Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom gave an impassioned and intellectual talk about solutions to climate change this past Thursday, September 22 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The Department of Economics invited Ostrom to give the 2011 Philip Gamble Memorial Lecture, an event created in memory of Philip Gamble, a former member of the economics faculty. Ostrom is a professor of Political Science at Indiana University and in 2009 she became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences since the award’s beginning in 1969.
Ostrom’s talk, titled “Thinking About Climate Change as a Commons” detailed the issues with viewing climate change as a problem that can only have global solutions. Instead Ostrom encourages using action on national, local and personal levels to achieve goals for reducing environmental degradation.
According to Ostrom, the conventional theory surrounding climate change is that “those using fossil fuels cannot reduce their actions without an external government requiring it” and that “global treaties are thought to be the only way” of doing this. Ostrom feels that an approach to climate change solutions based on polycentrism would be much more successful.
Polycentrism essentially dictates dispersing the centers of power to more locations as opposed to a national or global approach that keeps policy control in fewer places. This requires “complex, multi-level political-economic-social systems to cope” because action must be taking place all over. Spreading out decision making for global climate issues is important because “if there are externalities that can happen at multiple scales, then taking action that affects multiple scales can have an impact.”
Basically, because the effects of climate change can be seen in local, national, and international arenas all of these locations should be utilized for policy. Ostrom believes that individuals should be taking charge of their own actions to achieve solutions to environmental issues, instead of waiting for powerful governments to make sweeping policies. She urges individuals not to wait for resolutions coming from a global scale because it is unknown how long this will take.
For example, Ostrom detailed how “households could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% within 10 years” if individuals made minor adjustments in their current living situation, like using low flow shower heads or setting back thermostats. Actions such as these do not require government policy and can be achieved on individual and local scales.
Ostrom explained that her basic wish is for humanity to move ahead towards solutions for environmental issues and that to do this, although global policy is necessary, so is individual and local action. Climate change is an issue affecting everyone on multiple levels, which is why it must be solved with action on all these levels.