The mantra of the green movement, back in the 1990s, was ‘Think Global, Act Local’; in the days of Local Agenda 21, for those able to remember! As we are becoming increasingly aware that putting all our eggs in the globalisation basket is a massive mistake – environmentally, socially and economically – let us rethink the path we are on.
Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant has said that outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional. It is worth reading his latest interview. As we move people and products around the world, we increase the risk of infectious diseases spreading faster than our ability to manage them. Pandemics are not new, but given our superior knowledge we should be able to contain the rate of spread more effectively. In an over-globalised world, containing the spread of diseases is much harder. Move something twice as far and it is four times as difficult to manage spread. Move it a thousand times as far and it is a million times more difficult to contain.
This is not just the case with human infections, but also with diseases and pests afflicting in livestock and plants. In moving away from local and seasonal food systems, we increase the risk of spreading catastrophic diseases. For example, the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the UK in 1967 was confined to two counties; whilst the outbreak in 2001 spread to the whole country. I go into far greater details when describing this process in my book, One Planet Communities published back in 2009. Lets not forget the interconnected co-benefits too in eating local seasonal produce – carbon savings, health, security and local economic resilience.
But ‘Think Global, Act Local’ does not just have benefits in food. Strong local economic development, in harmony with the local environment – bioregionalism – builds resilience and is less prone to create the conditions for global economic shocks. Bigger markets, including, for example, European markets, ultimately and inevitably lead to greater wealth inequalities as bigger companies out-compete smaller ones. It is a simple application of basic mathematics. Smaller and more local is not just beautiful, it is also good for people. Some global trade is good, but things have got seriously out of balance.
As we look to emerge from lockdown, let’s make sure we don’t rebuild the old system only for it to derail again a few months, or at best, a few years down the line. Hard as it is, let us use this crisis to rethink where we want to go. We need a Zero Carbon future based on locally sustaining, resilient cities and regions. Place which are good for people, good for society and good for the planet. Let us create a system which generates health at the same time as regenerating planet earth.