Community and economy are integral, synergetic and symbiotic. They are part of a larger system, an eco-system. Over the course of history, from tribe to city-state to village and town, we have naturally organized self-sufficient communities on a local scale. True, there has always been trade. Local economies are not closed systems.
Globalization has largely destroyed local self-sufficiency. It has also destroyed community. That is true in both the developed and developing parts of the world. It has made us dependent of multi-national corporations for food, energy, shelter and the basic necessities of life. These corporations are not only vastly larger than communities they are trans-national and many have bigger economies than most countries. Their goal is profit, profit, profit.
Relocalization seeks to restore not only our capacity to provide secure sources of basic needs but to restore self-determination to our lives and communities.
Relocalization, from a Transition Centre perspective, is not "anti-." It is not anti-corporation or anti-technology or anti-government. It is rather an adaptive response to chaos and confusion, uncertainty and doubt, and that gnawing anxiety that is so much a part of our lives that the system just isn't working. Relocalization does not seek to redress or reform existing institutions. It seeks human-centered alternatives that focus on strong local community. By attending to life on the human scale we expect to see alleviation of injustices that are so much a part of our cold and indifferent economic order and distant political administrations.
Relocalization is a development strategy. It seeks to restore the capacity to produce food, energy and durable goods at a local level. It seeks to achieve true sustainability. Relocalization is, first and foremost, environmentally sound. We must live in harmony with nature, become a part of the natural ecology, and re-establish the balance that will permit our descendants to live well for centuries and millennia to come.
Relocalization is about not only what we produce but how we live. A local economy is virtually synonymous with a local community. You can’t have a sound local economy without a vibrant local community. This suggests scale: How large can a self-sufficient community be? It also suggests locale: Can you achieve self-sufficiency in an urban environment? New Urbanism, and the experience of the Cubans after the collapse of the Soviet Union, suggests that urban dwellers can achieve a higher degree of self-sufficiency.
Cities are, however, problematic. Suburbs have destroyed millions of acres of prime agricultural land and now consume the water once used for growing food. They are extremely energy intensive. Sustainability requires the restoration of a balance between population and the carrying capacity of regional productive soils. Suburbs will have to be reclaimed for the maintenance of the city. For most rural areas in America there is sufficient land to provide abundantly for local populations and to provide, via a more sustainable transportation system, for regional cities. Many cities in the US have already started to set up local supply chain networks which can serve as a foundation for future development.
Relocalization is defined in terms of “self-sufficiency” as a means to establish clear boundaries around the idea of sustainability. If a community were self-sufficient, what would it have to produce to meet its needs?
Building a Self Sufficient Community and Economy is an upcoming book by Bill Sharp which lays a foundation for what can be called an architecture of a sustainable community. The term “architecture” implies the ecological structure of a community. It includes both the structure and the dynamics of that ecology. The basic model is one of systems design which uses concepts such as inputs, throughputs, outputs, feedback loops, processing, monitoring and display, storage, etc.
It is difficult to define sustainability when we have so little information about what a community actually consumes. Per-capita figures tell us little. Statistics vary widely, are based on different benchmarks and use a lot of mysterious analytic techniques. Economic data are in terms of dollars rather than quantities. We need to know exactly how much material, energy and information, etc., are supplied to a community, how they are processed and what wastes are produced. We need to know what is required to produce those resources, how reliable the sources are, what assets are needed in the community to sustain its economy and how waste products are handled.
If we are to strive for any degree of self-sufficiency, and I put 10% as an initial workable objective, we need to look at the resources located in and around the community. One resource is wealth: the creation, regeneration and recirculation of wealth within the community to strengthen the local economy. Wealth is a product of real production: agriculture, manufacturing, extraction. It is about products that are reliable, durable and locally serviceable. Services must be a value added, not a cost. They must be reliable, trustworthy and an asset to the community. Obviously a smaller community is the best place to start.
This book addresses oft-heard questions. There are several key assumptions. The first is that relocalizing an economy is the best approach to sustainability. It is also the best way to achieve stability in a global economy that is inherently unstable. The local economy and community are the two wings of a bird. A lot of this book is about community, agrarian community and social experiments in counterculture. There is a lot of material on agrarian culture because of its close link to the natural world and as a source of important values and character formation. Raising food, from home gardens to sustainable farming, provides a very real, highly productive, achievable alternative leading towards a greater sense of community self-sufficiency.
Building models of change is crucial: both what has worked and what has not. In addition to counterculture models, the book explores the social dynamics of the four generations that define this period and how they may, theoretically, become a new movement that will have to form to bring about a transformation of society for a post-carbon future. The early Boomer generation, the Sixties activists, the Grey Eagles, could have a very large role to play in the coming transformation.
Another assumption is that both democracy and a free market require active and informed participation. What is an economy? How did our economic system come about? What are the major issues and challenges we face? Academic economics comes nowhere close to defining a local and sustainable economy so a new, community based, model will have to be developed.
Energy is the foundation of the global economy. Energy resources, both non-renewable and renewable, are explored in depth. It is vitally important that we be well informed about the consequences of depletion of non-renewable energy sources. We must understand different types of oil, what a “reserve” actually means. We use industry-based information that supports the thesis of peak oil.
Transition Centre is inviting individuals and communities to join the conversation on relocalization, on building strong local communities and economies to restore security and stability to our lives.