Ostrom lectures on the importance of the individual in solving climate change

By Ardee Napolitano

Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom questioned the efficiency of governmental intervention in solving climate change in the department of economics’ 15th Annual Phillip Gamble Lecture Thursday afternoon.

Ostrom deemed climate change as a current global problem that concerns everyone, in her lecture titled “Thinking about Climate Change as a Commons.” Yet, she emphasized that global collective action is not an efficient solution.

Global collective action involves and promotes government intervention by requiring people to comply only with policies enforced by a specific government and adapted by countries around the world, Ostrom said.

She said that because of governmental intervention in small communities, people tend to do little. They sit around and wait for officials to enact a collective policy, which in turn becomes poorly implemented Ostrom said.

“It looks to me that it would take us 10 years before we reach an agreement,” she said. “We can’t afford to wait that long.”

Instead, Ostrom said that people should manage climate change through “various systems in multiple scales,” meaning that people should count less on governmental intervention, and more on individual actions to solve this problem.

Also, Ostrom said that global benefits should not be the only benefits that must be inculcated to people’s minds.

“I think we need to think of individual externalities as well,” she said.

Ostrom explained that from a behavioral point of view, people are less likely to act if they are not offered any individual benefits. But when they see improvements in the future, and when they realize that those improvements would affect their lives, they are more likely to take action.

The example Ostrom gave was riding a bike. According to Ostrom, telling people that biking would only reduce emission of greenhouse gases would result to fewer individual actions. But, telling them that biking would help them save money and would give them more exercise while saving the environment would guarantee individual participation.

Furthermore, Ostrom suggested a number of ways that would help lessen the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.

According to research, commercial buildings consume the largest amount of energy in the U.S., eating up 40 percent of our country’s yearly energy consumption. Seventy percent of buildings’ energy use is allotted for heating and cooling, which often becomes excessive and wasteful.

According to Ostrom, through weatherization and insulation, at least 20 percent of commercial building energy consumption as well as household energy consumption can be used in alternative ways.

Weatherization or weatherproofing is a method that protects buildings from extreme weather conditions. Insulation, on the other hand, helps buildings to maintain a moderate temperature regardless of how cold or hot it is outside. Applying these two methods will optimize buildings’ energy efficiency, according to Ostrom’s research.

She also recommended the use of fuel-efficient vehicles and energy-efficient appliances to families.

In addition, Ostrom said that improving forest conditions is one of the most important strategies in countering climate change.

Ostrom praised government-owned forests for allowing minimal wood harvesting, a practice where trees are removed from forests for their wood. Because of that, forests flourish in better condition.

She also emphasized the importance of bringing awareness about deforestation to smaller communities and asked residents to do what they can to save the country’s dying forests.

Ultimately, Ostrom urged communities to involve local residents, and pushed people to stop waiting and start taking individual action to fight climate change.

“I don’t like to see us wasting our energy denying what we can do,” she said.

Ostrom won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009, which she shared with American economist Oliver E. Williamson, and became the first woman to do so. She is currently a Distinguished Professor and the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science at Indiana University at Bloomington.

Ardee Napolitano can be contacted at [email protected]