Localization typically spurs thoughts of old pick up trucks sporting “local food, thousands of miles fresher” bumper stickers parked around a veggie stand selling their produce. So often it’s written off as a utopian idea that holds little weight in our globalized world. You may also be asking yourself “What does localization have to do with climate change?”
Fair enough. Doing the math to differentiate the carbon footprint of a local carrot vs a chilean avocado is pretty tedious. Lets take a closer look at localization beyond just our food though. What are the benefits? Is globalization all that bad?
I’ll actually start with the latter. I was having a discussion with my Dad. He clung to his argument that globalization is far from a problem, and in fact, probably drives innovation on a global scale as well as allowing people to have access to items they may not locally be able to produce. I value these discussions greatly with my dad. He is thorough, well thought out, and most important he challenges my beliefs and thoughts, ensuring that I have am complete and thorough with my thinking.
Anyway, I find the fault to lie with two major problems. First would be the polarization of goods to only a few corporations. This supports a whole host of problems worthy of many articles all on it’s own. In short though having fewer people controlling the majority of the goods leads to corporations being too big to fail. Sounds familiar right? Our financial institutions have certainly reached this pinnacle of controlling our finances to a degree at which their business failure is not an option. In the age of increasing climate related disasters this endless supply chain of goods can be threatened in unforeseen ways. The saying goes that we’re only 6 meals away from chaos.
This leads to the second problem, the fragility of the system. As goods start coming from fewer and fewer places the supply line becomes vital not only for the company supplying said goods, but more importantly the consumer relying on those goods. Remember the gas shortage we faced in the after math of Hurricane Katrina? Around 20% of the nations energy comes from the Gulf of Mexico. Gas prices soared if there was even gas to be found. It took only a matter of days for our supply of oil and gas to run low enough to be extremely scarce at the pump.
Imagine sea level rise flooding out refineries or major storms wrecking distribution centers and stopping the shipments from making their way around the world. Those are only a few examples. This all circles around to our dependance on large entities not only for some manufactured or produced good, but also our jobs. My dad, in the same discussion, was talking to me about two deep water wells being drilled in Decatur, IL, his home. These wells are going in as an insurance policy for the extreme drought the area faced last year. The town’s largest employer, ADM, was nearing a total plant shutdown due to water shortage last year. My dad went on to explain how without ADM the town would die. Unfortunately, particular cities reliance on major industry to keep them afloat isn’t a rarity, nor is their failure. Detroit is a fine example of a city losing it’s industry, and being unable to rebound from that lose.
To me this chain has so many dangers. Decatur, my birthplace, can’t stay afloat without ADM. Why? Because there are no local jobs. Local furniture, local food, local hardware stores, local anything is difficult to come by these days. In the United States INDEPENDENCE is a word that sells. We are currently so dependent on big corporations to supply us with what we need. We are dependent on them for our jobs. We are dependent on them for our economy. As climate change becomes a reality fields may no longer grow tomatoes that once did. Shipping ports may get destroyed in mega storms, or even sea level rise, and fail to function to the capacity in which we rely on them.
Localization spells out independence. If we can grow our own food instead of relying on the Midwest to supply it under severe drought conditions we can withstand food shortages. If we localize our energy sourcing a Hurricane hitting the Gulf won’t drive gas shortages up the entire east coast of the country. By making cities and towns individually strong we become stronger as a whole. We can support our drought stricken neighbors with ease if the reach of their drought isn’t a global reliance on the corn they grow.