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Local Versus Global, Consumerism vs. Simplicity

Written by Zoe Weil | 1 Comment | Published on September 6, 2010 | Filed under Humane Connection, Uncategorized
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2010/09/06/local-versus-global-consumerism-vs-simplicity/

I was reading an article in the July/August issue of Ode Magazine titled, “If you’ve got it, spend it: How consumer spending can help create a fairer, richer, greener and more stable global economy.” The article is an edited excerpt from Philippe Legrain’s book Aftershock: Reshaping the World Economy After the Crisis. Unfortunately, it’s edited in such a way that it’s hard to fully grasp Legrain’s perspective because the sections don’t always follow logically, and there are inconsistencies in the article that I suspect might not be true of the book. I plan to read the book to understand Legrain’s points better.

Essentially, though, Legrain argues that consumerism – albeit a healthier version than most of us think of when we hear the word – is a primary key to a happier and more just and peaceful world. One of the pull out quotes in the article reads: “Localism, not globalization, is the true enemy of the planet.”

Legrain’s is a fairly unpopular view among progressives of various sorts who are promoting local economies, food independence, and voluntary simplicity as keys to a sustainable, just, and healthy world. And it is one I appreciate. I have found myself grappling with the complexities and sometimes the contradictions of local vs. global, and of consumerism vs. simplicity, for many years. I’ve written about this in my book, Most Good, Least Harm, because it is not always clear what and to whom actually does the most good and the least harm from our choices, especially if we are trying to do the most good and the least harm to ourselves, other people, animals, and the environmental all at the same time.

If I were to choose to eat only foods that are grown locally, as opposed to the criteria that I have chosen (vegan, organic, fair trade), then those organic and fair trade banana growers in Central and South America, from whom I purchase bananas at our local food co-op, would lose a loyal customer. I care about those growers as much as I care about the organic wheat growers in Northern Maine, whose crop I buy whenever I purchase bread or flour. True, the ecological footprint of the bananas is significant, shipped as they are using fossil fuels, but when I imagine a post-fossil fuel world that relies upon sustainable, non-polluting energy, that world has an abundance of global trade. My only reason now for limiting my purchases of distantly-produced products is environmental. I have never been swayed by “localism” for localism’s sake, that is, to “support my local economy.” It feels insular to me. In the same way, I have never understood when the news reports the number of Americans killed in a battle or natural disaster and fails to report the number of non-Americans killed. Personally, I don’t care about Americans more that I care about Iraqis. I care about people.

And so I was glad to read Legrain’s ideas and grateful to Ode Magazine for publishing an unpopular view. Yet, I hope that when I read his actual book (instead of excerpts) it will be more nuanced, and there won’t be either/or scenarios as presented in the quote “Localism, not globalization, is the true enemy of the planet.”

In a complex world, with challenging conundrums and solutions still eluding us, we must think beyond either/ors and attempt to continually ask and seek to answer what does the most good and the least harm in the countless choices that make up our lives. In this way, we can hone our critical thinking skills and harness our creativity to find new ideas that don’t simply refute other positions but which bring us further toward a peaceful, sustainable, and humane world for all people, animals, and the environment.

Zoe Weil

Image courtesy of Sheila’s via Creative Commons.

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