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Is Local and Diverse Better than Networked and Global?

Helena Norberg-Hodge has been arguing for localism since the 1970s, but the pandemic is making the Australian activist-scholar’s ideas more relevant than ever.

Norberg-Hodge has become a beacon, now more than ever, for people throughout the world who are demanding an alternative to the global system of trade. Her numerous supporters include the Dalai Lama and Iain McGilchrist, the Oxford literary scholar and psychiatrist.

“Whether or not our civilization survives, Helena’s work is of prime importance,” said Dr. McGilchrist, whose groundbreaking 2009 book, The Master and His Emissary, argued that each half of the brain generates a fundamentally different way of experiencing the world. “Encouraging local communities is a vital antidote to universal globalism.”

“And if civilization should break down,” he added, “it will be our only hope for survival. We need to be acting on her ideas now.”

Those ideas can be found in books and in documentaries, along with conferences and regular lectures tied to her nonprofit organization, Local Futures, which has offices in Australia, Britain and the United States. It all distills down to two concepts that sound simple but have profound implications: First, shorter distances are healthier than longer distances for commerce and human interaction; second, diversification - one farmer growing a dozen crops, for example - is healthier than monoculture, which is what globalization tends to create, whether it’s bananas or wheat.

Ms Norberg-Hodge envisages a very different world. One in which most of our food comes from nearby farmers who are part of our community and who ensure food security year round. She asks us to imagine children being free to play and explore their world safely under the watch of neighbours whom we know and trust; and to imagine the money we spend on everyday goods continuing to recirculate in the local economy, building community prosperity along the way. And to imagine a world in which multinational businesses and banks adhere to the rules of society – not the other way around. And to imagine local businesses thriving and multiplying, thereby providing ample, meaningful livelihoods for everyone.

As part of this, she calls for “economics of happiness,” where the cost of environmental damage is included for products shipped over long distances; where intangible benefits like community are more deeply valued in policy.

Food is where she has won over the most converts. Ms. Norberg-Hodge said the coronavirus pandemic may even help over the long term - as a disruptive force that could lead people to more “medium-sized” lifestyles in smaller communities, even within cities.

Perhaps, she says, there are reasons for optimism being planted in otherwise dark times.

“I think this moment has meant that a lot of people have developed an appetite for having a little more time, being a bit closer to home, learning the names of their neighbors, becoming interested in where their food is coming from and even developing an appetite for actually growing food.”

“It’s so heartwarming for me to see,” she said.

Source: New York Times

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