relieved?

Elinor: Well, relieved in that I was doing a bunch of research through the years that many people thought was very radical and people didn’t like. As a person who does interdisciplinary work, I didn’t fit anywhere. I was relieved that, after all these years of struggle, someone really thought it did add up. That’s very nice.

And it’s very nice for the team that I’ve been a part of here at the Workshop. We have had a different style of organizing. It is an interdisciplinary center—we have graduate students, visiting scholars, and faculty working together. I never would have won the Nobel but for being a part of that enterprise.

Fran: It’s interesting that your research is about people learning to cooperate. And your Workshop at the university is also organized on principles of cooperation.

Elinor: I have a new book coming out in May entitled Working Together, written with Amy Poteete and Marco Janssen. It is on collective actions in the commons. What we’re talking about is how people work together. We’ve used an immense array of different methods to look at this question—case studies, including my own dissertation and Amy’s work, modeling, experiments, large-scale statistical work. We show how people use multiple methods to work together.

Fran: Many people associate “the commons” with Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons.” He says that if, for example, you have a pasture that everyone in a village has access to, then each person will put as many cows on that land as he can to maximize his own benefit, and pretty soon the pasture will be overgrazed and become worthless. What’s the difference between your perspective and Hardin’s?

Elinor: Well, I don’t see the human as hopeless. There’s a general tendency to presume people just act for short-term profit. But anyone who knows about small-town businesses and how people in a community relate to one another realizes that many of those decisions are not just for profit and that humans do try to organize and solve problems.

If you are in a fishery or have a pasture and you know your family’s long-term benefit is that you don’t destroy it, and if you can talk with the other people who use that resource, then you may well figure out rules that fit that local setting and organize to enforce them. But if the community doesn’t have a good way of communicating with each other or the costs of self-organization are too high, then they won’t organize, and there will be failures.

Fran: So, are you saying that Hardin is sometimes right?

We have to think through how to choose a meaningful life where we’re helping one another in ways that really help the Earth.

Elinor: Yes. People say I disproved him, and I come back and say “No, that’s not right. I’ve not disproved him. I’ve shown that his assertion that common property will always be degraded is wrong.” But he was addressing a problem of considerable significance that we need to take seriously. It’s just that he went too far. He said people could never manage the commons well.

At the Workshop we’ve done experiments where we create an artificial form of common property—such as an imaginary fishery or pasture, and we bring people into a lab and have them make decisions about that property. When we don’t allow any communication among the players, then they overharvest. But when people can communicate, particularly on a face-to-face basis, and say, “Well, gee, how about if we do this? How about we do that?” Then they can come to an agreement.

Fran: But what about the “free-rider” problem—where some people abide by the rules and some people don’t? Won’t the whole thing fall apart?

Elinor: Well if the people don’t communicate and get some shared norms and rules, that’s right, you’ll have that problem. But if they get together and say, “Hey folks, this is a project that we’re all going to have to contribute to. Now, let’s figure it out,” they can make it work. For example, if it’s a community garden, they might say, “Do we agree every Saturday morning we’re all going to go down to the community garden, and we’re going to take roll and we’re going to put the roll up on a bulletin board?” A lot of communities have figured out subtle ways of making everyone contribute, because if they don’t, those people are noticeable.

Fran: So public shaming and public honoring are one key to managing the commons?

Elinor: Shaming and honoring are very important. We don’t have as much of an understanding of that. There are scholars who understand that, but that’s not been part of our accepted way of thinking about collective action.

page 2

Fran: Do you have a favorite example of where people have been able to self-organize to manage property in common?

Elinor: One that I read early on that just unglued me—because I wasn’t expecting it—was the work of Robert Netting, an anthropologist who had been studying the alpine commons for a very long time. He studied Swiss peasants and then studied in Africa too. He was quite disturbed that people were saying that Africans were primitive because they used common property so frequently and they didn’t know about the benefits of private property. The implication was we’ve got to impose private property rules on them. Netting said, “Are the Swiss peasants stupid? They use common property also.”

8 Keys to a Successful Commons
Advice on how to govern our commons by Nobel winner Elinor Ostrom.

Let’s think about this a bit. In the valleys, they use private property, while up in the alpine areas, they use common property. So the same people know about private property and common property, but they choose to use common property for the alpine areas. Why? Well, the alpine areas are what Netting calls “spotty.” The rainfall is high in one section one year, and the snow is great, and it’s rich. But the other parts of the area are dry. Now if you put fences up for private property, then Smith’s got great grass one year—he can’t even use it all—and Brown doesn’t have any. So, Netting argued, there are places where it makes sense to have an open pasture rather than a closed one. Then he gives you a very good idea of the wide diversity of the particular rules that people have used for managing that common land.

Fran: Why were Netting’s findings so surprising to you?

Elinor: I had grown up thinking that land was something that would always move to private property. I had done my dissertation on groundwater in California, so I was familiar with the management of water as a commons. But when I read Netting, I realized that when there are “spotty” land environments, it really doesn’t make sense to put up fences and have small private plots.

Fran: Lin, if you were to have a sit-down session with someone with a big influence on natural resources policy—say Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, or Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, what would be your advice?

Elinor: No panaceas! We tend to want simple formulas. We have two main prescriptions: privatize the resource or make it state property with uniform rules. But sometimes the people who are living on the resource are in the best position to figure out how to manage it as a commons.

Fran: Is there a role for government in those situations?

Elinor: We need institutions that enable people to carry out their management roles. For example, if there’s conflict, you need an open, fair court system at a higher level than the people’s resource management unit. You also need institutions that provide accurate knowledge. The United States Geological Survey is one that I point to repeatedly. They don’t come in and try to make proposals as to what you should do. They just do a really good job of providing accurate scientific knowledge, particularly for groundwater basins such as where I did my Ph.D. research years ago. I’m not against government. I’m just against the idea that it’s got to be some bureaucracy that figures everything out for people.

Fran: How important is it that there is a match between a governing jurisdiction and the area of the resource to be managed?

Elinor: To manage common property you need to create boundaries for an area at a size similar to the problem the people are trying to cope with. But it doesn’t need to be a formal jurisdiction. Sometimes public officials don’t even know that the local people have come to some agreements. It may not be in the courts, or even written down. That is why sometimes public authorities wipe out what local people have spent years creating.

Fran: You’ve done your research on small- and medium-sized natural resource jurisdictions. How about the global commons? We have the problems of climate change and oceans that are dying. Are there lessons from your work that are relevant to these massive problems we’re now facing?

Elinor: I really despair over the oceans. There is a very interesting article in Science on the “roving bandit.” It is so tempting to go along the coast and scoop up all the fish you can and then move on. With very big boats, you can do that. I think we could move toward solving that problem, but right now there are not many instrumentalities for doing that.

Regarding global climate change, I’m more hopeful. There are local public benefits that people can receive at the same time they’re generating benefits for the global environment. Take health and transportation as an example. If more people would walk or bicycle to work and use their car only when they have to go some distance, then their health would be better, their personal pocketbooks would be better, and the atmosphere would be better. Of course, if it’s just a few people, it won’t matter, but if more and more people feel “This is the kind of life I should be living,” that can substantially help the global problem. Similarly, if we invest in re-doing the insulation of a lot of buildings, we can save money as well as help the global environment. Yes, we want some global action but boy, if we just sit around and wait for that? Come on!

Fran: Do you have a message for the general public?

Elinor: We need to get people away from the notion that you have to have a fancy car and a huge house. Some of the homes that have been built in the last 10 years just appall me. Why do humans need huge homes? I was born poor and I didn’t know you bought clothes at anything but the Goodwill until I went to college. Some of our mentality about what it means to have a good life is, I think, not going to help us in the next 50 years. We have to think through how to choose a meaningful life where we’re helping one another in ways that really help the Earth.

Fran: Let’s look ahead 20 years. What would you hope that the world will understand about managing common property systems?

Elinor: What we need is a broader sense of what we call “social ecological systems.” We need to look at the biological side and the social side with one framework rather than 30 different languages. That is big, but I now have some of my colleagues very interested. Some of them are young, and what I find encouraging is that with a bunch of us working together, I can see us moving ahead in the next 20 years or so. Twenty years from now, at 96, I probably won’t be as active.

Fran: Not as active? I wouldn’t bet on that.

Fran Korten interviewed Elinor Ostrom for America: The Remix, the Spring 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Fran is publisher of YES! Magazine.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Community push-ups?

It doesn't work too good for me to write a title first and then write a post, as Alaska has so many issues over such a vast area. It's like trying to pick what is the most important thing going on in the world at the moment. You have solidly entrenched feudalism gripping the Western Alaska villages, you have the bottom trawlers eating everyone's lunch in the Gulf of Alaska, and you have thousands of little remnant salmon runs all screaming for someone to stop killing them off entirely.

Large scale devices are in place that confounds anyone with a glimmer of hope of fixing the problems. Since most of these problems involve buckets of money applied to keep supporting politicians in place to create more trouble for the 97%, it's a cycle that isn't easily broken. It's easy to say that a serious lack of moral turpitude is the root cause, but if most people could exchange shoes with the power brokers, the results would be the same. People are worried about the future for their families and are starting to act less altruistically all the time.

You might say that the family foundations of the rich are coming through to help our toughest problems, like schools that fail the kids. It's been real cute how the schools, and I mean colleges too, have put the onus on the kids by holding a failing grade over their heads when their business model has already failed. The foundations, where all the money is, are mostly just using their hubris as another lever to crank out money for themselves. Think machine-gunning miners and Rockefeller Center.

I have three boys in three branches of the military and they use a phrase that comes to mind that starts with 'cluster.' Wow, what's it going to be like when they are in the midst of their careers, or switching careers full bore, or just living off the land, when us baby-boomers are demanding the entire GDP to take care of us in our old age. My suggestion is to treat your kids real well now, because you might well need them later. We're not so far from pioneer days when families worked as a unit out of necessity.

There is a 'Transitions' movement going on, especially in Great Britian, to redefine communities to make them work. It's said that it might be too difficult for this to take root anywhere in the U.S. because Americans don't want to give up shopping at Walmart. And Americans just aren't that good at commitment. But I wonder about areas of the U.S. that don't resemble a ghetto or a theme park. Some communities with strong traditions of community might find it more attractive than waiting for Uncle Sam, or Uncle Sean to get their act together.

One tradition I know is still alive and well is, 'A man's got to do what a man's got to do.' When the chips fall, and they are falling fast, there will be phenomenon unseen for a long time, or something new even that can't be imagined now. But the survival instinct is alive and well and that I think will be the predominant factor. Even if the Forest Service is even now hiring more 'security types' to keep people from thinking about using the forest resources more than some distant bureaucrat says they should.

This post sure didn't go as planned. I guess the economic indicators just aren't that hot these days to write idly. Even that staunch economic engine Alaska has had, the halibut fishery, is under severe strain. Is it going to go the way of the Atlantic halibut? Why does it look like it is? Why does a professional halibut biologist say the trawlers have taken and discarded 100 million lbs in five years, then retract his statement? "Oops, I didn't mean they disappeared, I just meant they vanished." If the Inspector General's Office ever got wind of this, they would do some number crunching and probably come up with a closer figure than the $10 billion lost economic benefit that I did.

But then again, they might miss the fact that the trawlers aren't just killing scores of millions of pounds of baby halibut. They are killing and wasting the adult halibut they would have become. You just don't see that kind of talk anywhere because it's so awful to contemplate. So the solution has been to hide it in the closet. Or in the middle of the room, depending on if you think in terms of monsters or elephants.

Folks have told the big seafood processors to stay out of this mud fight between fishermen in the different areas. The problem is that powerful processors with high priced lawyers love to throw their weight around, just like powerful fishermen with high priced lawyers for that matter. I thought I had a solution in the Regional Seafood Development Association concept, but that was co-opted by the anti-democratic elements too. I suspect if there was a shred of democracy in fisheries management, the abusers of the system would be taken to the nearest dock and thrown over. On the positive side, it would be easier to accomplish a movement like this in little bitty Alaska than mighty Washington D.C.

Democracy should probably start at home, and that's a tall order. My dad was so used to being in charge, from being a fish buyer before 'the war', to being a fraternity president and naval officer, to seafood plant superintendent and respected industry leader. But my mother called him a dictator, slightly tongue-in-cheek, of course. I refuse to browbeat anyone. My kids are on their way to excellence: one of them is only 21 and he has become one of the very few military guys that you have to take if you 'go outside the wire.'

People still can't comprehend how we ended up with an oligarchy in this country. They should look at how many cylinders their own family is running on. We all know the statistics there. I would suggest that if you don't see any signs of things getting better, then take some action to see that it does, because the alternative isn't looking pretty.

Down here in Oregon, we can order a variety of locally produced foods for weekly pick-up or delivery. You do this and your medical bills will start easing up. It's tough for city folk, but like San Francisco, there are farmer's markets springing up all around the city. The demand is huge and those farmers are enjoying some degree of prosperity finally. The word is, also, that the average city lot can produce over 5,000 lbs of produce a year. Maybe not in Alaska though. My grandfather planted a bushel of potatoes behind the family house in Petersburg during the Depression and only got a bushel back. It was said that he was "one of the five real captains in Petersburg," so I suppose gardening wasn't a strong suit of his.

But I see some communities in Alaska are taking a real hard look at some point down the road at the rate they are going and don't like the picture at all. And they are wondering what are the alternatives. I think it's good they are thinking outside the box on these matters finally. It's a larger scale version of my oldest son training up my grandson. He's a happy, bright, well spoken five-year-old, and can whip out fifteen push-ups at the drop of a fib. Even one-handed ones. Did the push-ups hurt him? I think not, but it was probably painful to start with.

I know I wouldn't do anything real painful for the sake of society if these politicians we have were asking, which they are too smart to try anyway. But I would if a real respected elder were. I'm reminded of the Jews who were getting along fine, until one day they decided they wanted a king, instead of an elder, to just do everything for them. We all know how that worked out for them. Not that I think that the federal or state governments will ever become more responsive to people's needs. I can only see change being possible in small communities, and if there is a rich guy in town, he's not going to give up his gravy train without a fight, so just plan for it.

There is an article in the online magazine 'the Atlantic' called 'The Rise of the New Global Elite.' How they siphon $100 million a day off Wall Street with their fancy computer trading software programs. But how the other big countries have the same thing going on, and how they all meet at conferences like the Bilderburg Group conference in this country to hob-nob. And they fly around in their private jets and live in gated communities and the 99% which is us never lays eyes on them. Will that ever change? Your guess is as good as mine. I could really get the conversation going if I said the only thing lacking now if for them to elect a leader.

Addendum added 1/11/11 from the Straylight Journal, which underscores the value of Alaska's RSDA program, which the State treats like a red-headed stepchild:

17:01/02. CO-MANAGEMENT FOUND BEST FOR FISHERIES: A study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington (UW) and published in the 5 January issue of the journal Nature found the best-managed fisheries are those that bring together local representatives and fishermen who co-determine how the resources should be managed and then enforce these decisions effectively. More than 130 fisheries in 44 countries were studied, researching how co-management practices affect fisheries around the world. The results, according to UW’s Dr. Nicolas Gutierrez, who headed the research team, showed that a co-management framework, based on shared responsibility between the government and local fishermen, is the "only realistic solution" to the problems fisheries face.

The researchers found that the traditional "top-down" approach -- trawling quotas set down and policed by central authorities -- was failing in many fisheries as rules were often poorly implemented or abused. "Many people believe that having fishermen involved in the management process is letting the fox guard the henhouse,” said co-author Dr. Ray Hilborn. “What [this research] shows is just the opposite, that the more involved the fishing industry is in management, the better the outcome.”

For more information on the study see: Leadership, social capital and incentives promote successful fisheries by Nicolás L. Gutiérrez, Ray Hilborn, Omar Defeo in the 5 January issue of Nature, at: Also see the Agence France-Presse article in the 5 January Google News at:, and the Victoria Times-Colonist report at: