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Symbiotic Demand and the Tragedy of the Commons

on Thu, 04/26/2012 - 14:59

Since Hardin's essay in the late 1960's, many have resigned themselves to the notion that the commons, or more broadly speaking that environmental externalities of the economy either have to be accepted or addressed through macro-economic policy and regulations.  This notion has recently been challenged by "Symbiotic Demand", a concept that utilizes new capacities such as eco-geo-intelligence, shared governance, and strategic doing.  Symbiotic demand emerged from the application of a Minnesota, USA state-level project addressing water quality and agriculture production as illustrated: 


George Pór's picture


Tim, thank you so much for calling our attention to Symbiotic Demand!

Could you please share also the key idea of your book on EcoCommerce and how it realates to the concept of commons?

Are you familiar with the work of James Quilligan, who will lead a seminar series on subjects, some of which are propbably close  to your interest?

tgieseke's picture


Thanks for the note and notice about the Quilligan seminar series.  I was not aware of your posting until last night, so I did not participate, but it looks very relevant to my pursuit of this knowledge.  I will try to keep tabs on your work and similar sessions.

EcoCommerce addresses the commons in the broad sense that externaliites related to land management can be brought into economic and market transactions.  The key concept in EcoCommerce is the need for a land management market signal.  The idea emerged from a naive perspective that, as a farmer in the USA Midwest, I am a policy and price-taker and if society, government, industry, NGO want and need me to produce a greater abundance of ecosystem services, then I will need a transparent and succinct market signal.  Since non-point source pollution and ecosystem services are generated by how I manage my land and they are generated from diffuse sources, we can not just directly measure them in the manner that we measure bushels of grain or pounds of meat.  And if we decide that a particular land management strategy meets a "sustainability" definition for one entity that entity can not afford to pay the "whole labor, rent and profit".   Ecocommerce is the framework that allows many entities to value ecosystem services simultaneously, hence symbiotic demand.  As the number of demanders goes up the cost to the demanders goes down while the supplier receives equal or an increased value or payment.  Values associated with ecocommerce include market access, participatory benefits, reduced insurance liability, tax breaks, regulatory assurance and monetary payments.  Free-ridership is eliminated from a business sense, in that the entities that desire sustainability must have the data from the farmer to claim sustainability. 

An excerpt from the foreword states that, "EcoCommerce is more than an organization or compilation of ecosystem service markets as it provides the framework to build an ecological intelligence system that allows the public arena of commerce to define sustainability. 

- - Jerry Hatfield, Director, National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, United States Departement of Agricultural - Agriculture Research Service and a shared recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as member of the IPPC, lead ag author