The article aims to set up a general conceptual framework for explaining the combined natural and social conditions associated with global climate change. Starting from addressing the issues through the metaphor of ‘the tragedy of the commons’ it suggests that a pessimistic reading can be avoided in situations where different participants of the commons understand the universal rules constraining preferable governance strategies, and can choose to form mutual agreements to act cooperatively in furthering some of their individual interests. Principle‐style explanations are introduced and suggested as a useful explanatory model in this case, based on the considerations from the history of science. Based on the effects of the human interaction with the global ecosystem and fellow humans in joint common governance on the equilibrium relationship (and human security) three broadly applicable constraining principles are tentatively proposed, opening up space for further tests of case‐study applicability, both in terms of universal validity and conceptual accessibility to different commons‐governance participants.
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