Transcript for the Piece Audio version of THINK GLOBAL: Bill McKibben commentary
The interesting question is always what comes next. And since we live in a fully globalized world—where the beats on my Ipod come from Mali and the apple in the supermarket grew in China—there are only two possibilities. One is Neptune. And the other is a slow turn towards a world where stronger local communities, and economies, balance the planetary scale of our modern lives.
I think the second is more likely. So much of the gloalized economy we now take for granted is built on incredibly cheap fossil energy; as the price of oil flashes steadily up, the bizarre arithmetic that means its always cheaper to get things from afar may stop making sense. And as it does, we may recover some sense of the pleasure that comes from relying on neighbors. Look at what we eat, for instance—in food circles, in recent years, the greatest buzz hasn’t been about new ingredients from distant lands, but instead about seasonal, local foods. At Yale, the most popular dining hall serves only food grown in Connecticut; there’s no salad flown in from Chile or Mexico or California all winter, but there are lines out the door to eat the local fare. It doesn’t mean the students have gone back to eating like Pilgrims; it does mean that in an Internet world it makes more sense to import recipes than ingredients. And that if you want strong communities you need to support them.
Thjis is not just a blue-state Ivy league phenomenon. Last summer I visited a small town in the most conservative country in the most Republican state—that would be Wyoming. Local residents found themselves facing a Wal-Mart, that exemplar of placeless internationalism. And they fought back. They pooled their own money, a thousand bucks apiece, to create a community-owned dry goods store, one’s that kept their downtown from emptying out like so many others.
The same sort of thing is happening in parts of the developing world. The English agronomist Jules Pretty, for instance, reports that small-scale Thai rice farmers are increasingly forgoing the kind of agribusiness development needed for the export market, finding instead that they can prosper by reducing their use of fertilizers and pesticides and selling to their neighbors. Long supply lines tend to benefit middlemen; consumers and producers may find common ground in thinking locally.
It’s not an either-or proposition. I mean, I want my world music. But I want it on my local radio station that also carries the high school basketball game and in-depth reporting from the state legislature, not on some Clear Channel pipeline of bland drek designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience. I want energy from the solar cell on my roof and the windmill on the nearby ridge, not some Saudi oil field that requires the blood of my neighbors to defend. People everywhere are excited by the treasures of the whole planet—but we crave, too, the security of belonging in some place whose scale makes sense. Anyway, in the end, it’s only those vital local communities that can generate the music, the recipes, the solutions that are worth sharing around the world.