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Who Owns the Sky?: Our Common Assets And The Future Of Capitalism

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1559638555
ISBN-10: 1559638559
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Barnes (The People's Land), cofounder and former president of the "socially responsible" financial services company Working Assets, argues that natural resource management urgently needs rethinking, since the atmosphere's capacity for absorbing carbon gas emissions is severely tested every day. While not an alarmist, he cites recent statistics (e.g., between 1923 and 1991, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air grew from 298 to 355 parts per million, and the earth's average surface temperature rose from 57.4 to 58.0 F) and insists that we need new solutions. In Barnes's view, the problem is that we view the sky and other natural resources as free and thus use them as if they're unlimited. Moving beyond what he regards as standard eco-hand-wringing, Barnes discusses the successes of cap-and-trade systems in reducing emissions of sulfur, lead and other pollutants, and proposes a similar market-based approach for carbon dioxide. Barnes's system of pricing permits is modeled in part on Alaska's plan, in which oil companies that drill in the state make payments that are distributed to Alaska residents through a dividend-producing trust. He likewise proposes that the revenues from emissions-permit sales should go to the public, with each citizen receiving an equal monetary share. In this very brief and disappointingly thin sketch of his system (he leaves the nuts and bolts to others), Barnes frequently sounds as if he's making a repetitive sales pitch. Skeptics on both the left (who may not buy his free-market solutions) and the right (who may object to yet another tax on business) are unlikely to be moved by this book.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

In 1985 Barnes cofounded Working Assets, a long-distance telephone service provider that sets aside a portion of each customer's bill to donate to social and environmental causes. He now proposes a market-based solution to the problem of atmospheric pollution. A nongovernmental institution called the Sky Trust would set limits on carbon emissions and charge companies for the "right" to pollute. In much the same way that Alaskan residents receive "dividends" from income earned on the state's oil leases, citizens would collect money paid to the Sky Trust by polluters. Money from the trust would also be used to balance the effects of higher fuel prices. Barnes meticulously documents why the earth's atmosphere is invaluable, and he catalogs the damaging effects of carbon dioxide emissions before detailing how the Sky Trust would operate. He compares the sky to pastures or woodlands historically used collectively by commoners and considers how the principles behind the Sky Trust might be applied to other so-called commons or societal assets such as biodiversity, the airwaves, and quietude. David Rouse
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press (September 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559638559
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559638555
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,012,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Barnes is an innovative thinker and entrepreneur whose work has focused on fixing the deep flaws of capitalism. He has written numerous books and articles, co-founded several socially responsible businesses (including Working Assets/Credo), and started a retreat for progressive thinkers and writers (The Mesa Refuge). He lives in Point Reyes Station, California, with his wife, dog and vegetable garden.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Z. Castleman on September 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Who Owns the Sky is an excellent, very thought-provoking book. It raises deep enviromental issues, explains some complicated concepts quite elegantly, and then proposes a solution nothing short of brilliant. The book is very well written and beautifully reasoned. I particularly like the fact that it crosses all political lines. It's neither liberal nor conservative. Rather, it goes beyond both. Very 21st century. It's a whole new vision. Barnes is a visionary.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Tom Athanasiou on June 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I hate to disagree with the experts at the esteemed Publisher's Weekly, but Who Owns the Sky is an important book. It puts forward a very interesting transition proposal -- a Sky Trust -- based on the notion of per-capita rights to the earth's resources. Further, the Sky Trust may promise a way to manage the US's carbon emissions in a reasonably equitable manner, while at the same time providing enough money for a substantive "just transition" fund to help greenhouse losers like the coal miners.
In other words, there is some actual new thinking here, which the weary experts at PW seem too expert to recognise
The idea, in a nutshell, is that instead of grandfathering "the sky" away to, say, the corporations that already, in effect, squat it, emission permits would be auctioned, with the revenues going into a trust. Then, each year, 25% of the money would go to the transition fund, and each citizen would get a check (about $644 a year, in 2010, if carbon emission permits are $25 a ton) much as the citizens of Alaska get checks from the Alaska Permanent Trust, which is funded by mining and drilling royalties.
One point to remember, here, is that mining and drilling are *very* popular in Alaska.
There are problems, which I, being to the left of Barnes, am indeed bothered by. The "citizen" bit, for instance. And in my view Barnes takes too narrow of view of the transition problem, and is certainly wrong in thinking that a transition fund could or should be soon phased out. And there are a few others too, but I won't bother you with them just now. The important thing is that this is an important proposal, and that it has some political traction, which is particularly amazing given that it prominantly features the notion of per capita rights.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Chris Rose on October 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Review of ‘Who Owns The Sky’ by Peter Barnes pub Island Press 2001
Chris Rose
This is a great little book that should be read by any environmentalist who really wants to save the atmosphere. Original and iconoclastic, its main fault is that it is so packed with big and new ideas so that it is in danger of being overlooked as too complicated.
Really it should be called ‘Let’s Own The Sky’ as it’s a rationale and rallying cry to take the common asset of the sky into common (as distinct from state) ownership. Barnes suggests a way to get Americans (or anyone) to take a stake in the sky as a waste disposal resource, and then charge for polluting it. Americans want to protect the climate says Barnes, but only if they can do so without any economic pain. Done right, via a ‘sky trust,’ Barnes says, would be a money-earner for most. Result – incentives to pollute less.
In the Barnes plan a Sky Trust would be funded by emission permits sold to energy companies at the top of the ‘carbon chain.’ The revenues would be paid out to citizens in equal dividends, like the Alaska Permanent Fund does with that State’s oil revenues.
Barnes is an entrepreneur with impeccable capitalist if Californian credentials. He has proposed a cap-and-trade system which charges polluters rather than handing out emission rights for nothing. As such it might appeal to less-government libertarians and egalitarian environmentalists alike.
...and you can get a notional non-transfer-able share of America’s sky. Barnes has a blueprint but is it a Bushprint ? Where else though is George Bush to go if he is to regain any credibility on the climate, after rashly rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, the climate treaty accepted by every other nation ? America needs some fresh thinking and this might be it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on October 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Who Owns The Sky?: Our Common Assets And The Future Of Capitalism offers opinions and economical solutions to the complex problem of global warming. Author Peter Barnes (cofounder and president ofthe socially responsibile telephone company "Working Assets") argues persuasively in favor of treating the sky as a commonly owned asset, through a non-governmental Sky Trust that would charge rent for carbon emissions and pay equal yearly dividends, which would make the burden easier to bear for workers and firms that have the most difficult transition to a lower-carbon economy. A unique melding of capitalism, enlightened self-interest, environmentalism, and hope for the future, Who Owns The Sky? is just what the world needs most - a brainstorm of workable solutions to one of the potentially most monumental of global environmental problems.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Maran on June 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Unless you've been living on another planet, you're probably aware that pollution is threatening this one. If you're confused about what to do about it, or despairing that any solution is possible, read this book and stop weeping! Barnes offers an appropriately radical proposal to solve an extremely urgent problem--written in accessible, flowing, compelling prose. A must-read for inhabitants of planet earth.
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