One of the things that has become obvious in this pandemic time is that when it comes to the neoliberal globalization project, we have been sold a bill of goods. A deregulated extractive capitalist economy run by a few enormously rich corporations in the name of cheap goods, efficiency, and just-in-time delivery has failed so many times since last March that I have lost track of it all. Not only is globalization a major cause of climate change (and indirectly the pandemic) and a key player in global wealth inequities and suffering, when the pandemic hit and supply chains were interrupted and suddenly healthcare workers had to improvise on PPE and other medical supplies, when toilet paper hoarding became a thing, and I couldn’t get yeast at the store to make my weekly 2 loaves of bread, I began to pay a little attention to where things came from.

Cheap fossil fuel has allowed globalization to run rampant. When it is cheaper for cod caught off the coast of Scotland to be shipped to China to be cleaned and filleted, and then shipped back to Scotland to be eaten, the insanity has gone way too far. My phone has traveled more miles during its manufacturing that I have in my entire life. But it isn’t just about distances traveled. The Texas power grid is another example. And then there is the computer processing chip shortage. When the pandemic hit and no one was buying cars, the chip makers had to sell their chips somewhere and since everyone was suddenly working from home and the demand for computers and other related goods skyrocketed, the chips intended for automakers were sold elsewhere. Now people are wanting to buy cars again and the automakers can’t get computer chips so they can’t make cars (that we can’t make cars without computer chips is an issue for another day). 

What we average people think of when we say globalization—exotic fruits and veg, books from around the world, access to other cultures, travel, friends in every country—is not what globalization actually is. Globalization is actually about economics. As Helena Norberg-Hodge describes it in her book Local is Our Future, globalization is an economic transformation that “has been at the heart of neoliberal ideology and the corporate agenda since the end of World War II.” In the global South it’s called development, in the North, progress. But for both it basically means the same thing—deregulation, centralization and privatization of business, finance and politics. You can watch this unfold right now in India with all the small farmers protesting the new farm laws that will allegedly “modernize” agriculture. The reality is that these laws will allow corporations to takeover and put all the small farmers out of work. Reform is needed for the farmers, but not reform that will benefit corporations.

Because global corporations are doing alright. According to Norberg-Hodge,

Of the 100 largest economies in the world in 2016, 69 were corporations. In 2018, the revenue fo a single company, Shell, was larger than the GDP of 138 individual countries. Nonetheless, the United States government alone provides between $10 billion and $52 billion per year in subsidies and tax cuts to large oil companies—Shell included.

The Future is Local

Go read that again.

And when we talk about free trade treaties, many of them include investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses that give corporations the right to sue governments for infringing on their profits. Yup, corporations can sue sovereign nations for passing laws and making policies that infringe on their profits. For instance, in 2008, Dow won a settlement from Canada when Quebec banned the sale of lawn pesticides containing 2,4-D. (see Citizen.org for ISDS case studies).

But what about jobs, you say? Globalization and huge corporations do not create jobs. Unfortunately I lost my note with the statistic, so I am going off memory here and the actual numbers might be off, but for every $100,000 of business Amazon does it supports something like 50 jobs. Sounds like a lot, right? But for every $100,000 a truly local business does, it supports close to 200 jobs. Think about that next time your city or state jumps into the rapid bidding fray, offering tax breaks and $$$ to lure a big corporation to town.

The idea of globalization ending is scary. It has become a kind of culture, and for most of us it is all we have ever known about how trade and economics works. And some good things have come out of it too. But globalization runs on fossil fuel and unsustainable levels of consumption. If we do not deliberately and carefully begin to dismantle it, it will eventually collapse on its own leaving a vacuum and a whole lot of suffering.

This is where localizaton comes in. Helena Norberg-Hodge describes it thus:

Localization means shortening the distance between producers and consumers wherever possible, and striking a healthier balance between local and global markets.

The Future is Local

In terms of food, it means basic food needs do not travel thousands of miles when they can be produced within a 50-mile radius. That cod caught in Scotland, stays in Scotland from start to finish.

No person, city, state, country, region is completely independent. Trade happened before the fossil fueled industrial revolution, but in light of the climate crisis and global wealth disparities, it is time to rethink what global means. The first step is localization, figuring out how to support ourselves locally before we ship something in from elsewhere. When you buy from truly local businesses, that money stays in your community. When you buy from Amazon, that money goes away and does nothing to help your community. 

So if you were to start localizing, what could you do? Here is what James and I are working on:

  • Move our money from a huge corporate bank to a local credit union.
  • Stop shopping at Home Depot and start shopping at the corner hardware store. For the bigger home repair needs, we have the ReStore, a nonprofit that sells leftover construction supplies. Proceeds from sales go to support the local Habitat for Humanity.
  • Don’t eat at chain restaurants.
  • Buy a CSA share and shop at the farmers market.
  • For things we need that are not produced locally, try first to buy them from locally owned businesses instead of national retail chains or the internet.
  • When we do buy internationally produced items, make sure they are fair trade certified and sustainably produced (coffee, chocolate, bananas, clothing).

It’s not much but it is a start. The food related items we have been doing for some time, but we are working on expanding and deepening our commitment (I hope to post more soon about localizing food systems). We are lucky to have quite a few credit union options and we are working on deciding which one we like best. I am sure as we go more local, we will see even more ways to localize.

If you want to learn more about why localization matters, check out The Flourishing of Life Begins with Localization video interview with Helena Norberg-Hodge and Vandana Shiva, a brilliant thinker and activist.

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4 thoughts on “Make it Local

  1. It’s true that the past year has given many people pause, forced a different set of questions being asked about ordinary supply and access. But many people are also fatigued and angry, so I’m not sure just how often those questions are translating into their making different choices in the marketplace.

    Something that we’ve been working on lately is replacing clothing items with cradle-to-cradle and/or North American made goods that also employ FT and pay their employees fairly. And not in a stitch-one-hem-and-stick-a-NAmn-label-on-it made here kind of way. I want to see pictures of your workroom and personnel! Yes, I’m that nosy! 🙂 Even though we do not have big wardrobes, it’s complicated, but making a start on the change is sometimes the hardest part.

    1. BIP I think you are right about many people being fatigued and angry. I know lots of people are saying tings like “build back better” and “build back green” but I get the feeling that most people just want things to be “normal” again, maybe not quite like pre-CVOID, but pre-COVID with a few little changes, nothing radical, which is unfortunate.

      Well done with the clothing! We will be doing something similar as clothes we currently wear that can’t be mended need to be replaced. It is definitely a super complicated thing!

  2. Love your ideas, Stefanie. It seems like such an impossible issue, because of the money involved with all the giant corporations. But before you can fix something you’ve got to become aware of it. Thanks for writing about this.

    1. Thanks Laila! It’s super hard, and I recognize that I have a lot of privilege in being able to make choices, but I think those of us who can make choices, should do so. Hopefully in the process we find better choices that support local communities and businesses of people who have been historically kept from thriving by the global economy.

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