By common ownership we don’t mean state property. We are not proposing the science-fiction nightmare of all the Earth’s resources being owned and controlled by a single World State. We mean the opposite: that there should be no private property or territorial rights over any part of the globe. The Earth and its natural and industrial resources should not belong to anybody – not to individuals, not to corporations, not to states. They should simply be there to be used by human beings to satisfy their needs.
World Common Ownership is not a new concept. When in the 1970s they were discussing dividing up the seas amongst States and individuals in the same way that the land has been, the idea of ‘global commons’ was put forward. And you had, of all people, President Nixon talking about making the seas ‘the common heritage of all mankind’. The idea was that there should be no private property and territorial rights over them. The same has been proposed for Antarctica and the Moon.
What we are proposing is that this should apply to the Earth as well – that private property rights and territorial rights over any part of the planet should be abolished. This is the only basis on which we as the human species can set about arranging our relationship with the rest of Nature in a rational and ecological way so that the planet becomes a habitable place for all of us.
Due to the development of the world market economy, the relationship between humans and the rest of Nature has now become a relationship between the whole human species and the biosphere as a whole. Which is a point that some Greens overlook when they propose going back to local small-scale self-sufficient communities.
Just look at the sort of problems that have been discussed at the various Earth Summits that used to be held: global warming, tropical deforestation, the thinning of the ozone layer, acid rain. All these are world problems – problems that ignore the artificial frontiers which crisscross the globe, problems which concern the whole human race.
The calling of so-called Earth Summits and other meetings to deal with climate change are a recognition that there are no national or local solutions to these problems. But these meetings have been failures, and were bound to be, because solutions were sought within the framework of the present, profit-driven, capitalist world economic system. The leaders of states, driven by the system to engage in a competitive struggle for profits against each other, were expected to co-operate to solve ecological problems – problems caused by the competitive, profit-seeking system they support and uphold.
While it is clear that a question which concerns the whole world such as the possible consequences of global warming can be effectively dealt with only by unified action at a world level, it is equally clear that this is not going to happen under the profit system. The different states into which the world is divided have different – and clashing – interests. At most, all that can happen under the profit system when a global problem arises is ‘much too little, much too late’.
The profit system, the world market system, must go before we can tackle these problems in a constructive and permanent way. It must be replaced by a global system of common ownership and democratic control. We must organise to take the Earth back from those who currently own and exploit it, and must make it the common heritage of all.
From the Socialist Standard No. 1349 January 2017