Reviewed by David Wirth, Boston College

Weston and Bollier propose a new structure for environmental policy and law based on a broader interpretation of green governance as it relates to human rights, economics and international relations.

Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights, and the Law of the Commons by Burns H. Weston and David Bollier, Cambridge University Press, 2013, 384 pp.

An individual human right to environment has been problematic, in part because the content of that right would be very difficult to define and its application to particular cases would be a formidable task. The authors, recognizing both the utility of the concept and the challenges it presents, recast the question in structural, decentralized, collective terms rather than in an individual, hierarchical, and legal framework.

Finding a useful analogy in the Internet, the authors advocate confidence in self-organized governance and collaboration in complex adaptive systems. Certainly such developments as private certification schemes developed by NGOs to identify sustainably harvested timber tend to suggest optimism about such a model. Whether such an approach will be sufficient to provide a path to address a problem of the staggering proportions of climate heating is another question altogether.

The authors, recognizing this challenge, then take on the question of global governance. The existing multilateral system is an ineffective patchwork of institutions, organizations, and practices, which generally boil down to a least-common-denominator compromise to which most states can acquiesce.

Instead, the authors of this work propose an approach based on commons management. Arguing for an orientation that is “more practical and improvisational than theoretical and directive” (180), the authors then set out ten catalytic strategies for achieving green governance. These include expanding and strengthening the public trust doctrine and an eclectic analysis that touches on Locke, Social Darwinism, the Magna Carta, and ancient Rome, to name a few.

It is beyond dispute that the world lacks anything approaching a coherent, effective approach to managing the stratospheric ozone layer and the global climate, whose existence as common-pool resources (the authors’ preferred term) has become apparent only in recent decades. As with the debate over the right to environment, this volume offers a variety of much-needed provocative alternative approaches to global commons management.

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