Revisiting the Common Ownership of the Earth: A Democratic Critique of Global Distributive Justice Theories


Many theories of global distributive justice are based on the assumption that all humans hold common ownership of the earth. As the earth is finite and our actions interconnect, we need a system of justice that regulates the potential appropriation of the common earth to ensure fairness. According to these theories, imposing limits and distributive obligations on private and public property arrangements may be the best mechanism for governing common ownership. We present a critique of the assumption that this issue can be solved within the private–public property regime, arguing that the boundaries of this regime should not be taken for granted and that the growing literature on the democratic commons movement suggests how this can be accomplished. We consider that, if the earth is defined as a common, the private– public property paradigm must be open to questioning, and democratic commoners’ activities should be considered.

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