Friday, April 4, 2008

Relocalization Nuts and Bolts: Part Two of a Three Part Series

This month’s installment explains what relocalization means and what it offers. Next month I will describe what a relocalized economy might look here in the Southwest desert.

To appreciate the potential of relocalization, it is important to first understand that the status quo is causing our personal, social, and environmental crises. While we know that we’re quickly degrading our life support system with the business as usual approach of economic growth, we can’t say for certain how quickly this is occurring, which adverse impacts will reveal themselves first, or how disastrous these impacts will be. However, there is a large degree of agreement among scientists, and growing agreement among economists, that creating a carbon-cycle neutral economy, and making sure that all human activities and effects are included in evaluating that economy, should be our number one priority.

The real inconvenient truth is that the business as usual approach of infinite and unfettered economic growth has created both catastrophic climate destabilization and Peak Oil. Protecting this system worsens these crises, and attempts to reform a system based on faulty assumptions merely postpones the inevitable collapse. Therefore, we must approach change with a new way of thinking to create an alternative without these liabilities. Relocalization is a whole-systems approach to doing things differently -- a process to achieve sustainability.

Relocalization was developed as a response to global warming and Peak Oil. More than just a band-aid for these symptoms, however, it also seeks to address the environmental, social, political, and economic ramifications at the root of these crises. It includes the concepts that we must rebuild our local economies; recapture our sense of place; reclaim our sovereignty; and restore our community support networks.

From a natural systems perspective, a green economy is a local economy. By meeting the requirements to be sustainable from a bioregional carrying capacity perspective, a relocalized community is “naturally” healthy, vibrant, and resilient.

At its core, relocalization is a strategy to move production of food, goods and energy closer to the point of consumption to reduce dependence on long distance transportation and the whims of distant suppliers. The goal is to increase food and energy security, to empower local decisions in the development of currency, culture, and governance, and to restore ecological integrity and social equity.

If you’re familiar with the mission of anti-globalization activists who use localization to protect local economies and livelihoods from the slow drain of an export economy, relocalization goes a step further with a commitment to reduce consumption and improve environmental and social conditions. It is both antithesis and antidote to the emptiness and inherent inequity of corporate globalization.

Reducing consumption is, of course, directly at odds with a growth economy -- but this is not a call for an austerity program demanding great personal sacrifice and suffering. We can reduce consumption by sharing rarely used items with neighbors. We can reduce consumption by only purchasing items that are built to last and be easily repairable. We can reduce consumption by turning off the TV to decrease its stranglehold on our psyche with its mesmerizing story that popularity and self-worth is dependent on being a walking billboard for this season’s corporate fashion. By removing the need to work longer hours to buy all the stuff that never fulfills its promise to deliver happiness, we will have the time to do all those things that do bring happiness.

The reason all aspects of our society must be included in the task of relocalization is quite pragmatic. The ancient Greek oikonomia is the root of economics. It means the management of a household to increase value to all members over time. It is a systemic view that considers all the relationships -- natural, social, values, language, history -- that contribute to our stay as guests in Mother Earth’s home. Oikonomia looks at the social good, not just the parties to a transaction or claims of ownership of a natural resource.

Relocalization and decentralization are concepts that are feared by the ruling elite because it removes power and control from the hands of those who have become addicted, or think they are somehow entitled by birth, to wield it. This is why you hear about agrofuels and carbon capture, but not relocalization and powering down, on the 6 O’clock News. These latter concepts are ridiculed, marginalized, and said to be unmanageable for a mere “working class” either too stupid to take care of itself or without the capacity to understand how the bigger picture “really” works.

Well, the bigger picture works rather simply by the natural systems principles of mutual support and reciprocity, no waste, no greed, and increasing diversity. It works by self-organizing attraction relationships that make everyone’s life better by making the whole better.

This is what life is all about, and relocalization seeks to return us to it.


More information on relocalization can be found at the Relocalization Network, and you're invited to become involved with Tucson's relocalization group, Campaign For Our Lives.

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