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June 27, 2022

Big picture activism challenges economic growth

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Helena Norberg-Hodge speaking at last year’s Renew Fest. Photo supplied.

Helena Norberg-Hodge

Having just returned to the Northern Rivers after seven months interacting with grassroots projects around the world, it is clearer to me more than ever that a fundamental shift in the economy is urgently needed: away from the global towards the local.

A move in this direction brings multiple, interrelated benefits – rebuilding the fabric of community while reducing carbon emissions, poverty, unemployment, and even ethnic conflict.

What’s more, when people reconnect with each other and the natural world, a deep personal healing can happen. There are many real-world examples of this, from food-growing projects in prisons that cut rates of recidivism in half, to wilderness camps that help to reduce stress, anxiety, and anger in traumatised teenagers.

The evidence is undeniable: we desperately need human-scale relationships and a connection to nature to build a healthy society.

And yet most of us are still trapped in institutionalised structures, from schools to workplaces, that push us in exactly the opposite direction – towards more meaningless work, more competition, greater speed, more technology, less decision-making agency in our own communities, and less genuine connection.

I believe that informing ourselves and others of the underlying causes of these negative trends is the first step towards meaningful change.

But what can I do?

When people talk about changing the economy, they often say ‘But what can I do?’

My response is twofold: start or join a localisation project in your own area – a farmers market, a tool-exchange program, a community fund etc. In doing so, you will discover the huge rewards – environmental, economic, social and psychological – of renewing your connection to people and place.

Also become a ‘big-picture activist’, helping to build a movement that steps back from the overwhelming multitude of symptoms of breakdown, to focus on the economic root cause.

Focusing on the economy is enabling people to join together in ways that single-issue campaigning simply can’t; and is leading to a push for policy shifts so that tax dollars no longer subsidise the global corporate juggernaut.

My own organisation, Local Futures, runs educational programs around the world under the banner of The Economics of Happiness.

On Wednesday, February 13, we are organising a Big-Picture Activism event at the Byron Theatre, featuring leading change-makers from five continents.

Manish Jain (India) graduated from Harvard, worked at Morgan Stanley and the UN, before returning to Rajasthan to learn from his illiterate grandmother.

He is co-founder of Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Re-thinking Education and Development.

Camila Moreno (Brazil), PhD, has degrees in Philosophy, Law and Sociology and is a leading climate policy expert. She is author of Carbon Metrics and the New Colonial Equations.

Michael Shuman (USA) is a lawyer and economist by training, is the world’s foremost authority on local business and finance and is author of Local Dollars, Local Sense, which includes hands-on methods for building local financial structures and institutions.

Kai Sawyer (Japan) is a nonviolence activist. After Fukushima, Kai founded Tokyo Urban Permaculture as a way to transform the culture and politics of Tokyo. 

Anja Lyngbaek (Mexico/Denmark) is associate director of Local Futures and co-ordinator of the International Alliance for Localization. She headed Local Futures’ first-ever local food program in the UK.

Keibo Oiwa (Japan) is a professor of cultural anthropology and one of Japan’s best-known environmentalists. His numerous books include Slow is Beautiful: Culture as Slowness, and The Japan We Never Knew, which he co-wrote with David

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  1. In addition to taking on economic growth, we also need to stop the march of techno-authoritarianism in the form of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the 5G network.


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