The global pandemic has revealed just how fragile our global supply chains are. This is something we’ve talked about a lot at Strong Towns—see here, here, here, here, and here—but of course the disruptions aren’t only being experienced in the United States.
Damien Cave starts his excellent New York Times article, “What if Local and Diverse is Better than Networked and Global?,” at a farmers’ market in New South Wales, Australia. “We’ve just been shown how fragile and not resilient it all is,” Andrew Cameron, a cattle rancher selling grass-fed meat at the market, said of the broken supply chains. “Our resilience now comes from local producers.”
Cave’s article is actually a profile of Helena Norberg-Hodge, the founder of Local Futures and an important advocate for localism since the 1970s. Norberg-Hodge has seen firsthand how globalization is decimating more traditional cultures, as in the Indian village of Ladakh. Cave writes: “The path to ‘development’ for Ladakhis meant ending centuries of self-reliance, where they found everything they needed around them, except salt, which they traded for. It also meant accepting policies that favored choices they would not have made on their own.”
Cave boils down Norberg-Hodge’s ideas to two simple but profound concepts:
Shorter distances are healthier than longer distances for commerce and human interaction...
Diversification...is healthier than monoculture, which is what globalization tends to create, whether it’s bananas or mobile phones.
Her work has earned the respect of everyone from the Dalai Lama and chef Alice Waters, to the British comedian Russell Brand. Activist and bestselling author Bill McKibben had this to say:
She got the opportunity to see a different world, and she was smart enough to understand that she wasn’t looking at a relic, she was looking at a vision of a working future. And she has kept that vision close over many decades, helping all of us see that the metrics we’re used to—G.D.P., say—are not the only possibilities.
Localism, and Cave’s article in particular, are the topics on this week’s episode of Upzoned. They are timely subjects too, as host Abby Kinney and regular cohost Chuck Marohn were speaking just a few days after the presidential election...but before the results were fully known. Abby and Chuck discuss why the conventional Left-Right understanding of politics is so inadequate, and why we need another axis, one that runs the spectrum from centralized, top-down power to decentralized, bottom-up energy. They discuss the problems that arise when systems get too big and complex. And they talk about the principle of subsidiarity, which states that problems not only should be addressed—but must be addressed—as locally as possibly.
Then in the Downzone, Chuck discusses the challenging but rewarding experience of reading How to Be an Anti-Racist in conversation with others. And Abby recommends a recent article by Strong Towns senior editor Daniel Herriges, “We Don’t Live In a World of Cartoon Villains.”
Additional Show Notes
“What if Local and Diverse is Better than Networked and Global?” by Damien Cave
Abby Kinney (Twitter)
Charles Marohn (Twitter)
Gould Evans Studio for City Design
Theme Music by Kemet the Phantom (Soundcloud)
Additional Strong Towns content on localism and taking local action:
“It’s All Local Now,” by Charles Marohn
”The New Localism” (Podcast)
“Big, Impersonal Institutions Are Failing Us. Loyalty to Our Communities Might Save Us.” (Podcast)
“The Dignity of Local Community: A Conversation with Chris Arnade” (Podcast)
“How Relevant is Localism in an Age of Urgency?”