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Aspects and Perspectives on Localization and Relocalization

Our Transition Whatcom book study group is currently going through Rob Hopkins’ latest book, The Transition Companion. Last week we looked at Chapter 4: “Resilience and Localisation.” The equivalent chapter in the previous book, The Transition Handbook, is “Why Small Is Inevitable.”  Both of these chapters are excellent introductions to the topic of “Localisation” (the term used in the Companion” or “Relocalization” (the term used in the Handbook.

In this post, I want to share some additional resources available online.  A variety of articles that provided some interesting perspectives on the topic.

‘Localism’ or ‘Localisation’? Defining our terms

by Rob Hopkins (Transition Culture, 2010)
“There is often confusion within the peak oil/Transition movement about the distinction between the terms ‘localism‘ and ‘localisation‘.  On Energy Bulletin yesterday, Richard Moore’s piece, ‘The Emergence of Localism” was actually referring, I would argue, to localisation, not localism.  In the UK, in the context of the government’s Big Society agenda, the two definitely mean very different things.  Here is section from my forthcoming thesis which explores this distinction.  ‘Localism’ or ‘localisation’?  The national context.
My comment at end of Hopkins’ article above:
‘Localization’ or Relocalization’? Defining Our Terms
by David MacLeod (2010)

I’m surprised to see that there is no discussion about the term ‘relocalization’ here.

If localism refers primarily to governance, and localization is a response to economic globalization, then relocalization can be defined as a response to peak oil and climate change.

As a member of a group that was part of the Post Carbon Institute’s Relocalization Network, we found the distinction to be important, especially due to the fact that we were in a community where the flagship organization of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies already existed (Sustainable Connections).

Here’s how the Relocalization Network defined the term:
“Relocalization is a strategy to build societies based on the local production of food, energy and goods, and the local development of currency, governance and culture. The main goals of Relocalization are to increase community energy security, to strengthen local economies, and to dramatically improve environmental conditions and social equity.
The Relocalization strategy developed in response to the environmental, social, political and economic impacts of global over-reliance on cheap energy. Our dependence on cheap non-renewable fossil fuel energy has produced climate change, the erosion of community, wars for oil-rich land and the instability of the global economic system.
The tagline the Relocalization Network used, to put the term into the smallest nutshell was “Reduce Consumption; Produce Locally.”

Jason Bradford wrote a greate piece on Relocalization for the Oil Drum. He characterized the idea as follows:

“The case for relocalization will be made in the context of responding sensibly to two problems facing societies right now: climate change and peak oil and gas. Both problems are a result of our dependency on fossil fuels, but some solutions to one will only exacerbate the other. This is why a new approach, that of relocalization, is necessary.
Relocalization is based on a systems approach that doesn’t solve one set of problems only to make another problem worse.

…Relocalization starts from the premise that the world is a finite place and that humanity is in a state of overshoot. Perpetual growth of the economy and the population is neither possible nor desirable. It is wise to start planning now for a world with less available energy, not more.
…While we can’t know future threats precisely, scientists do agree that creating a carbon-cycle neutral economy should be the dominant task occupying our minds. This is exactly what Relocalization aims to do.
…Relocalization advocates rebuilding more balanced local economies that emphasize securing basic needs. Local food, energy and water systems are perhaps the most critical to build. In the absence of reliable trade partners, whether from peak oil, natural disaster or political instability, a local economy that at least produces its essential goods will have a true comparative advantage.
…Instead of working to keep a system going that has no future, it calls us to develop means of livelihood that pollute as little as possible and that promote local and regional stability. Since much of our pollution results from the distances goods travel, we must shorten distances between production and consumption as much as we can.
…Relocalization recognizes the liabilities of fossil fuel dependency and promotes greater security through redevelopment of local and regional economies more or less self-reliant in terms of energy, food and water systems. Many social benefits might accrue to a relocalized society, including greater job stability, employment diversity, community cohesion, and public health.”


Relocalization: A Strategic Response to Climate Change and Peak Oil
by Jason Bradford (The Oil Drum, 2007)

Community Rights vs. States Rights vs. Federal Law
by David MacLeod (Integral Permaculture, 2012)
A somewhat controversial post I wrote, posted both on my blog and at Energy Bulletin.  This post was mis-interpreted by some, but I was wanting to bring attention to some gray areas, and to point out that different people and groups have different goals when they talk about going local, and that we need to think very carefully about how we apply these concepts.  Specifically about relocalization, I wrote:
I’m a big believer in relocalization, but I still believe we need to work within the realm of federal laws as well as our continued connection with the world as a whole.
“This will not be an isolationist process of turning our backs on the global community. Rather it will be one of communities and nations meeting each other not from a place of mutual dependency, but of increased resilience.”
- Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook
As Jason Bradford wrote, “Relocalization is based on an ethic of protecting the Earth System–or Natural Capital– knowing that despite our cleverness, human well-being is fundamentally derived from the ecological and geological richness of Earth.”
The main feature of Relocalization, however, is not home rule government overriding federal law.  It is about building a parallel public infrastructure whose goal is “rebuilding more balanced local economies that emphasize securing basic needs. Local food, energy and water systems are perhaps the most critical to build. In the absence of reliable trade partners, whether from peak oil, natural disaster or political instability, a local economy that at least produces its essential goods will have a true comparative advantage.”
We Don’t Live in Neverland
by John Michael Greer (The Archdruid Report, 1/30/13)
Thanks to Garrett Snedaker for pointing me to this and the following recent articles by Mr. Greer. Greer touches on some of the same themes that I wrote about above, but in his own inimitable style, and with his own unique insights.
“Those of my readers who have been following the peak oil scene for any length of time will have encountered any number of enthusiastic discussions of relocalization: the process, that is, of disconnecting from the vast and extravagant global networks of production, consumption, and control that define so much of industrial society, in order to restore or reinvent local systems that will be more resilient in the face of energy shortages and other disruptions, and provide more security and more autonomy to those who embrace them.

A very good case can be made for this strategy…[and] each of these arguments comes with its own downside, which by and large you won’t find mentioned anywhere on those same websites…”

The Center Cannot Hold
by John Michael Greer (The Archdruid Report, 2/07/13)
“I’d like, to pursue the point a little further, to offer two unpopular predictions about the future of American government.  The first is that the centralization of power in Washington DC has almost certainly reached its peak, and will be reversing in the decades ahead of us. The second is that, although there will inevitably be downsides to that reversal, it will turn out by and large to be an improvement over the system we have today.  These predictions unfold from a common logic; both are consequences of the inevitable failure of overcentralized power.”
I’ll close with references to two essays from The Post Carbon Reader that are available to download.
Economy: The Competitiveness of Local Living Economies
by Michael Shuman (The Post Carbon Reader, 2010)
“The only thing standing in the way of localization is policy-makers committed to propping up noncompetitive global corporations.”
Building Resilience: What Can Communities Do?
by Rob Hopkins (The Post Carbon Reader, 2010)
“Community matters when we are looking for responses to peak oil and climate change because of the power that emerges from working together and creating meaningful change through shared action.”

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Comment by David MacLeod on February 23, 2013 at 6:16pm

Hi Garrett,

I realized it was probably a mistake in some ways to link to that B&S article, because 1) I haven't even looked at the Corey DeVos article or the Ken Wilber video that the article is responding to, and 2) I didn't even remember much of the contents of the opening article.

What I was primarily wanting to point to is what emerged in the comment section, especially the 2nd half of the comment section - which fortunately you had enough fortitude to wade through, at least to look at my comments - I appreciate that.

In regards to Wilber, I also am not a big fan of his politics, and I also think his ego occasionally gets in the way of his message. I am a big fan of his Integral theory, however. Even there I think some critiques are valid, and I have some critiques of my own that I won't get into here. For a proper understanding of that integral theory, I'd recommend a book, such as Wilber's "A Brief History of Everything," which is a good starting place - not too brief and not too complex.

One aspect of the Integral worldspace I like is that there is room for different expressions and perspectives, such as on the political front, which the linked article demonstrates.

Glad you had a chance to read the Ran Prieur piece. He's got a very interesting and somewhat unique voice. You might also appreciate the new entry just posted at B&S that is a follow on to the previously linked article, on the subject "Rhizomatic for the People: Notes on Networks and Decentralization" by Trevor Malkinson.

My comment there fits in this thread as well, some of which I've already stated here.

"People tend to polarize with either/or dialectics, when I think what is often called for is both/and inclusiveness.

In Tim Winton’s PatternDynamics ( ), he has Structure as a first-order Pattern, with its second-order Patterns being Field, Holarchy, Complexity, Network, Hierarchy, Holon, and Boundary. These are all patterns that exist in the natural world. Some are more appropriate than others depending on the situation and context (and Wilber points out that we shouldn’t confuse all hierarchies with dominator hierarchies).

For me, the overwhelming emphasis on hierarchy in the modern period is very understandable, largely due to available energy and the Maximum Power Principle that Howard Odum put forward ( ). As strains on energy and ecology resources manifest, decentralized networks become much more appropriate and effective. This is much like the laws of succession in an ecosystem – at earlier stages, growth of pioneer species crowd out and dominate; at later stages a more balanced and harmonious complex of networked inter-relationships become the hallmarks of healthy eco-systems. Hierarchies and cooperative networks both exist at all stages of succession (itself a form of hierarchy), but the balances shift.

To conflate a little bit the two terms decentralization and localization, Rob Hopkins likes to quote economist/ecologist David Fleming regarding his assessment of near future conditions: “Localisation stands, at best, at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative.” ( )

I agree that current and expected future conditions recommend a dramatic shift in the balance of these two Patterns, and so a big emphasis on networks and decentralization is what seems to be called for, and the balance Edgar Morin speaks of is wise: '(a) everywhere to safeguard, propogate, cultivate, or develop unity; and (b) and everywhere to safeguard, propagate, cultivate or develop diversity.' "

Comment by David MacLeod on February 20, 2013 at 6:50pm


You might (or might not) find the link below interesting.  Perhaps the discussion in the comments more so than the original 8 perspective article.  Some of the comments are from me, which might give a greater sense of where I'm coming from in regards to economics and politics and relocalization.

But it's a very long thread, not for the faint of heart. Many of the participants are coming from various versions of an Integral (ala Ken Wilber) perspective.

Comment by David MacLeod on February 20, 2013 at 6:22pm


Thanks for the comment, and I apologize for the slow is a busy time.

As a reply to my Community Rights post, yours is among the most thoughtful and on point that I have seen, and so I appreciate the input.

I read the excerpt you suggested (but not the entire article) by Kropotkin, and I have to say I didn't really resonate that much.  I resonated more with Zinn and most with JM Greer. I've never really studied Anarchy as a philosophy. A friend turned me on to Hakim Bey, and I think he offers a breath of fresh air that brings a much needed balance to the kinds of overly-structured existence most of us live in.  I'm thinking of his concepts about Immediatism and Temporary Autonimous Zones.

I want to talk a bit about hierarchy. I used to be in the mindset of seeing all hierarchies as bad, and that we really needed to bring in more cooperative and networked modes to replace them.  I still feel we need much more cooperative structures (but still structures), AND that hierarchies are also natural, and have their place.

Koestler and Wilber talk about "nested holarchies." ""holons exist simultaneously as self-contained wholes in relation to their sub-ordinate parts, and dependent parts when considered from the inverse direction.

Koestler also says holons are autonomous, self-reliant units that possess a degree of independence and handle contingencies without asking higher authorities for instructions. These holons are also simultaneously subject to control from one or more of these higher authorities. The first property ensures that holons are stable forms that are able to withstand disturbances, while the latter property signifies that they are intermediate forms, providing a context for the proper functionality for the larger whole.

Finally, Koestler defines a holarchy as a hierarchy of self-regulating holons that function first as autonomous wholes in supra-ordination to their parts, secondly as dependent parts in sub-ordination to controls on higher levels, and thirdly in coordination with their local environment."

( and

Permaculture points out the role of natural succession which is a form of hierarchy.  Systems ecologist Howard Odum talked about energy hierarchies, and Holmgren builds on this in several ways. Winton's PatternDynamics sees a first order Pattern of "Structure" with multiple second order patterns, which are Field, Holarchy, Complexity, Network, Hierarchy, Holon, and Boundary.

For me it seemed an important realization to see that all of these patterns exist in nature, and that the important thing is to find the right balance. And so I would agree that culture today is very much out of balance, and we definitely need more networked and cooperative modes to come forth, and I like to put a lot of emphasis on that. But as Ken Wilber points out, instead of saying all hierarchies are bad, we need to instead distinguish between destructive dominator hierarchies and helpful and constructive nested holarchies.

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