Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. They laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work digging out the truth. Please support this independent journalism today by donating to our critical Fall Campaign. We cannot do it without you. Thank you. -- Craig Brown, Co-founder

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

Green from the Grassroots

Elinor Ostrom

 by Project Syndicate

(Note: Elinor Ostrom, the first and only woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics, died today at the age of 78. In her final syndicated column, she champions those local communities that have not waited for global agreements or policies from above, but have taken it upon themselves to create 'organic' policies to manage shared resources and adapt to current global challenges and the ones ahead.)

Much is riding on the United Nations Rio+20 summit. Many are billing it as Plan A for Planet Earth and want leaders bound to a single international agreement to protect our life-support system and prevent a global humanitarian crisis.

Inaction in Rio would be disastrous, but a single international agreement would be a grave mistake. We cannot rely on singular global policies to solve the problem of managing our common resources: the oceans, atmosphere, forests, waterways, and rich diversity of life that combine to create the right conditions for life, including seven billion humans, to thrive.

We have never had to deal with problems of the scale facing today’s globally interconnected society. No one knows for sure what will work, so it is important to build a system that can evolve and adapt rapidly.

Decades of research demonstrate that a variety of overlapping policies at city, subnational, national, and international levels is more likely to succeed than are single, overarching binding agreements. Such an evolutionary approach to policy provides essential safety nets should one or more policies fail.

The good news is that evolutionary policymaking is already happening organically. In the absence of effective national and international legislation to curb greenhouse gases, a growing number of city leaders are acting to protect their citizens and economies.

"Sustainability at local and national levels must add up to global sustainability. This idea must form the bedrock of national economies and constitute the fabric of our societies."

This is hardly surprising – indeed, it should be encouraged.

Most major cities sit on coasts, straddle rivers, or lie on vulnerable deltas, putting them on the front line of rising sea levels and flooding in the coming decades. Adaptation is a necessity. But, with cities responsible for 70% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, mitigation is better.

When it comes to tackling climate change, the United States has produced no federal mandate explicitly requiring or even promoting emissions-reductions targets. But, by May last year, some 30 US states had developed their own climate action plans, and more than 900 US cities have signed up to the US climate-protection agreement.

This grassroots diversity in “green policymaking” makes economic sense. “Sustainable cities” attract the creative, educated people who want to live in a pollution-free, modern urban environment that suits their lifestyles. This is where future growth lies. Like upgrading a mobile phone, when people see the benefits, they will discard old models in a flash.

Of course, true sustainability goes further than pollution control. City planners must look beyond municipal limits and analyze flows of resources – energy, food, water, and people – into and out of their cities.

Worldwide, we are seeing a heterogeneous collection of cities interacting in a way that could have far-reaching influence on how Earth’s entire life-support system evolves. These cities are learning from one another, building on good ideas and jettisoning poorer ones. Los Angeles took decades to implement pollution controls, but other cities, like Beijing, converted rapidly when they saw the benefits. In the coming decades, we may see a global system of interconnected sustainable cities emerging. If successful, everyone will want to join the club.

Fundamentally, this is the right approach for managing systemic risk and change in complex interconnected systems, and for successfully managing common resources – though it has yet to dent the inexorable rise in global greenhouse-gas emissions.

Rio+20 has come at a crucial juncture and is undoubtedly important. For 20 years, sustainable development has been viewed as an ideal toward which to aim. But the first State of the Planet Declaration, published at the recent mammoth science gathering Planet Under Pressure, made it clear that sustainability is now a prerequisite for all future development. Sustainability at local and national levels must add up to global sustainability. This idea must form the bedrock of national economies and constitute the fabric of our societies.

The goal now must be to build sustainability into the DNA of our globally interconnected society. Time is the natural resource in shortest supply, which is why the Rio summit must galvanize the world. What we need are universal sustainable development goals on issues such as energy, food security, sanitation, urban planning, and poverty eradication, while reducing inequality within the planet’s limits.

As an approach to dealing with global issues, the UN Millennium Development Goals have succeeded where other initiatives have failed. Though not all MDGs will be met by the target date of 2015, we can learn a great deal from the experience.

Setting goals can overcome inertia, but everyone must have a stake in establishing them: countries, states, cities, organizations, companies, and people everywhere. Success will hinge on developing many overlapping policies to achieve the goals.

We have a decade to act before the economic cost of current viable solutions becomes too high. Without action, we risk catastrophic and perhaps irreversible changes to our life-support system.

Our primary goal must be to take planetary responsibility for this risk, rather than placing in jeopardy the welfare of future generations.


© 2021 Project Syndicate

Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom (1933-2012) was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics. She was the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Planet Under Pressure conference and a Professor of Political Science and Senior Co-Research Director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University. Her books include Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Understanding Institutional Diversity, and Foundations of Social Capital.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Schumer Endorses 'Inspiring Community Leader' India Walton as Buffalo's Next Mayor

The U.S. Senate majority leader's move comes as some key New York Democrats refuse to back the democratic socialist.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Who Will You Throw Overboard?' Manchin Targeted for Trying to Sink Democratic Agenda

West Virginians gathered at the senator's yacht to demand that he stop blocking the "popular and needed" Build Back Better package.

Jessica Corbett ·


'We Shouldn't Do It at All': Manchin Admits He's the Enemy of Democrats' Ambitions

The right-wing West Virginia Democrat and fossil fuel investor has previously confessed his intent to quash his own party's sweeping $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package.

Brett Wilkins ·


After Getting 'Stealth Bailout' During Pandemic, US Corporations Try to Kill Proposed Tax Hikes

"When it's time to finally put workers first, big businesses are spending millions to maintain their advantage and preserve the status quo," said Kyle Herrig of Accountable.US.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Disgraceful': Just 9 Republicans Join With Dems to Hold Steve Bannon in Criminal Contempt

The vote "reveals just how far the Republican Party has fallen" since Trump took control as GOP's de facto leader, said one pro-democracy advocate.

Jon Queally ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo