Climate change is a classic (and particularly tragic) "tragedy of the commons" problem. For many years we've been able to dump our CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into our shared atmosphere, with no real incentives to behave otherwise.
And efforts over the past several decades have shown how hard it can be to make progress when there's no trust among all the parties involved. Seemingly wise "top-down" schemes don't find the sort of support they'd need to be successful. And the mistrust becomes corrosive to the very fabric of our communities.
So recent news from MIT about community-driven agricultural development caught my eye. The article notes that “considerable research over the last few decades has shown that bringing about improvements in agricultural systems is a highly complex challenge, with many interrelationships and feedbacks determining how well new methods and devices take hold or provide a real improvement.” (Not unlike climate action, right?) Field studies by Elizabeth Hoffecker, from MIT D-Lab’s International Development Innovation Network, and Boru Douthwaite of the NGO WorldFish, found that a community working together on smaller immediate challenges develops greater trust. This sets the stage for progress on bigger problems that previously seemed intractable.
One study looked specifically at overfishing in a Zambian community:
The Zambian fisheries were facing two related issues, Hoffecker says: “The narrow challenge was to come up with a way to prevent fish from spoiling.” But in addressing that challenge, it became apparent that “there was a much bigger challenge, which was overfishing.” Though many communities in the region were facing these same challenges, “some of the stakeholders were not working together” to address them, she says. If people had tried to get these groups to work together on the bigger challenge right at the start, she says, “it probably would have failed,” because there was so much mistrust between the different communities...
...The overall process led to four significant outcomes, Douthwaite says — none of which had been planned or anticipated initially and thus might have been missed in an evaluation based just on meeting initial, stated goals. The four outcomes consisted of developing a locally sourced fish-processing method (the salting), developing a value chain for the salted fish from harvest to market, creating working groups that could continue to evaluate and improve innovations in the fishery, and improving relationships among the different groups involved, from the fishermen to the government agencies to the traders and buyers. In the end, this led to a growing consensus about the need for measures to prevent overfishing.
For climate change, what might be some immediate or simpler challenges that can bring a community together? Perhaps local deployment of renewable energy...or boosting preparedness for wildfires... Please post your ideas in the comment thread!