Volume 41, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2021
Of Tragedies and Myths
Subsidiarity and Common-Pool Resource Institutions in Response to Environmental Degradation
A pragmatic turn in Christian ecological ethics and theology suggests a practical approach that draws on the strengths of each of the dominant strategies for responding to environmental degradation: government regulation, privatization, and appeals to conscience. The principle of subsidiarity in Catholic social tradition (CST), which calls for a robust social order that integrates the roles of agents on various levels of society, while delegating specific responsibilities to each level, may provide normative direction for discerning when, how, and why to employ these strategies in response to environmental degradation. This principle recommends the development of effective intermediate institutions to mitigate excessive state and economic power and to serve as outlets for organizing and channeling individual agency, yet CST has not sufficiently fleshed out what such institutions look like, especially when responding to environmental degradation. The work of Nobel-winning political scientist Elinor Ostrom may correct this difficulty with her description of eight design principles of intermediate institutions in numerous ecological, social, cultural, political, and economic contexts.