Issues posed by global environmental change can be viewed as the problem of the commons on a larger geographic scale. A framework for analysing how geographic scale affects governments' ability to manage environmental problems is suggested here. It is based on interactions between four dimensions: production-consumption relationships; distribution of the benefits and costs of various activities; level of administrative control; and spatial scale of individuals' attachment to place. Global environmental problems can be viewed as a case where benefits from polluting activities are spatially concentrated relative to costs. The difficulty in addressing such problems stems from the discrepancy in geographic scale between adverse impacts and level of administrative control. The possibility of adapting institutional structures to match the scale of the problems is examined, in light of the increasing spatial scale of production-consumption relationships in the post-industrial world and the growing demand for local control across the globe. The geographic scale of ideological attachment to place is identified as an important variable in determining the ability to respond to large-scale environmental problems.