The American Commons
What exactly are these commons you’re supposed to protect? You, as an American citizen, own an incredible wealth of natural resources. Maybe the magnitude of this windfall hasn’t sunk in yet. The concept of purple mountains majesty and fruited plains seems so ambiguous. What exactly is included in the American commons?
The US encompasses six, count them six, major terrestrial biomes â€“ arctic/alpine tundra, coniferous forest/taiga, grassland/prairie, deciduous forest, desert, and tropical rain forestâ€“ and an array of aquatic ecosystems. As stewards of this land, we are responsible for a dazzling diversity of flora and fauna. Our economic holdings includes all kinds of renewable and non-renewable resources from oil and coal to game and fisheries. About one third of the nation’s land mass is forest, though only around 43% percent of that resource is publicly owned. We also hold extremely valuable grasslands for grazing, though you might not know that based on what we charge for the privilege.
David Bollier, a staunch defender of our American assets, identified our physical holdings in his keynote address to The New America Foundation conference on reclaiming the American commons in March 2001:
“Not many Americans realize that they own nearly one-third of the surface area of the country as well as the mineral-rich outer continental shelf. Huge deposits of oil, uranium, natural gas and other mineral wealth can be found on public lands, along with rich supplies of timber, grazing lands, and fresh water.”
Of course, he proceeds to state that a great many of these resources are leased or sold for below-market rates, while being environmentally abused in the process. That such a state of affairs is accepted as inevitable fact is tragic, not to mention fiscally irresponsible. But his point is that we own in common a lot of very valuable commodities.
Now, owning an asset is a good thing. Land is especially good because, as it’s been said, they’re not making any more of it. Ownership of valuable assets is the time-honored way of amassing, increasing, and consolidating wealth. Yet the Ownership Society that so many conservatives favor would take our property away from us and transfer it to private interests.
Here’s a word to the wise: Don’t trust anyone who wants to take something that we all share and profit from equally and give it to someone else to profit from exclusively.
Our parks, waterways, and aquifers, our North American flora and fauna, our fresh water and fresh air (at least what’s left of it) represent our shared natural heritage. The desire to protect these assets is spun in the media is environmentalism, a liberal virtue that conservatives are taught to despise. However, this common sense approach to the commons doesn’t strike me as particularly partisan; very few citizens of any political affiliation seem willing to rent or sell their personal property for cents on the dollar, let alone give it away while it has value. Rather, this is more of a philosophical difference between democracy and fascism.
If you are a citizen of the United States, the commons belong to you, pure and simple. Protect them.