Think Locally, Act Locally


The phrase, “think globally, act locally,” has been used by many proponents of environmentalism since the 1970’s. Attributed variously to David Brower, Rene Dubos and others, it was a rallying cry to consider the whole Earth when acting in one’s own milieu. With the growth of the global economy, it has become very difficult to follow this advice. A large proportion of the goods of all kinds, including food, found in retail outlets comes from long distances. Virtually all consumer electronics come from abroad. Estimates of the average distance (food miles) travelled in the US range from 1500-2000 miles. Whether foods from afar are worse for the environment is arguable. Out-of-season produce that is flown in is almost always worse, but imported meat may be produce less impact than that regionally produced. So even when buying in a local store, one is essentially acting in a global sense. Globalization has led to the near extinction of locally produced goods and services. Consumer electronics and other devices are difficult or even impossible to service. Big box stores, with commodified goods from abroad, tend to drive out locally produced crafts.

One consequences of this mode of satisfaction is that consumption is driven more by conformance to societal pressures than by authentic choice. We live in a context of “needs” that never goes away. Relationships get just as commodified as the goods. I have argued in my book that this pattern tends to become addictive. The consumption conforms to social norms, but not to the real concerns of the consumer. So things that matter remain unsatisfied. Even with the growing number of green goods and services becoming available, this pattern will persist, perhaps even getting worse as many consumers will now believe that they are doing their bit for the globe.

One way out of this pattern is to reverse the slogan and focus on local community as the source for more of the commerce. This idea is not new. The idea of local economies has been around for a while. So has the idea of a local currency to support that economy and differentiate it from the global system. Writing for IPS News, Matthew Cardinale highlights communities that have issued a local currency. The need to import is lessened. Local currencies can support an economy that does not need to grow. But the feature that I find most interesting is the possibility of breaking the addictive consumption pattern.

A second way in which community currencies support environmental sustainability is that they can lead to reduced consumption, Ms. Witt argued. She believes people purchase more and more “stuff,” not because they need it, but to fill a void that community currency can satisfy.

“You know the full story about the goods you purchase. You know how they were produced. You know the carpenter who made the table. You know who her children are. You realize buying the table is supporting that family,” Ms. Witt said.

The products bought with local currency “link you to your neighborhood, your place, the people of your place. They're not just stuff ... they enrich your life the way that stuff would not. So you need less.”

This is probably an idea that the Federal Reserve bankers would raise their collective eyebrows at, but deserves serious consideration. The existing growth-dependent political economy has produced the present unsustainable conditions. Maybe this is a way to re-invent Ricardo's concept of comparative advantage in support of sustainability.

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KingofthePaupers said:

Jct: Best of all, when the local currency is pegged to the Time Standard of Money (how many dollars/hour child labor) Hours earned locally can be intertraded with other timebanks globally! In 1999, I paid for 39/40 nights in Europe with an IOU for a night back in Canada worth 5 Hours.
U.N. Millennium Declaration UNILETS Resolution C6 to governments is for a time-based currency to restructure the global financial architecture.
See my banking systems engineering analysis at