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How Businesses Can Regenerate the Global Commons

They can help rebuild the social, economic, ecological and governance commons

The wide array of resources Earth’s population shares, the global commons, is at risk. We are reaching our planetary systems’ tipping points, and, as a result, experiencing unpredictable and widespread environmental changes that include rising heat and sea levels, global pandemics, shortages of food and fresh water amid rapidly declining biodiversity. Our economic system aims to promote financial growth, while keeping inflation in check, but has less regard for its effect on the well-being of humans and nature. As a result, our economy currently extracts more from the Earth than it can sustainably produce and emits more pollution than it can sustainably absorb.

As Dr. Samuel Myers, a principal research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and the founder of the Planetary Health Alliance writes, “These disruptions in the atmosphere, oceans, and across the terrestrial land surface are not only driving species to extinction, they pose serious threats to human health and wellbeing.” Mining companies, for example, often dump toxic mining waste in nearby streams rather than incurring costs to safely dispose of it. Instead, local communities are left to pay, as the waste ultimately contributes to increased poverty, cancer, birth defects and other problems. Society must also absorb the costs of climate change and mercury pollution from burning coal.

At the same time, racism, income inequality, distrust, and political polarization are corroding the delicate network of collective social and governance commons. Business can compound these issues. The real estate industry’s discriminatory housing practices, for example, have significantly contributed to the racial wealth gap. And it’s well known that many social media companies’ algorithms have amplified racism, misinformation, polarization and distrust, undermining support for initiatives that seek to improve the common good. As with climate change, solving inequality requires collective agreement, and when people view each other as contemptible, that’s difficult to achieve.

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