Monthly Archives: April 2017
3. The Next Step: the Bioregional Economy (later developed into the book opposite left) – Molly Scott Cato
In a world of climate change and declining oil supplies, what is the plan for the provisioning of resources? Green economists suggest a need to replace the globalised economy, and its extended supply chains, with a more ‘local’ economy. But what does this mean in more concrete terms? How large is a local economy, how self-reliant can it be, and what resources will still need to be imported?
The concept now developing amongst green economists is that of a bioregional economy—an economy which is embedded within its environment. Bioregionalism represents a culture of living that acknowledges ecological limits From an economic perspective, bioregions are natural social units determined by ecology rather than economics, and that can be largely self-sufficient in terms of basic resources such as water, food, products and services. The concept of ‘bioregionalism’ itself assists in interpreting economics in a broadly geographical way, in contrast to the post-globalisation economics which revolves around price (usually the price of labour) and downplays the role of geography altogether.
Climate change re-emphasises the importance of transport-related CO2 emissions and therefore an economic response to climate change requires the re-embedding of space within our understanding of the economy. This new economic paradigm requires us to live consciously and carefully within our ecological niche: ‘Bioregionalism recognizes, nurtures, sustains and celebrates our local connections with: land; plants and animals; rivers, lakes and oceans; air; families, friends and neighbours; community; native traditions; and traditional systems of production and trade’.
Bioregional economics is therefore about reconnecting with our local environment and having deeper relationships with the suppliers of our resources, as a substitute for the thin nature of such economic relations within the globalised capitalist economy:
Your bioregion is effectively your backyard. It is the part of the planet you are responsible for. Bioregionalism means living a rooted life, being aware of where your resources come from and where your wastes go. Within the bioregional approach beginning with the local is a principle that trumps principles such as price or choice.
This chapter has presented proposals from green economists to replace the globalised capitalist system with a network of self-reliant local economies. As made clear in the previous chapter, this will not mean the end of trade, but it will mean that preference is given to local production for goods that can be produced locally. This will mean a shift in the focus of our economic life: we will need many more people skilled in practical crafts and especially in agriculture.
There is no question that within such an economy we will need to become different kinds of people: that we will achieve our satisfactions in life in new ways and that we will be called upon to be more creative and ingenious than we presently are. Some aspects of the transition will cause hardship, but others will be more deeply fulfilling than our lives within a capitalist work-and-consumption system can ever be.
Such a vision offers greater community and personal satisfaction: a world where conviviality replaces consumption, where local identity replaces global trade, and where community spirit replaces brand loyalty. Lord Beaumont of Whitley, speaking in the House of Lords
For a couple of decades the proponents of globalisation have been winning the ideological battle, in spite of strong and growing opposition and proposal for more humane ways of organising international economic relationships, as outlined in the previous chapter.
During this time the few green economists calling for local food and energy security, or protection of local economies and communities, have seemed like voices in the wilderness. Yet, partly as a result of the immanence of climate change and increasing oil prices, putting all our eggs in the globalisation basket has begun to seem rather a risky strategy. Put this together with the recognition that globalisation means vastly more carbon-intensive transport of people and goods, and localisation begins to be an increasingly popular strategy.
In his ‘global manifesto’ for localisation Colin Hines defines globalisation as follows:
Globalization n. 1. the process by which governments sign away the rights of their citizens in favour of speculative investors and transnational corporations. 2. The erosion of wages, social welfare standards and environmental regulations for the sake of international trade. 3. the imposition world-wide of a consumer monoculture. Widely but falsely believed to be irreversible—See also financial meltdown, casino economy, Third World debt and race to the bottom (16th century: from colonialism, via development.
This is, as Hines himself concedes, a blunt and indeed a savage critique. He sees globalisation not as a positive move but rather as an economic de-localisation or dismantling of local economies on a global basis.
There is plenty of evidence to show that the beneficiaries of this massive expansion in international trade are the transnational corporations (TNCs) that control it. For example, 51 of the top 100 economies in the world are TNCs. Just 500 TNCs control 70 per cent of international trade and a mere 1 per cent of TNCs control half of the world’s foreign direct investment. And whilst the global economy typically grows at 2 to 3 per cent every year, large corporations have an 8-10 per cent growth rate.
As well as political concerns about the shifting of economic power from governments to corporations, there is the obvious concern that the increasing amount of transport of goods and—increasingly—people too, has severe environmental consequences. In addition there are anxieties about the failure of security of supply of our most basic necessities such as food and energy.
The UK’s dependence on food imports makes us particularly vulnerable to rising energy prices. We currently rely on imports to provide almost one third of the food consumed in the UK, and have one of the lowest self-sufficiency ratios in the EU.8 Although the UK has been a net importer of food for a long time, imports are currently growing at a significant rate. DEFRA figures show that imports in tonnes increased by 38% from 1988 to 2002. For some types of food, the increase has been even more dramatic. Imports of fruit have doubled, for example, while imports of vegetables have tripled. Half of all vegetables and 95% of all fruit consumed in the UK now come from overseas.
The problem for the proponents of localisation is that the rules of the economic game are stacked against them. Although globalisation has resulted in a single economy for sales, there is no global rate of wages, or internationally agreed standards of employment or of environmental protection.
Green critics of globalisation are very keen to make clear that their objection is not based on narrow xenophobia. Hines draws a distinction between globalisation and internationalism, which can be thought of as ‘the flow of ideas, technologies, information, culture, money and goods with the end goal of protecting and rebuilding local economics worldwide
Its emphasis is not on competition for the cheapest but on cooperation for the best’. The following opinion from J. M. Keynes is frequently and favourably quoted by greens:
Amongst green economists there is a consensus that, in James Robertson’s words, ‘A revival of more self-reliant local economies must be a key feature of the 21st-century world economy’. However, there is less agreement on the sorts of policies needed to revive those economies. This section looks at some policies that have been suggested. Other greens despair of political solutions and look for homegrown solutions that lie within the power of communities: their activities are documented in the next section.
Hines’s 2000 ‘manifesto’ includes policies designed to localize production and dismantle TNCs, specifically a ‘site-here-to-sell-here’ policy. This is a classic example of the protection of a locality’s industry for strategic reasons—to ensure security of supply of the essentials of life—as well as in order to protect the environment. According to Hines, ‘Market access would be dependent on compliance with this policy, ensuring that whatever a country or a geographical grouping of countries could produce themselves they did’.
Woodin and Lucas go further in their support for local economies by suggesting an end to all subsidies to agricultural exports and the introduction of a food security clause into the World Trade Organisation treaty to protect self-sufficiency in poorer countries.
The Green Group in the European parliament has called for strong measures to support local food economies including the ending of dumping of subsidized EU production and greater local self-reliance in food production and ‘Rewriting the EU Treaty and the rules of the World Trade Organisation. This is necessary to ensure that food security and maximum self sufficiency, with its inherent reduction in fossil fuel use, replaces the present emphasis on more open markets and international competitiveness. At the same time, poorer countries which currently depend on their exports to EU markets, must be supported in order to enable them to develop stronger national and regional markets closer to home.
At the heart of green policy for the local economy is a focus on the small locally-based businesses which create most jobs. The Party also supports the establishment of democratically accountable community banks, which could provide capital for local businesses, as well as local and community currencies.