What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


As I listened to the BBC World Service this morning I heard a story about the Chinese economy and efforts to stimulate consumerism to keep the economy growing. Aside from the obvious futility of a continuing to rely on the infinite growth paradigm, a physical impossibility in a finite ecosystem, the commentator was discussing efforts to get the Chinese public to consume more locally produced goods thus double stimulating the economy. As western economies have tried to rebound from their self inflicted wounds which led to the recent recession, there have been repeated warnings about falling back into protectionism and abandoning globalization.

I'm no economist but it seems plain to me that globalisation is driven and dependent on consumerism and the infinite growth paradigm. Why should we continue to remain dependent upon what is clearly a failed paradigm. Remember the admonition of Gaylord Nelson, "The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around." The current economic model is predicated on it being the other way around, this is nonsensical. We are hearing everyday further evidence that the environment is at it's limits to support us and our profligate lifestyles. From peak oil, peak phospate, oceanic dead zones, collapsed fisheries, rising sea levels, worldwide droughts, do we need any more evidence that consumerism is doomed?

Even if we don't accept that the limits of the planet are being reached there is a strong moral argument for the cessation of consumerism. During the height of the famines in
Africa in the 80's while the local populace was starving, the shipment of vegetables to the UK never ceased. Local food production had been abandoned for production of cash crops. As usual the cash went mostly to the bosses while the country starved. Now there is a new report on evidence that consumerism is propped up by slave and child labor.

"According to the International Labor Organization, over 12 million people are enslaved, and about 218 million children work, with the majority subjected to hazardous conditions. Those most vulnerable to slave labor include women, migrants and indigenous peoples.

The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) found 122 goods produced by slave or child labor in 58 countries.The most common goods include:
-Agriculture: cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, rice, cocoa
-Manufacturing: bricks, garments, carpet, footwear
-Mining: gold, coal

Slave and child labor stretches the globe, but some of the worst offenders are Bolivia, China, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan and North Korea. However it should be noted that although these specific countries have high levels of slave and child labor, the entire world is compliant. As long as corporations enable these conditions and consumers purchase goods, slave and child labor will continue. ...

The report notes that the global economic crisis has only exacerbated conditions. Those vulnerable to slave labor are typically the poorest and powerless. With rising food prices, the World Bank estimates that 100 million more people will be pushed into poverty this year." - Natasha G.

Read about it over at Care2.com.

The antidote to the abuses of globalization is relocalisation.

"The process by which a region, county, city, or even neighborhood frees itself from an overdependence on the global economy and invests its resources to produce a significant portion of the goods, services, food and energy it consumes from its local endowment of financial, natural, and human capital."- Talberth J. et. al.

I would extend that definition down to the household scale because that is where is starts. But clearly there is a role for governments and industry to play here. In India, a top fashion designer, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, is urging a return to the Gandhian principle of homespun.

"It's vital to him that the rural poor share India's growing economy - a Gandhian concept and one that puts India right at the centre of being Indian. In 2008 he set up cooperatives of rural craftswomen across India, starting with Rajasthan, Gujarat and Barasat in West Bengal. Inspired by the workers' co-operative models of the Nobel prize-winning Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, Mukherjee has aimed to cut out the middlemen.

Half of the money that the co-operatives earn they take home, and the other half is ploughed back into the community bank account for development....

He is insisting that to be well-dressed at Delhi and Mumbai's best cocktail parties, you have to be wearing not glittery Western-inspired tube dresses and leggings, but khadi - the simple homespun weave that was championed by Gandhi in the 1930s to boost the rural economy and give India a sense of nationalist pride during the fight for independence.

Apart from the beauty of the fabric, whose history in India goes back well over 5,000 years, Mukherjee's reasoning is simple. He finds it odd that Indian designers tend to steer clear of local hand-woven fabrics. Khadi, he says, is refined, sophisticated, eco-friendly and comfortable, and has too long been regarded as the poor man's fabric. To wear it is a sign of being well-dressed and cultured.

Best of all, in his view, it should help India's rural craftsmen and women to share in the country's growing wealth and economy." - Catriona Luke at the BBC

In the transition towns across the world, relocalisation is taking hold. This is not a shutting off from economy at large. But it is a effort to re-introduce resilience where it has been eroded by globalization. For instance, how many neighborhoods will have the wherewithal to produce their own computers and cell phones? Not many, I suspect, but they can practice re-use, reject planned obsolesence, and develop support networks to help each other troubleshoot older models. What every community can do is to grow food,;

"...food is the most sensible place to begin rebuilding community resilience, but building material, fabrics, timber, energy and currencies follow soon after." - Rob Hopkins, p69 "The Transition Handbook"

This is something we here is the west must begin to practice, the greater our dependence on the goods provided by globalization, and that includes food, the greater the hardship will be when that network begins to fail or is priced out of reach. A point made by Vandana Shiva in a speech to the Soil Association in 2007;

"The imperative here for you is of course to grow more food better, to grow it locally, organically and by doing that you avoid two kinds of harm to the food sovereignty and food independence of the South. The first is you contribute to the security of livelihoods by not adding to dumping. Of course organic farmers are not involved in dumping on the South – it’s too costly. Dumping means selling below the cost of production, technically, and since organic farmers aren’t subsidised they can’t afford to go around putting cotton on someone else’s market and putting corn on someone else’s market....

… By growing food locally you also prevent a second kind of exploitation and when that lettuce is growing in the land of the Masai and it’s diverting the water of the Masai’s you are actually displacing the Masai and exporting drought. You are actually contributing to displacement of local producers, pastoralists, as well as farmers." - Vandana Shiva "The Soil is our Liberator"

Resilience in both worlds is the goal so this is not a call to blanket localisation. We must find a new paradigm for trade, one that increases the well being of the local citizenry and supports their resilience as well.

Remember that peak oil will make relocalisation an imperative. It is up to us to decide when and how to develop it. The longer we wait the more difficult that transition will be.


Anonymous said...

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C Robb said...

Thanks for stopping by.