Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Western Sydney University Researcher Louise Crabtree, writing for The Conversation, thinks in a world torn by climate disasters ownership of private property may have to be sacrificed, to be replaced by a system of housing cooperatives or a roaming right to reside.
Can property survive the great climate transition?
Property is under threat, physically and conceptually, from climate change.
July 13, 2017 6.06am AEST
Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University
As we become an increasingly urban species, urban resilience is emerging as a big deal. The idea is generating a lot of noise about how to develop or retrofit cities that can deal with the many challenges before us, or consume less energy in the transition to post-carbon economies.
If our cities are to become more resilient and sustainable, our systems of property need to come along for the ride.
Models that allow for change
These are live questions. There are no easy answers, but there are places where we might start.
Models such as rolling easements offer one way to handle property that is in flux. Rolling easements are a form of property that recognises that the coast is a dynamic landscape and allows for the coastline of wetlands to migrate inland as sea levels rise.
These sound promising in their capacity to balance private and public interests in property, but their potential has not yet been tested in areas of urban development, such as housing.
Echoing the potential mobility and flexibility of rolling easements are diverse housing tenures that can dislocate the right to reside in place from exclusionary, proprietary title to an individual, speculative housing “asset”.
Examples include housing co-operatives and community land trusts. So far, these have proven effective in delivering a range of affordable and flexible housing options, but still ultimately rely on an understanding that property is static.
We might also need to start thinking about our claims not being static but dependent on the web of relationships we are entwined in, including with non-humans. Some say that First Peoples might have a grasp of property dynamics that is more suited to the times we are entering.
I would have thought the current system of paying more insurance if you want to live somewhere desirable but vulnerable, like low lying beachfront property, works pretty well. But apparently this solution is not good enough. People who believe they own their own house can’t easily be relocated if some rare species of slime mould is discovered lurking in their back garden.
If you assume the author is an inconsequential fringe academic, think again. According to her university bibliography, in 2009, the author of the article Louise Crabtree received the following recognition from then Federal Minister for Housing Tanya Pilbersek.
… Louise’s work on resilience and governance in community housing was the basis for her receipt of the inaugural Housing Minister’s Award for Early Career Researchers in 2009; in announcing the award, the Hon. Tanya Plibersek described the work as ‘crucial’.
Louise’s reference to the wisdom of the first peoples being “more suited” to surviving the future is also worth a read. The following quote from that referenced Guardian article caught my eye.
The western idea of private property is flawed. Indigenous peoples have it right
Our capitalist property regime and economic system have succeeded at producing remarkable surplus. But the benefits of this system too often flow to a small fraction of the population, while land, water, air and people pay the long-term price.
Prior generations responded to similar crises by turning to communism. But today, Marx, Lenin and Mao no longer offer a scythe sharp enough to fell the stalks of capitalism.
Another, more cutting-edge possibility is to heed the diverse indigenous voices displaced and drowned out by imperialism. From Standing Rock to Queensland, colonized and indigenous people are demanding new relationships to water that sustains the life and land which provides for the people.