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The Drama of the Commons
other forces in complex ways; one of the main challenges facing those interested in the human dimensions of environmental change is to sort out the relative significance or weight of institutional drivers and other driving forces.
Yet an emphasis on the role of institutions in this connection has great appeal, so long as care is taken to avoid the assumption that institutional arrangements operate in a vacuum, producing results without regard to the character of the broader biogeophysical and socioeconomic settings in which they operate. The content of prevailing institutions is subject to intentional reform, a fact that opens up the opportunity to engage in design efforts in the interests of minimizing the negative consequences of existing institutions and supplementing or even replacing these arrangements in order to mitigate or adapt to environmental changes. The message of this chapter regarding efforts to design arrangements to minimize problems arising from institutional interplay is one of great caution but certainly not of pessimism. Even if we succeed in identifying institutional forces giving rise to environment problems, there is no guarantee that we can take the steps—including exercises in political design and management—needed to alter the operation of prevailing arrangements in a well-planned fashion. Nonetheless, the prospect that (re)designing institutions can play a role in controlling or managing environmental changes provides a compelling reason to invest time and energy in enhancing our understanding of the dynamics of institutional interplay.
Like other participants in this project, I use the term institution to mean an assemblage of rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that gives rise to a social practice, assigns roles to participants in this practice, and governs interactions among occupants of these roles.
In this account, I use the concept of level of social organization as a means of describing scale delimited in spatial terms. Where interplay occurs between institutions operating at the local level and institutions operating at the national level, for example, I describe the resultant interplay as an instance of cross-scale interactions.
In the discussion to follow, public property refers to land/sea and associated natural resources owned by the state; private property refers to land/sea and natural resources belonging to individual members of society; and common property refers to land/sea and natural resources owned jointly by the members of an identifiable community. In analyzing the consequences of interactions among different structures of property rights, I consider various types of natural resources and environmental services, including but not limited to what are commonly known as common-pool resources.
Both Principle 21 of the 1972 Stockholm Declaration and Principle 2 of the 1992 Rio Declaration, for example, declare that “States have…the sovereign right to exploit their own resources…”
Recent settlements of comprehensive claims with aboriginal peoples in the Canadian North have reduced the scope of public property somewhat and, at the same time, introduced some interesting arrangements featuring more complex systems of land tenure. Even so, public land remains the norm in Canada.
In the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (P.L. 92-203), for example, the U.S. government awarded title to nearly 44 million acres of land to Native corporations but, at the same time, declared that “All aboriginal titles, if any, and claims of aboriginal title in Alaska . . . including any aboriginal hunting or fishing rights that may exist, are hereby extinguished” (Sec. 4b).