by Steven Gorelick of Local Futures
COVID-19 has a lot to teach us, if we’re willing to learn from it.
It tells us that our technologies don’t make us invincible – that far from sitting astride the natural world, humans are part of it.
It tells us that the global economy’s long supply chains may increase short-term corporate profits, but they leave individuals and entire societies far more vulnerable to shortages and waste.
It reminds us (if we needed reminding) just how inequitable the global economy is, a point driven home by the high rates of infection and mortality among those at the bottom of the economic ladder – including “essential workers” with little choice but to expose themselves to health risks not borne by wealthier members of society.
It lets us know that the best way to dramatically reduce carbon emissions and other forms of pollution is to scale down economic activity, as the before-and-after photos of major cities, from Delhi to Los Angeles, so clearly demonstrate.
And it drives home the importance of face-to-face social interactions, for which online “connectivity” is at best a second-rate replacement.
Now that the push is on to reopen economies, will we remember these lessons? Or is “back to normal” the best we can hope for?
Sunday, June 21 was World Localization Day, when people all over the world heard from a host of thinkers, activists, small business owners, local government leaders, community organizers and ordinary citizens, who argued against a return to business as usual, and for a fundamental shift in direction. They took their cue not only from the lessons of COVID-19, but from direct experience and thoughtful examination of the impact of the global economy on the environment, on livelihoods, on cultural and biological diversity, and on human wellbeing. Coming from dozens of countries and widely divergent backgrounds, they nonetheless spoke with one voice against the further globalization of the economy, and in favour of a more decentralized, localized, community-based path.
Helena Norberg-Hodge is the Director of the NGO Local Futures, which organized the event. She described World Localization Day as “a five-hour-long festival of ideas for the future in the midst of what are dark times for many of us.” The goal was to “go beyond the divisive and destabilising politics of left and right to address fundamental human needs and the structures required to meet them.”
Those structures are being built up today, she argues, through many thousands of localization initiatives already underway worldwide, from farmers markets and food co-ops to local investment schemes and buy local campaigns; from permaculture and urban agriculture to eco-villages, alternative education projects, and community-owned micro-grids. Though they fly beneath the radar of the mainstream media and get almost no government support, these initiatives are rapidly multiplying at the grassroots. They are the indelible signs of an emerging worldwide localization movement.
According to many of the event speakers, localization offers a systemic solution to the seemingly disparate crises we face, from climate change and poverty to species extinction and heightened racial, ethnic and religious conflict. For this reason, Norberg-Hodge says, “localization is a solution-multiplier.”
One of those who took part is award-winning author and activist Vandana Shiva, who starkly describes the choice we face: “We are at a fork in the road, where one path says we are part of the Earth and part of humanity and the other path says we are not part of the Earth, not part of humanity – that we are just objects for manipulation.”
The path that embraces our humanity and the Earth is the path that leads from global to local. It’s a movement with both resistance and renewal at its core: resistance to the further concentration of economic power in the hands of unaccountable corporations and financial institutions, and renewal of communities and local economies.
The work that Civic Revival is doing is part of that process of renewal. It involves promoting human scale in even our biggest cities. After all, why should urban citizens shop at global chain stores (or worse, online) when the small shops that are an integral part of healthy, vital urban neighborhoods need our trade? Renewal also means forging a healthier relationship between cities and the surrounding countryside. Why should the food consumed in urban areas come from the other side of the world, when it can be grown by nearby farmers?
There’s lots more to the localization story, and I urge readers to visit www.localfutures.org for more information about the costs of further globalizing, and the systemic benefits of localization, for urban and rural areas alike.
Local Futures is based an organisation worldwide in scope based in Totnes, Devon, England and West Hardwick, Vermont, USA. We are delighted to have them as one of Civic Revival's international kindred spirits and friends.