The Barons are Back In Britain - Did They Ever Leave?
Texas Judge Rules --
Poor youth demand use of a natural resource already owned while comfy reformers go to bat for a natural resource nobody owns -- may the twains meet. We trim, blend, and append two 2012 articles on owning nature from (1) The Guardian, Jly 16, on land ownership by G. Monbiot, and (2) On the Commons, Jly 26, on air ownership by D. Morris.
by George Monbiot and by David Morris
After 800 years, the Barons are Back In Control of Britain
A rentier class holds the nation's children to ransom: you are excluded yet you cannot opt out. The land -- even disused land -- is guarded as fiercely as the rest of the economy. Its ownership is scarcely less concentrated than it was when the Magna Carta was written.
But today there is no Charter of the Forest (the document appended to the Magna Carta in 1217, granting the common people rights to use the royal estates). As Simon Moore, an articulate, well-read 27-year-old Digger, explained, "those who control the land have enjoyed massive economic and political privileges. The relationship between land and democracy is a strong one, which is not widely understood."
Almost 800 years after the Magna Carta was approved, unrepresentative power of the kind familiar to King John and his barons still holds sway in the House of Lords. Even in the House of Commons, most seats are pocket boroughs, controlled by those who fund the major parties and establish the limits of political action.
Through such ancient powers, our illegitimate rulers sustain a system of ancient injustices, which curtail alternatives and lock the poor into rent and debt. This spring, the government dropped a clause into an unrelated bill so late that it could not be properly scrutinized by the House of Commons, criminalizing the squatting of abandoned residential buildings.
The House of Lords, among whom the landowning class is still well represented, approved the measure. Thousands of people who have solved their own housing crises will now be evicted, just as housing benefit payments are being cut back.
A political postcard from the early 1990s titled "Britain in 2020" depicted the police rounding up some scruffy-looking people with the words, "You're under arrest for not owning or renting property". It was funny then; it's less funny today.
The young men and women camping at Runnymede are trying to revive a different tradition, in the words of the Diggers of 1649, to make "the Earth a common treasury for all … not one lording over another, but all looking upon each other as equals in the creation".
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JJS: Land is real estate because that meant regal estate or royal estate or owned by roy, French for king. Then owners owed rent upward, to their lord, which they still should do but outward, to their neighbors. It’s not the owning that matters so much as the rent, or the money to be made from owning or leasing or using for free some site, as polluters do to the atmosphere.
Texas Judge Rules 'The Sky Belongs To Everyone'
Our Children’s Trust, Kids Versus Global Warming, and others filed suits, arguing the atmosphere is a public trust. So far cases have been filed in 13 states.
In Texas, after a petition to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to institute proceedings to reduce greenhouse gases was dismissed, the Texas Environmental Law Center sued. The Center argued, “The atmosphere, including the air, is one of the most crucial assets of our public trust.”
Judge Gisela Triana, of the Travis County District Court, ruled July 12, 2012 that, “[t]he doctrine includes all natural resources of the State.” The public trust doctrine “is not simply a common law doctrine” but is incorporated into the Texas Constitution, which (1) protects “the conservation and development of all the resources of the State,” (2) declares conservation of those resources “public rights and duties,” and (3) directs the Legislature to pass appropriate laws to protect these resources.
A few days after Judge Triana’s ruling, Judge Sarah Singleton of the New Mexico District Court denied the state’s motion to dismiss a similar case. That will now move forward.
The “public trust” doctrine is a legal principle derived from English Common Law. Traditionally it has applied to water resources. The waters of the state are deemed a public resource owned by and available to all citizens equally for the purposes of navigation, fishing, recreation, and other uses. The owner cannot use that resource in a way that interferes with the public’s use and interest. The public trustee, usually the state, must act to maintain and enhance the trust’s resources for the benefit of future generations.
In 2007, in a law review article University of Oregon Professor Mary Christina Wood write in Nature’s Trust: “With every trust there is a core duty of protection. The trustee must defend the trust against injury. Where it has been damaged, the trustee must restore the property in the trust.”
In 2001, Peter Barnes, a co-founder of Working Assets (now CREDO) and On the Commons proposed the atmosphere be treated as a public trust in Who Owns the Sky.
In 1892 “when private enterprise threatened the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the Supreme Court said, ‘It would not be listened to that the control and management of [Lake Michigan] -- a subject of concern to the whole people of the state -- should . . . be placed elsewhere than in the state itself.’
After the Texas court ruling, one Houston law firm advised its clients the decision “may represent a ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ in climate change litigation.”
To read more
JJS: A sky trust could work. A land trust, society-wide, could work even better, since much pollution is a result of sprawl. The land trust would institute land dues and pay out rent dividends; the two together could replace taxes and subsidies. The land dues would discourage land speculation and motivate efficient use of metro sites. The rent dividends would keep residential locations affordable and connect residents to the welfare of the land -- the healthier the environment, the fatter their share of rent. Let’s hope that “shot heard around the world” gets heard by everybody.
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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