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TEDxWarsaw - Edwin Bendyk - 3/5/10

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Thank you. Good afternoon everybody. I have a difficult task, talking after such splendid presentations. But my aim is to bring a little bit of a different context to the talks we could hear earlier today. I'd like to talk-- to think a little bit about the phenomenon which is not that well understood, or is much better understood now, about how we are able to act together for the passage of the common good. But to deal with this topic, I'd like to start with a silly and simple question: What is, "future?" Perhaps everyone has his or her answer, but try to answer this question and you can see that everything you can say is, that future is something that will happen. When? In the future. So we have a perfect tautology. So it's-- And then you can see that it's impossible to talk about future in the present time. Yes? So we can only say that the future doesn't exist now. It will happen in the future, but it doesn't exist now. So, we cannot describe the future, and so we cannot predict the future. We can have guesses about it, but we cannot predict it. So let's put the issue of the future aside, we'll come back to it later on. And the second issue, this is the issue of common resources. As humans, as social animals we have to live together and we have to rely on common resources, like, fire, water, food, pastures, fisheries and so on. We call, sometimes, these common resources, "the commons." But we have always needed them, just to live. But after the second world war, scientists began to dig into this problem, and they discovered that there is a problem with the commons, especially when the age of scarcity is coming. And in 1968, Garret Hardin, and emigrant I will show soon, In 1968, Garrett Hardin, an eminent American ecologist, tried to show-- announce the problem of the commons. He realized-- Oh, you can read, in his text, he wrote, in 1968 in a science magazine-- in a scientific magazine, "Science," a very famous text called, "A Tragedy of the Commons." So, he wrote, and you can reat that. "Picture a pasture open to all... It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit -- in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all." So we are lost because we are rational, according to him. But if it is true, then we would know the future. But the future is unpredictable. So there must be a solution for the problems of the commons. And he tried to show two solutions to this problem. The first one is, privatization. So, "we should privatize as much commons as possible." The second one is a strict state control of the commons. But in 1989, the communism collapsed, and only one solution was left. Only privatization was the solution for the problem of the commons. And we had, at the end of this story, I believe that we are in a paradise. But then, once again, something new happened. New phenomena which we can call, "the modern commons," emerged, like, digital commons, Alek Tarkowski was talking about this problem, ecology, Sebastian Straube was talking about this. We are facing now the so-called biggest market failure ever, which is the climate crisis. Climate is the commons, but could we imagine privatization of the climate? Who should own it? Google perhaps? I don't know. But it's not so easy, so... the question is, are we really lost? No, because if we remember what I was saying about the future, the future is unpredictable. So, knowing that we are lost would predict the future, so there must be a solution for the problem of the commons, and the answer is in the body of the scientific work done by this lady, Elinor Ostrom. She won the Nobel Prize last year in economy. She proved that: "We can avoid the Tragedy of the Commons. The answer is co-operation, and the collective action in a pursuit of the common good." It's easy to say, but how to push us for collective action? We must refer to the work of another scientist, Robert Axelrod, another political scientist who worked on the alchemy of cooperation, and he realized, or he discovered, that there are many factors which need to work together to make collective action possible. The first one: we have to have norms. So, a common-- a set of common rules we obey, and to obey them, we need sanctions. But to obey rules and to follow the sanctions, we need to conversate, just to diffuse common knowledge about sanctions and norms. But sanctions are not good-- The sanctions don't work, if we do not participate in setting these sanctions. So-- And what is the best way of common working, common sanctions, norms and so on? It's collaboration. Okay, we know all of this, but one factor is crucial. We can set the whole enterprise, but this enterprise will collapse if one thing is missing: if we have no shared vision of the future. The shared, common vision of the future is the crucial part of the problem, of the solution, of the commons. And so, you remember that we cannot predict the future, that the future doesn't exist, but we rely on the future, because without it we cannot solve the problem of the commons. So how to solve the problem? Of the future and of the commons? There is a set of solutions, and we cannot predict the future, but we can manage the future. And we have a lot of tools now invented for doing this. Like foresight, like scenario planning -- this is not the time to talk about this. The discussion about managing the future demands a lot more time, than these 18 minutes, but we know a lot now, on how to deal with the future. And what we discovered, when we were [working on] this, was that these tools, like, foresight excercise, like scenario planning, like strategis conversations, are just collaborative tools leading steakholders who take part in these excercises to common, shared visions of the future. That's the aim of these excercises. But while doing this, the participants work together on a problem of creating the future, or, the vision of the future, as a commons. Future is becoming a kind of a crucial commons which defines the possibility of the solution-- or, defines the solution of the problem of the commons at all. So as a result of the common work on the vision of the future, we work on the solution of the problem of the commons. So during one excercise, we can not only shape the future, but we can also shape the fate of the commons, so as a result we can see that this-- the inevitable tragedy of the commons which was predicted by Garrett Hardin, can be avoided, and that the future can be saved. So now, when we ask, what is the future, and how we can manage it? We can see that it can be quite easy. Thank you. (applause) (Ralph Talmont:) If we have a malthusian scarcity disaster, on one end of the scale, and a sort of a utopian, technology-driven abundance for all, on the other end of this scale, it's very hard to actually find a reference point, where we, as kind of normal human beings, can place ourselves, I mean, I don't particularly subscribe to the malthusian version, neither am I a crazy, you know, technology-driven utopian character, despite the immediate surroundings. How do we, as, you know, ordinary people, find a space where we don't actually go crazy worrying about the two extremes, and function in such a way that we can work towards this, you know, the avoiding of the tragedy of the commons? (Edwin Bendyk:) So Elinor Ostrom proved that there is no one global solution. That there are only local solutions. And this local solution depends on local, let's say, experiences, local histories shared. So Poland is the great story for example, that-- there was a moment that we believed that society is on the edge of collapse. It was in the 70's, yes? And now-- Just in a moment, everything changed. And the incredible movement of Solidarity emerged, yes? Nobody could predict this moment, but now just in one moment, we believed, or we began to believe, that we can act together in the pursuit of our common good, which was, our future. Yes? And it's difficult to just plan such an action. We can push some factors, or we can-- through some conversations for example, just talk about a common meaning of different values. Because then we can find a common language and decide that it's worth working together on a solution. But it's impossible. And the last Climate Summit in Copenhagen, showed us that it's impossible and utopian to try to find the whole global solution for even the biggest problem, like the climate crisis. (RT:) Thank you very much. (EB:) Thanks. (applause)

Video Details

Duration: 12 minutes and 59 seconds
Country: Poland
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDxWarsaw
Director: TEDxWarsaw
Views: 77
Posted by: tedxwarsaw on Mar 15, 2010

Edwin Bendyk is a science writer, futurist and social commentator with a long editorial pedigree and a string of well regarded book titles. At TEDxWarsaw Edwin talks about how the tragedy of the commons can be avoided

About TEDx, x=independently organized event
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events which bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x=independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.*
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