I recently watched Helena Norberg-Hodge’s TEDx talk, The Economics of Happiness
. I’ve appreciated Helena Norberg-Hodge’s work for some time, but I was disappointed in her TEDx talk. Helena is an impassioned speaker, with much global experience underlying her perspectives, but I wanted more than what I perceived to be a simplistic, either/or solution to our problems. She begins her talk by saying, “For all of us around the world the highest priority, the most urgent issue, is fundamental change to the economy.” She goes on to say, “The change that we need to make is shifting away from globalizing to localizing economic activity.” Essentially, she believes that a return to localization will bring about happiness. I found myself thinking that this solution lacked nuance and complexity, and I doubted very much whether it was truly the urgent answer for our time.
As she went on to argue that 99% of us don’t benefit from globalization, I found myself thinking of the vast majority of us who have certainly benefited from many aspects of globalization. While the farmers’ market and local food movements have surely done good, helping farmers, communities, and individuals alike, I could only imagine the 99% of coffee drinkers I know here in New England, and all those who eat bananas, drink orange juice, enjoy black and green teas, consume avocados, lemons and wine, eat rice, and wear cotton foregoing it all for apples, potatoes, wheat, blueberries, mint and chamomile tea, mussels and clams, and linen clothing and deer hides. Further, I thought of the people in temperate climates who’ve been saved by medicines derived from tropical plants, and the people in the tropics saved by the medicines discovered by scientists working in New England laboratories.
Imagine what would happen to the Ethiopian coffee farmers depicted in the film Black Gold whose organic, fair trade coffee would no longer have a market outside their communities, or to the sustainable and fair trade collectives producing goods and clothes for a living wage that are lifting individuals out of poverty as these products are sold beyond their borders. I wondered what would happen to all these people were we to all choose to buy locally.
The choice between localization and globalization is a false one. There are more nuanced choices we can and should make. If the primary problems lie in monoculture farms, poisonous chemicals, fuel-guzzling animal agriculture, exploitation of farm workers, cruelty to animals, and reduction in biological diversity of crops, we can address these problems directly. Fair trade, organic, sustainable, diverse, plant-based farming will help solve these challenges without closing markets between north and south, east and west, or in the U.S. between the fertile heartland, citrus-bearing Florida, and California (where just about everything grows). I’m happy that my state of Maine provides blueberries and lumber to people across the country (although I would like it to do so without toxic pesticides and clear-cutting), and I’m also happy that I can live in Maine and still occasionally eat dates and drink red wine.
What I see as the bigger challenge with globalization is the fuel necessary to transport crops and products across the globe, but as Michael Berners-Lee reveals in his carbon footprinting assessment of hundreds of products and foods in his book, How Bad Are Bananas?, local doesn’t necessarily mean less carbon intensive. Bananas from equatorial regions, he points out, use a fraction of the fuel of hothouse tomatoes grown next door to him in England. These are complex problems that are going to require innovative solutions, and we’re going to have to find clean energy sources no matter what we do, whether we buy locally or globally, assuming we want to live without returning to a fuel-less life.
I don’t know many people – even local food advocates – who really want to give up everything produced outside of 100 miles or whatever constitutes “local.” It’s great that we’re witnessing a revival of local, sustainably-produced food, and I for one enjoy producing much of my family’s food in our 900 square food organic garden, but localization is not a panacea. My hope is that in the process of coming up with solutions to our very complex global challenges, we will not resort to simple answers that may fail to harness the creativity and brilliance we really need to build a just, healthy, and happy world for all.
For a humane world,
Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach“
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Filed under: creativity, economy, globalization, MOGO (Most Good), systemic change | Tagged: creative solutions, economics, either/or, global economy, globalization, happiness, Helena Norberg-Hodge, localization, systemic change, TEDx | 1 Comment »