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Possible Scenarios for the Future: Helena Norberg-Hodge

Jerry Mander edited a book called The Case Against the Global Economy and For a Turn Toward the Local. To my surprise, most of the essays within this 1996 book are every bit as current and relevant today as they were when they were written.

The book includes a wonderful essay by Helena Norberg-Hodge, “Shifting Direction: From Global Dependence to Local Interdependence.” (Caution: the Norberg-Hodge online pdf with the exact same title has very different content than the piece in the Mander book. My comments refer to the original hardcopy version, NOT the online pdf.)

Norberg-Hodge is perhaps the lone one of the writers I’m discussing here who truly understands the necessity of returning to local – for ecological reasons, cultural reasons, and matters of the human heart and spirit. Her other writings reveal her in-depth work with third-world villagers and her comprehension of the differences of the global South. Norberg-Hodge has internalized the beauty and groundedness that Local can be.

Her hardcopy essay includes a section on “Conceptual Resistance to Localization” which I think is a great piece for Transition Initiatives to visit.

As far as what we can do about the bigger economic picture, in the section “Shifting Direction” Norberg-Hodge poses several very realistic shifts that could be made at the government budgetary level which would have huge sweeping impacts on facilitating local economies. Many of these mean ending misguided subsidies and subsidy-like support. In an era when government is desperately looking for “what to cut,” Norberg-Hodge’s proposals could conceivably be brought to fruition.

While Norberg-Hodge’s online pdf gets stuck in exclusively food-based solutions, the “Grassroots Initiatives” portion of her hardcopy piece approaches the panorama we see in Transition initiatives: local currencies, tool lending libraries, rethinking education to reflect local resources and pertinent skills. It is hugely refreshing to see “rethinking education” presented as one of the solutions to our economic ills.

Given what Speth says about the native inabilities for our political system to do anything significant about the problems of capitalism, I doubt we’ll see much government-level action. But if government action is possible, Norberg-Hodge’s is a good list to consider.

Other essays in The Case Against the Global Economy are also quite enlightening, although in 1996, Mander et al missed the ultimate game-clincher: peak oil.

The end of cheap oil pulls the rug out from under all of the reasons our economy became globalized in the first place. No longer will it be cheaper to harvest raw materials on one continent, ship them to another continent for manufacturing and processing, to still another continent for single use, and then ship the debris back overseas for “recycling.” Peak oil completely undermines the economic rationale for all this worldwide shipping, and thus undermines the global economy that evolved to support it.

Peak oil and the crumbling of the globalized economy will in turn mean the end of many multinational corporations as their reason-for-being disintegrates. This will eventually mean a massive shift in the political power base, the likes of which none of the political-economic thinkers mentioned here have taken into consideration.

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