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April 21, 2021

Helena Norberg-Hodge interview

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Going Local: Hope in a Time of Crisis is a festival of cutting-edge ideas and inspiration at the Byron Community Centre 20–22 March

Going Local: Hope in a Time of Crisis

Byron Community Centre  |  20–22 March

As we start to witness the detrimental impacts of unchecked growth and globalisation it has never been clearer that our future is in our return to the past. Back to living and sourcing our food, our power and our products locally. Pioneer of the localisation movement, Helena Norberg-Hodge answers some of the curly questions about the complex challenges of being a change maker.

What do you say to people who say that a conference like Hope in a Time of Crisis is just another talkfest?

When doctors, teachers, lawyers or engineers meet to have conferences, no one accuses them of hosting ‘talkfests’. We need to think about why it is that this label is used almost exclusively to undermine the work of environmental and social activists.

I think it’s easy to underestimate the importance of raising awareness. We stand to gain a lot by listening to people who are dedicating themselves to trying to change our destructive economic system. Conferences like this are also important opportunities to come together, face-to-face, to forge alliances with others.

More and more, social and environmental activists are beginning to realise that we need to move beyond single issues – the symptoms of a systemic disease – and focus on a fundamental economic shift. The emerging ‘New Economy’ movement is still in its early days, and it needs a lot of discussion to brainstorm how we can reframe political discourses to unite people across the left-right divide and work together to coordinate strategic, ‘big-picture’ action. Of course talking, by itself, isn’t enough – which is why this conference will also focus on translating understanding into action, and helping people to see how they might apply the ‘big-picture perspective’ to the activist work they’re passionate about.

You talk about going local, but you have so many global speakers? Why not more local engagement?

We see a serious information gap between different countries. Between the so-called ‘developed’ and so-called ‘developing’ world; misinformation perpetuates counter-productive myths about ‘progress’ on both sides of the divide. I have also long observed a bottleneck of grassroots communication, even between neighbouring countries, meaning that activists often lack a global, systemic analysis, and fall into the trap of blaming national governments.

Paradoxically perhaps, we need to try to build a global movement for localisation, and so every one of our conferences features both local and international speakers. Linking change-makers with each other across big geographic divides enables them to share information and learn from each other, face-to-face. It helps us avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’ and waging isolated campaigns that can get taken down one by one. Bringing international speakers – as well as their unique expertise – to conferences like this one, brings enormous value to the events.

How do you justify all the travel you do? Isn’t the message against globalisation – shouldn’t that mean no global travel?

When we talk about globalisation, what we’re really talking about is an economic system that favours giant multinational corporations that are actively promoting energy-intensive production and consumerism worldwide. All around the world, this system is driving up economic insecurity, and pollution – including greenhouse gases. We’re calling for structural changes to the way the economy functions, to bring economic activity back down to a human scale. By no means are we calling for an end to international collaboration. In fact, it’s precisely because we’re up against a global system that we need global collaboration more than ever.

I have many dear friends who, out of concern for the Earth and for other cultures, have chosen not to travel. Many are people I love and respect. But I think that it is precisely such people who should be travelling, to help counter the myths and misinformation I was just talking about. So much of the world is still being told, by mass media, by development ‘experts’ and by emissaries of consumer culture (who are zipping around the world more than ever!), that they should strive to emulate a ‘western’, urban consumer culture. In my experience, the most effective way of countering such dangerous ideas is for those of us with experience of the urban, consumer lifestyle to travel, and to help expose the reality behind the one-dimensional images being purveyed. What’s more, as I’ve already alluded to, international experience can help people to discern the outlines of a problem whose origins lie deep within the globalised economic system – and to reach for correspondingly systemic solutions.

Will this conference change anything?

Our conference will not transform the Byron Shire, but almost certainly it will shift thinking for a number of people and lead to meaningful collaborative projects. At every one of our 23 international conferences, there have been several positive spin-offs. These can range from new grassroots projects conceived between just a few participants, to the offering of workshops at schools and in communities, to regional governments implementing new policies. In every case, the profile of the localisation and New Economy movements are elevated, and we are steering political conversation in a more productive, systemic direction – a direction that continues to be ignored by mainstream media.

In a rather unique way, these conferences demonstrate that whether your focus is on food, or energy, or community-building, or finance, or any number of other things, you can play a part in advancing the cause of system change. The number of grassroots initiatives (and policies) supporting local economies are growing all the time, as we’ve documented, in detail, in our Planet Local series. Our conferences have played – and will continue to play – a significant role in accelerating this movement. 

Going Local: Hope in a Time of Crisis is a festival of cutting-edge ideas and inspiration at the Byron Community Centre 20–22 March. Featuring speakers such as Charles Eisenstein, Dr David Suzuki, Woman Stands Shining, Damon Gameau, Albert Wiggan, Berry Liberman, Dr Mary Graham and more! For more info go to localfutures.org

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