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The Long Ecological Revolution

By John Bellamy Foster - Monthly Review, November 2017

Aside from the stipulation that nature follows certain laws, no idea was more central to the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and to the subsequent development of what came to be known as modern science, than that of the conquest, mastery, and domination of nature. Up until the rise of the ecological movement in the late twentieth century, the conquest of nature was a universal trope, often equated with progress under capitalism (and sometimes socialism). To be sure, the notion, as utilized in science, was a complex one. As Francis Bacon, the idea’s leading early proponent, put it, “nature is only overcome by obeying her.” Only by following nature’s laws, therefore, was it possible to conquer her.1

After the great Romantic poets, the strongest opponents of the idea of the conquest of nature during the Industrial Revolution were Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of classical historical materialism. Commenting on Bacon’s maxim, Marx observed that in capitalism the discovery of nature’s “autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs,” particularly the needs of accumulation. Yet despite its clever “ruse,” capital can never fully transcend nature’s material limits, which continually reassert themselves, with the result that “production moves in contradictions which are constantly overcome but just as constantly posited.” Its treatment of natural limits as mere barriers to be overcome, not as actual boundaries, gives capital its enormously dynamic character. But that same refusal to recognize natural limits also means that capital tends to cross critical thresholds of environmental sustainability, causing needless and sometimes irrevocable destruction.2 Marx pointed in Capital to such “rifts” in the socio-ecological metabolism of humanity and nature engendered by capital accumulation, and to the need to restore that metabolism through a more sustainable relation to the earth, maintaining and even improving the planet for successive human generations as “boni patres familias” (good heads of the household).3

In his Dialectics of Nature, written in the 1870s, Engels turned the Baconian ruse on its head in order to emphasize ecological limits:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first…. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature—but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.4

Although key parts of Marx and Engels’s ecological critique remained long unknown, their analysis was to have a deep influence on later socialist theorists. Still, much of actually existing socialism, particularly in the Soviet Union from the late 1930s through the mid-1950s, succumbed to the same extreme modernizing vision of the conquest of nature that characterized capitalist societies. A decisive challenge to the notion of the domination of nature had to await the rise of the ecological movement in the latter half of the twentieth century, particularly following the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. Here criticism of the ecological destruction brought on by modern science and technology and by unbridled industrialism—associated with a simplistic notion of human progress focusing on economic expansion alone—led to an alternative emphasis on sustainability, coevolution, and interconnection, of which ecology was emblematic. Science was said to have been misused, insofar as it had aided in the violation of nature’s own laws, ultimately threatening human survival itself. Through the development of the concept of the biosphere and the rise of the Earth System perspective (in which Soviet ecology played a crucial role), science increasingly came to be integrated with a more holistic, dialectical view, one that took on new radical dimensions that challenged the logic of the subordination of the earth and humanity to profit.5

Recent years have brought these issues renewed relevance, with the climate crisis and the introduction of the Anthropocene as a scientific classification of the changed human relation to the planet. The Anthropocene is commonly defined within science as a new geological epoch succeeding the Holocene epoch of the last 12,000 years; a changeover marked by an “anthropogenic rift” in the Earth System since the Second World War.6 After centuries of scientific understanding founded on the conquest of nature, we have now, indisputably, reached a qualitatively new and dangerous stage, marked by the advent of nuclear weapons and climate change, which the Marxist historian E. P. Thompson dubbed “Exterminism, the Last Stage of Imperialism.”7

From an ecological perspective, the Anthropocene—which stands not just for the climate crisis, but also rifts in planetary boundaries generally—marks the need for a more creative, constructive, and coevolutionary relation to the earth. In ecosocialist theory, this demands the reconstitution of society at large on a more egalitarian and sustainable basis. A long and continuing ecological revolution is needed—one that will necessarily occur in stages, over decades and centuries. But given the threat to the earth as a place of human habitation—marked by climate change, ocean acidification, species extinction, loss of freshwater, deforestation, toxic pollution, and more—this transformation requires immediate reversals in the regime of accumulation. This means opposing the logic of capital, whenever and wherever it seeks to promote the “creative destruction” of the planet. Such a reconstitution of society at large cannot be merely technological, but must transform the human metabolic relation with nature through production, and hence the whole realm of social metabolic reproduction.8

On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest

By Peter Linebaugh - CounterPunch, November 20, 2017

A Keynote Address, Delivered in the State Rooms at the House of Commons, 7 November 2017.

Two winds have propelled me here to you, to this House of Commons.

One wind, a hurricane and diabalo, brought flood and fire threatening the destruction of petrochemial civilization, call it capitalism. Homelessness or prison accompany the wind from, Detroit, Michigan, to Houston, Texas, from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean to northern California at the Pacific edge.

A second gentler, softer wind, a zephyr, has renewed my spirit from the Lacandón jungle in Chiapas where the Zapatistas have vowed to protect the forest and reclaim the land, or from the Great Plains of the American continent where pipe lines of oil and gas endanger the pollution of land and the rivers.  Encampments of indigenous people and their allies by prayer and by protest have become, in their words, “water protectors.”

Then, day before yesterday on Guy Fawkes Day, with some merry companio

An old oak tree in Sherwood Forest gave Robin Hood a safe house.  He told Little John that he and his merry companions (here I quote the 14th century Geste of Robin Hood) shall not rob the “husbonde that tylleth with his plough” or the “gode yeman that walketh by grene wode shawe.”ns of the indigenous people of these islands, I visited Sherwood Forest and Laxton parish in Nottinghamshire.

Laxton with its common and open fields, you know, is the oldest surviving system of agriculture based on the commons, similar to the ejido, or commons, of Mexican villages.  One of its commoners, Stuart Rose by name, took us ‘round.  By curious historical coincidence Laxton lent its name to the town of Lexington in Massachusetts where in 1775 the “shot was fired that was heard around the world.”

This was day before yesterday and since then revolutionary thoughts perforce have come to mind as I have journied at last to you here in this House.  Actually, your House provided me, a stranger, with a kind of home, because it was in its public gallery that my mother and father visited regularly in the years between 1947 and 1953 to listen to you.  Through the blinding pea soup fogs and in the pinching system of food rationing they were nourished by crystal clear words, both soft and gentle – that zephyr again – of Aneurin Bevan on behalf of housing and health care for all.  I was old enough to feel their passions and to identify with the protagonist of these words, the common people, because, as I was informed by my upper class school chums, as an American I, too, was “common.”

So, propelled by these winds of disaster and memories of defense I have become one of the scholarly vectors of a planetary discussion of the commons that began before 6 November 1217 when the Charter of the Forest was sealed and has continued ever since.  We do that work again for commons of housing and health care for all as we commemorate the Charter of the Forest, the little companion to the bigger, Magna Carta.

“It will be noticed how the word ‘common’ and its derivatives … appear and re-appear like a theme throughout the centuries,” wrote Edgell Rickword in The Handbook of Freedom, a book found in the kit of the boys going off to war in 1939.  “It was for the once vast common lands that the peasants took up arms; it was as the ‘true commons’ that they spoke of themselves when they assembled, and it was the aspiration of men not corrupted by petty proprietorship ‘that all things should be common.’”

William Blake said that “the whole duty of man is art and all things common.”

Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking

By Pete Dolack - CounterPunch, November 24, 2017

The world’s governments got together in Germany over the past two weeks to discuss global warming, and as a result, they, well, talked. And issued some nice press releases.

Discussing an existential threat to the environment, and all who are dependent on it, certainly is better than not discussing it. Agreeing to do something about it is also good, as is reiterating that something will be done.

None of the above, however, should be confused with implementing, and mandating, measures that would reverse global warming and begin to deal concretely with the wrenching changes necessary to avoid flooded cities, a climate going out of control, mass species die-offs and the other rather serious problems that have only begun to manifest themselves in an already warming world.

The 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP23, wrapped up on November 17 in Bonn. Fiji was actually the presiding country, but the conference was held in Bonn because Fiji was not seen as able to accommodate the 25,000 people expected to attend. The formal hosting by Fiji, as a small Pacific island country, was symbolic of a wish to highlight the problems of low-lying countries, but that this was merely symbolic was perhaps most fitting of all.

These conferences have been held yearly since the UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. Two years ago, at COP21 in Paris, the world’s governments negotiated the Paris Accord, committing to specific targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Although capping global warming at 2 degrees Celsius (as measured from the 19th century as the Industrial Revolution took off around the world) has been considered the outer limit of “safe” warming, a goal of halting global warming at 1.5 degrees was adopted at Paris. The catch here is that the goals adopted are far from the strength necessary to achieve the 2-degree goals, much less 1.5 degrees.

Before we explore that contradiction, let’s take a brief look at the self-congratulatory statements issued at the Bonn conference’s conclusion.

Nature Lovers May #OptOutside on Black Friday, but They Consume Resources Year-Round

By Matthew Klingle - Common Dreams, November 26, 2017

While shoppers scramble for Black Friday bargains this year, outdoor retailer REI is closing its 154 U.S. stores. This is the third consecutive year that the Seattle-based company will ignore the frenzy that traditionally marks the start of the holiday shopping season. REI’s nearly 12,000 employees will get a paid holiday and will not process any online orders.

Instead, REI exhorts workers and customers to get outside with family and friends. #OptOutside, a Twitter hashtag that REI coined to promote its anti-Black Friday, has been widely adopted by outdoor lovers, as well as environmental groups and businesses that partner with REI to promote this event.

The campaign has drawn international praise from the advertising industry and has become a yearly phenomenon. State parks from Oregon to Indiana, often in concert with local nonprofits, offer free admission and other perks on Black Friday. This year REI is launching an “experiential search engine” where users can share photos and video of their favorite outdoor destinations, augmented with information such as directions to trailheads or events celebrating our nation’s public lands.

Many observers have praised REI for mixing business savvy with crunchy acumen. But how did REI and other outdoor companies align themselves with conservation? How do they square selling expensive apparel and promoting carbon-spewing tourism with their customers’ love for the outdoors? And how radical is “Green Friday,” especially if the OptOutsiders are carrying backpacks stuffed with the latest gear made from precious petroleum, rare metals and pricey fibers?

The answer is that shoppers have long expressed their affection for nature in what they buy. Consumption and environmental concerns, past and present, fit together as snugly as a foot in a beloved hiking boot.

Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse

By Richard Smith - Common Dreams, November 21, 2017

On Monday November 13th, climate scientists from the Tyndal center for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia presented their carbon emissions research to the UN climate negotiators at Bonn Germany. The data were shocking: After three years in which human-caused emissions appeared to be leveling off, global CO2 emissions are now rising again to record levels in 2017. Global emissions are on course rise this year by 2%. China’s emissions are projected to rise by 3.5%. These may sound like small numbers but to climate scientists these are huge because if we’re to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Centigrade, those emissions need to be falling sharply, not just leveling off, let alone rising. Colorado State University climate scientist Scott Denning said “We’ve got to cut emissions by half in the next decade, and by half again in the next two decades, as well. The fact that it’s going up is like a red flag flashing light on the dashboard.”

"The problem is, we live in an economy built on perpetual growth but we on a finite planet with limited resources and sinks."

The same day, the journal BioScience published a letter by more than 15,000 scientists from around the world that looks back at the human response to climate change and other environmental challenges in the 25 years since another large group of scientists published the 1992 “World Scientists Warning to Humanity.”  

This time the scientists wrote in part: "Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse." If we don’t take immediate steps, “soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. " The goal of the letter, said William Ripple, distinguished professor in the college of Forestry at Oregon State University, and lead author of the new warning, is to "ignite a wide-spread public debate about the global environment and climate."

Ripple is right. We need a conversation, a global public debate about the global environment and how to save the planet, and we need to begin it right now.

Scientists Issue Dire Warning on Climate Change & Key Researcher Urges “Changes in How We Live”

Kevin Anderson interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, November 15, 2017

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from the U.N. climate summit in Bonn, Germany. The International Energy Agency predicts U.S. oil production is expected to grow an unparalleled rate in the coming years, even as the majority of scientists worldwide are saying countries need to cut down on fossil fuel extraction, not accelerate it. Meanwhile, a group of 15,000 scientists have come together to issue a dire “second notice” to humanity, 25 years after a group of scientists issued the “first notice” warning the world about climate change.

This comes as a major new study says European governments have drastically underestimated the methane emissions from gas. The report finds European Union nations can burn gas and other fossil fuels at the current rate for only nine more years before these countries will have exhausted their share of the Earth’s remaining carbon budget necessary to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Well, we’re joined now by the co-author of that report, one of the world’s leading climate scientists. He traveled here from England by train, refuses to fly because of its massive carbon footprint. Kevin Anderson is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester in Britain, co-author of the major new report entitled “Can the Climate Afford Europe’s Gas Addiction?”

Kevin Anderson, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. So, there’s so much to talk about. First, you took a train here, not a plane?

KEVIN ANDERSON: Yes. I always try and travel either by train or by ship, often by container ship. It’s not that I think the emissions necessarily from me or any other individual are, in themselves, really important. But I think it is really necessary, for those of us who judge that climate change is a huge and serious issue, that we demonstrate that in our own lives, and that we don’t just demonstrate it in what we do, but you try and push that agenda more widely, amongst our own colleagues, with our own universities, and then, of course, hopefully, eventually, that governments pick these things up and then scale up policies to drive this behavioral change at a national and then, hopefully, a global level.

AMY GOODMAN: You have coined the term “the climate glitterati.” What do you mean?

KEVIN ANDERSON: I think there have been—for many years, there have been people, you know, the great and the good, in the climate world. And they have certainly tried very hard to address the issue of climate change, though I think, with the latest data, we can see that emissions are going up, even this year, in 2017. So, fundamentally, they and the rest of us have actually failed in delivering what we expected to or what we hoped for.

But this particular group, I think, have done remarkably well out of the climate change world, if you like, out of all of these, the COPs or negotiations, the engagement with policymakers, the trips to Davos and so forth. And I think, in doing that, in being part of the status quo, they have actually misunderstood that a significant part of the problem when it comes to climate change is making changes in how we live our lives today, particularly those of us who are the very high emitters. About 50 percent of global emission has just come from about 10 percent of the global population. And the climate glitterati are quite clearly—and I include myself there—are in that particular group. And we have to demonstrate leadership in what we do. And I think if people are going to take our very careful analysis seriously, then we have to lend that analysis credibility by demonstrating that we are adjusting our own lives accordingly.

Abrupt Climate Justice

By John Foran - Resilience, November 16, 2017

Three of the most intense hurricanes ever recorded just ripped through Puerto Rico and the southern US – within weeks of each other! Ash rained from the sky in Seattle and Portland for weeks. Record monsoons swept through Asia. Parts of Sierra Leone and Niger are underwater. San Francisco recorded its hottest day ever and Europe endured a triple-digit heat wave they called “Diablo.” The fucking devil is here man, and its name is climate change. – Wendy & Jesse & Hayley & Teresa, “Face Down Climate Change,” Slingshot issue 125 (Autumn 2017)

I recently attended a talk by Guy McPherson, generally acknowledged as the doyen –some consider him the “superhero” – of the abrupt climate change [ACC] thesis [note to readers:  I understand that Guy McPherson can be a “polarizing” figure for some in the Resilience community; I ask only that you read my essay with the usual care, and stay focused on the nuances of my argument!).  I only came across this debate because I met – to my great good fortune – Shanelle LeFage, a millennial expert on it, and have subsequently followed her leads into the literature, discussed below.  As I learned more, I began to realize something that I had always intimated:  the science is grimmer than any of us know…

This has important implications for how those of us in the global climate justice movement approach our work, that it’s high time we tease out and engage with.

We need to overhaul our economy to meet the challenges of the 2020s

By Mathew Lawrence - Red Pepper, November 16, 2017

British capitalism is deeply dysfunctional. We have the richest region in Europe – inner London – but most British regions are now poorer than the European average. The UK’s productivity performance has been abject for a decade. We are in the middle of the longest stagnation in earnings for 150 years. Young people today are set to be poorer than their parents and poverty rates are rising. The environmental impacts of our economy are damaging and unsustainable. In short, while the UK retains significant endowments and capabilities, our economic model is failing too many people and needs radical reform.

The case for change is compounded by the challenges confronting the country in the decades ahead. Brexit is the most obvious disruptive force, and whatever relationship emerges with the EU, it is bound to have critical implications for our future prosperity.   Yet even as the UK negotiates its new relationship with Europe, an accelerating wave of economic, social and technological change will reshape the country, in often quite radical ways.  Brexit then is only the firing gun on a wider decade of disruption.  Four trends stand out that will shape the course of the 2020s: technological transformation, demographic change, the evolution of globalisation, and growing ecological crisis.  

First, ongoing technological change has the potential to reshape the economy, driving economic, social and political realignments. The accelerating capability of AI and robotics is likely to shrink the areas in which humans have comparative advantages over machines. This does not mean a post-human economy is imminent. Indeed, given the UK’s woeful performance on investment and productivity, it is the relative absence of robots that is the more obvious concern on current trends. Yet the increasing capability of machines is likely to reshape how we work. The greater risk is then not mass technologically-induced unemployment but a paradox of plenty, a world in which we are richer in aggregate but poorer in average, as the gains of automation flow disproportionately to the highly-skilled and capital grows its share of national income at the expense of labour. It is a future in which who owns the robots comes to own the world.  The continued rise of digital platform monopolies – the dominant organisational form of contemporary capitalism – is likely to further concentrate economic gains.

Crucially, the machine age will be human shaped. The pace and distributional effect of automation is driven by a series of factors that public policy profoundly shapes.  The technical capacity to automate is only one. The relative cost of labour and capital, the costs of technological adoption relative to the benefits, the ethical and regulatory norms governing the use of technology all impact on whether roles are actually automated and to what effect. The impact of technologies, in other word, is not a directionless, impersonal phenomenon but rather one embedded and shaped by our collective institutions, cultures, and politics. New models ownership of technologies, data and equity is therefore a fruitful avenue to explore to ensure the machine age is one where abundance is matched with justice.

Let's Just Admit It: Capitalism Doesn't Work

By John Atcheson - Common Dreams, November 13, 2017

In almost every way you examine it, capitalism – at least the relatively unconstrained, free- market variety practiced here in the US and supported by both parties -- has been an abysmal failure. Let’s take a close look some of its worst failings.  But first, it must be admitted that when it comes to exploiting people and the planet for the purpose of generating apparent wealth for the few, it has been a smashing success.  More about that notion of “apparent wealth” in a moment, but now, the specifics.

The logical end-point of a competitive system is an oligarchic monopoly

A recent report  by UBS reveals that the global march of economic inequality is accelerating.  The report found that the billionaire’s share of wealth grew by nearly 20 percent last year, reaching a level of disparity not seen since 1905, the gilded age.  Interestingly, the first gilded age followed decades of uber-free market laissez-faire policies, just as today’s gilded age has.

Not surprising, really. Empirical evidence shows that without constraint, markets will proceed toward a winner-take-all status. In short, monopolies and oligopolies. For example, the United States has had three periods of prolonged laissez-faire economic policies, and each was followed by extreme wealth inequality and the three biggest economic crises in US history, such inequality causes.

Oh, but the magic of competition makes companies compete for our dollar, so they can’t afford to exploit us, right? Not so much.

The magic elixir of competition doesn’t work—for the simple reason that there isn’t much competition anymore. Having convinced folks that regulation is bad, the Oligarchy is in the midst of a frenzy of mergers that is giving a few large conglomerates control of many of the major market sectors.

Derrick Thompson, in a recent article in the Atlantic, lays out some of the grim statistics that illustrate the trend. As Thompson writes,

To comprehend the scope of corporate consolidation, imagine a day in the life of a typical American and ask: How long does it take for her to interact with a market that isn’t nearly monopolized? She wakes up to browse the Internet, access to which is sold through a local monopoly. She stocks up on food at a superstore such as Walmart, which owns a quarter of the grocery market. If she gets indigestion, she might go to a         pharmacy, likely owned by one of three companies controlling 99 percent of that market. If she’s stressed and wants to relax outside the shadow of an oligopoly, she’ll have to stay away from ebooks, music, and beer; two companies control more than half     of all sales in each of these markets. There is no escape—literally. She can try boarding an airplane, but four corporations control 80 percent of the seats on domestic flights.

The consolidation of the media is yet another example; just six corporations now control 90 percent of the market. And of course, there’s the inconvenient fact that the “too-big-to-fail” banks that were a major cause of the 2008 Great Recession are now bigger and fewer.

This concentration of market power translates into lower wages, fewer jobs, and higher prices – exactly the opposite of what the neoclassical economic theory embraced by capitalists tells us will happen when we remove regulatory constraints – and exactly the opposite of what the Republicans’ trickle-down myth says will happen. Or what the neoliberal Democrats tell us, for that matter.

But it also gives the wealthy control over our political system, and the people have gotten wise to it.  That’s why a little over a quarter of the eligible voters were able to put Trump in power – most of the rest of us are completely turned off by a political system that’s clearly for sale and so, increasingly, many do not show up to vote.

That control has expressed itself in policies that result in extreme income disparities between the increasingly few haves and the expanding have-nots. Today, just five people have as much wealth as the 3.8 billion people comprising the least wealthy half of the world’s population, and nowhere in the developed world is the problem as acute as it is in America.  The system is rigged, and our belief in capitalism and the power of the magic markets is what allowed that.

Why you've never heard of a Charter that's as important as the Magna Carta

By Guy Standing - Open Democracy, November 6, 2017

Eight hundred years ago this month, after the death of a detested king and the defeat of a French invasion in the Battle of Lincoln, one of the foundation stones of the British constitution was laid down. It was the Charter of the Forest, sealed in St Paul’s on November 6, 1217, alongside a shortened Charter of Liberties from 2 years earlier (which became the Magna Carta).

The Charter of the Forest was the first environmental charter forced on any government. It was the first to assert the rights of the property-less, of the commoners, and of the commons. It also made a modest advance for feminism, as it coincided with recognition of the rights of widows to have access to means of subsistence and to refuse to be remarried.

The Charter has the distinction of having been on the statute books for longer than any other piece of legislation. It was repealed 754 years later, in 1971, by a Tory government.

In 2015, while spending lavishly on celebrating the Magna Carta anniversary, the government was asked in a written question in the House of Lords whether it would be celebrating the Charter this year. A Minister of Justice, Lord Faulks, airily dismissed the idea, stating that it was unimportant, without international significance.

Yet earlier this year the American Bar Association suggested the Charter of the Forest had been a foundation of the American Constitution and that it was more important now than ever before. They were right.

It is scarcely surprising that the political Right want to ignore the Charter. It is about the economic rights of the property-less, limiting private property rights and rolling back the enclosure of land, returning vast expanses to the commons. It was remarkably subversive. Sadly, whereas every school child is taught about the Magna Carta, few hear of the Charter.

Yet for hundreds of years the Charter led the Magna Carta. It had to be read out in every church in England four times a year. It inspired struggles against enclosure and the plunder of the commons by the monarchy, aristocracy and emerging capitalist class, famously influencing the Diggers and Levellers in the 17th century, and protests against enclosure in the 18th and 19th.

At the heart of the Charter, which is hard to understand unless words that have faded from use are interpreted, is the concept of the commons and the need to protect them and to compensate commoners for their loss. It is scarcely surprising that a government that is privatising and commercialising the remaining commons should wish to ignore it.

In 1066, William the Conqueror not only distributed parts of the commons to his bandits but also turned large tracts of them into ‘royal forests’ – ie, his own hunting grounds. By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, there were 25 such forests. William’s successors expanded and turned them into revenue-raising zones to help pay for their wars. By 1217, there were 143 royal forests.

The Charter achieved a reversal, and forced the monarchy to recognise the right of free men and women to pursue their livelihoods in forests. The notion of forest was much broader than it is today, and included villages and areas with few trees, such as Dartmoor and Exmoor. The forest was where commoners lived and worked collaboratively.

The Charter has 17 articles, which assert the eternal right of free men and women to work on their own volition in ways that would yield all elements of subsistence on the commons, including such basics as the right to pick fruit, the right to gather wood for buildings and other purposes, the right to dig and use clay for utensils and housing, the right to pasture animals, the right to fish, the right to take peat for fuel, the right to water, and even the right to take honey.

The Charter should be regarded as one of the most radical in our history, since it asserted the right of commoners to obtain raw materials and the means of production, and gave specific meaning to the right to work.

It also set in train the development of local councils and judiciary, notably through the system of Verderers, which paved the way for magistrate courts. In modern parlance, it extended agency freedom, giving commoners voice in managing the commons, as well as system freedom, by opposing enclosure.

The Charter set the foundation for what is now called the communal stewardship of pooled assets and resources. Its ethos is the antithesis of the Government’s pretentious Natural Capital Committee, which is trying to capitalise the natural commons, to make them ‘profitable’. The commons exist for a way of living, not profits.

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