For many years, humanity has been facing a slew of crises – environmental, economic, social and political – which call into question the basic tenets of the modern globalizing economy. The COVID-19 crisis, in particular, has revealed the inherent vulnerability of the global system, and now even the mainstream media is questioning the policies that lead countries to be so dependent on global trade.
At long last, there is widespread recognition that globalization is not an inexorable force of evolution, but an economic choice – and, most importantly, we can make a different choice instead. More and more people are waking up to the fact that smaller-scale, more localized economic relations fundamentally improve their own quality of life, while positively impacting the world around them.
Now, as we are faced with repairing our systems from this immediate crisis, we have an opportunity like never before to bring the many disparate positive local actions around the world into a powerful movement for global change.
Where globalization went wrong
To be clear, when we talk about globalization, we mean it in an economic sense. To many, the word may bring to mind a ‘global village,’ and there is certainly a need for us to come together globally to protect the environment and work for peace. However, the inexorable globalizing of economic activity—increasing trade distances, diverting wealth to multinational corporations, and deregulating big business and financial sectors has the opposite effect.
The globalized economy values corporate profits over all forms of life. It has a voracious appetite for natural resources, produces vast volumes of waste, and has put us on a path that systematically separates us from each other and the natural world. To make the system function, economic policies must be heavily skewed in favor of the biggest players. Lavish subsidies are funneled into large-scale production and the enormous infrastructure needed for global trade, while multinational businesses and banks are freed from taxation and regulation.
To a large extent, globalization continues because political leaders are so narrowly focused on abstract economic yardsticks – especially GDP growth – that they cannot see the real-world implications of their policies. GDP measures only the amount of money changing hands. This means that most kinds of healthy, non-monetary growth are ignored, such as the growth of native forests, of human knowledge and understanding, of meaningful livelihoods and resilient communities. Pollution, illness and crime, however, entail expense — and so they get added to the positive side of the GDP ledger.
Globalization and COVID-19
Many of the faults in this system have been laid bare by COVID-19. The pandemic has shown us that relying on mega-corporations using vast quantities of fossil fuel to import food, medicine, and other essential goods from across the world is a risky survival strategy. It has shown us that the privatization of medicine has only weakened already overburdened healthcare systems.
It has thrown wide open the gaps between rich and poor, with low-income people suffering a far greater burden of disease. It has revealed that no livelihoods are safe in a system that focuses on the growth of multinational corporations and GDP. As an example, American billionaires became $282 billion dollars richer in the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as over thirty-three million Americans lost their jobs.
Although this time has been deeply frightening and tragic, it has also led many to wonder: how can we do better? How can we go forward from here, together, to build systems that have humans and nature at their center?
How going local brings us back into balance
Localisation has demonstrated its benefits time and again through on-the-ground initiatives ranging from farmers markets, CSAs and ‘agri-wilding’ projects to local business alliances, community banks and place-based education schemes – and they are happening in almost every country.
Such initiatives nurture our faith in human nature. It is both humbling and inspiring to imagine the possibilities if our economic levers—taxes, subsidies and regulations—were redirected in support of the local. If the countless grassroots localization initiatives were systematically supported, we could see a flourishing of biodiversity alongside a geometric increase of human prosperity and wellbeing.
Rather than funnelling more wealth into a shrinking handful of global monopolies, we could promote a multitude of place-based businesses and industries and grow the number of meaningful jobs. Rather than using GDP, we could value the growth of our real economy – the living earth—on which we ultimately depend for every single one of our needs.
In localizing, decision-making itself is transformed.
Not only do we create systems that are small enough for us to influence, but we also embed ourselves within a web of relationships that informs our actions and perspectives at a deep level, enabling us to become both more empowered to make change and more humbled by the complexity of life around us.
Join the conversation. Join the movement from global to local.
Join us for our special event on June 21, 2020 to mark World Localization Day!
Is founder and director of Local Futures, previously known as the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC).
Author and filmmaker Helena Norberg-Hodge is a pioneer of the local economy movement.