Local. A simple concept with the potential to change the world. The antidote to consumer capitalism. The key to solving our seemingly endless ecological crises. A guiding principle to take us back home: to community, to the natural world, and to prosperous, place-based economies.
Throughout human history, our cultural traditions, societies, personalities, even our bodies have evolved in relationship with community and local ecosystems. Our direct reliance on one another and the natural world around us formed the basis for deep, long-lasting connections with other people and with our place on the planet, which in turn supported healthy, grounded identities. Placebased economies also gave rise to worldviews that engendered respect and care for the living Earth.
But since the advent of colonialism and globalisation, the fabric of local interdependence has been steadily unravelling. We have been made dependent on distant bureaucracies and vast technological systems for everything from our food to our jobs, from the information we receive to our means of social interaction. To our own detriment, we have been distanced from the complex, interdependent web of life that is not only the real economy, but a perpetual source of wonder and fulfilment.
It’s not too late to find our way back home—towards healthy, interconnected local economies. Worldwide, there is a growing movement recognising that a profound shift—away from economic globalisation and towards the local—can put us back in touch witheach other, with the Earth and with our deepest human natures. By reclaiming local self-reliance and community interdependence, we can withdraw our economic dependence on a resource-intensive global economy, which, as increasing numbers of people recognise, is serving neither human prosperity nor planetary wellbeing. At the same time, it enables us to create flourishing, life-affirming alternatives from the ground up.
At a fundamental level, localisation is simply about rebuilding human-scale economic structures by shortening the distances between production and consumption, starting with our basic needs. It is only common sense that our daily bread, our veggies, our milk, cheese and other food staples should be sourced regionally, in order to support local producers while ensuring our own access to fresh, quality foods. The importance of shortening distances becomes especially clear when you learn that the current economic system has given rise to the absurd phenomenon of “redundant trade”—whereby countries regularly import and export identical quantities of identical products—to the sole benefit of multinational middlemen. The US, for example, imports and exports a million tonnes of beef per year, while the UK exports about as much milk, bread and eggs as it imports. At the same time, Australia flies macadamia nuts to China to be cracked open before flying them back again, the UK sends prawns to Thailand to be peeled before sending them back again, Bolivia sends nuts to Italy to be packaged, and so on.
Why do governments allow—and in fact promote— such practices? To a large extent, it’s because political leaders are so narrowly focused on abstract In thrall to the belief that GDP growth is the key to prosperity and the solution to every problem, policymakers have promoted globalisation as its primary engine. And so, economic policies are heavily skewed in favour of the biggest players. Lavish subsidies are funnelled into large-scale production and the enormous infrastructure needed for global trade, while multinational businesses and banks are largely freed from taxation and regulation.
These policies have enabled global corporations to build up unprecedented wealth and influence, to foist a consumer monoculture on societies across the planet, and to push their “free-trade” agenda on governments almost everywhere. “Free trade” agreements may sound quite benign, but they are key instruments for the expansion of corporate control: they effectively exempt multinationals from regulation, while local, regional and national industries are increasingly overregulated, over-taxed and systematically weakened.
Many free trade agreements go so far as to give multinationals the right to sue governments for decisions that obstruct profit-making potential— an outrageous flouting of the democratic process. And yet, governments regularly sign onto them out of fear of being left behind in the race to attract globally mobile capital.
Today, however, a slew of crises—environmental, economic, social and political—is calling into question the basic tenets of this globalising economic trajectory. Has globalisation really brought about genuine progress? Does consumerism really make us happy? The COVID-19 crisis in particular has revealed the inherent vulnerability of the global economy, and now even the mainstream media is questioning the policies that lead countries to be L so dependent on global trade. At long last, there is widespread recognition that globalisation is not an inexorable force of evolution, but an economic choice. And a rather short-sighted one at that.
At the same time, there is a great surge of interest in strengthening connections to the community and the land, which are our real lifelines in times of crisis. People are reaching out to others in mutual support, planting gardens and connecting with local farmers.
Read the rest of this essay in Issue 63 of Dumbo Feather.