The political economies of the future will be essentially local. They will use locally-generated energy and local land and materials, producing for local consumption and reusing their wastes. They will be managed—given life, competence and resilience—by the people who live there, participants, in daily touch with the local detail. Their infrastructures will be minimal. They will have access to equipment and resources which are as advanced as possible, given the limits imposed by the local scale and the technology of the time.L214

The local Lean Economy, shaped and held together by a rich, earthy mixture of reciprocities and culture, will be the resilient successor to the market economy in the tasks of meeting material needs, sustaining social order and keeping the peace. If a lean thinking, systems-literate society is to replace the market, it will have to be in the form of communities whose size is consistent with what can be produced without reliance on long lines of transport, except for (where possible) specialist materials and equipment which cannot be supplied locally. There are large uncertainties here: much of the technology of self-reliance, such as solar panels, depends on equipment which may not be available on a local scale for a long time. So the meaning of “local” ranges between extremes. On the one hand there is “deep local”, to the point of there being little access to sources of such industrially-produced equipment—or even materials such as steel, and tools such as drills. This would be an economy that had suffered severe damage, but it is not impossible. At the other extreme—“local lite”—the assumption is that localities will be able to obtain the supplies needed to make use of modern technology as the foundation of local self-reliance.

But, however intense the localisation, it will take time to develop. A large system (such as a centralised urban civilisation) without a modular structure cannot simply be divided up and declared to be local. Subdivision will undoubtedly help, bringing with it with many of the key advantages of small scale, with the recovery-elastic resilience of modularity, but the need for hinterland remains. Small-scale ecologies only achieve the benefits of modularity if they have access to primary goods—energy, food, water, materials (and a hard-working environment that recycles their waste).

As a shocking reminder of what “local” means, consider: At present, almost every city, town and village in the developed or part-developed world depends on daily oil-fuelled deliveries. Start with an already tightly-stretched oil market which depends on the Middle East for most of its transport fuel. Into this add the shock of an (accidental or terrorist) event that closes the Strait of Hormuz, through which the tankers laden with oil from the Middle East must pass. Those food deliveries stop . . .

What happens next depends, of course, on how deep the stoppage is, and on whether there is a rationing system in place. But in a tightly-stretched system, the disruptive consequences of even small disturbances are intense. It is not just one disruption we are talking about here. And it’s not just oil. And it’s not temporary. Localisation sings against the storm. Difficult though it is, it is the remaining option capable of continuity when the supply lines needed to sustain the cities and villages of the market economy have failed.

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. Does that mean the end of travel? On the contrary, it means the end of mass dislocation—and the recovery of place. Travel now finds its purpose, taking you to a place which is not in essentials identical to the one you have left, but to one that is interesting and finds you interesting, that wants to hear your song, that dances to a different tune.L215


Related entries:

Local Wisdom, Credit Union, Presence, New Domestication, Delocalisation.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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