Unlike previous global environmental problems such as the depletion of ozone via CFC’s and excessive pesticides (DDT), greenhouse gases are not something we can phase out. First off, there is the problem that previous years of releases are with us and will stay with us for quite some time. Second off, greenhouse gases are a product of a lifestyle that we all can not just give up. This is even truer now that we have a global economy where we ship food, materials, consumer products, and other resources all around the world. So how do we get to stabilizing GHG’s in the face of an expanding population and more importantly, global economy? While the era of globalization is often looked at a cause for enhanced GHG’s (which I would support), we may have to look at how this phenomena can be an opportunity for climate change action. I’ll come back to this later.
But to get the question posed above, many advocates, most notably the ‘locavores,’ have been advising that we must turn our heads towards our local economies as a response to globalization. Local economies generate jobs, keep cash flow within regional boundaries, build communities, and reduce greenhouse gases. In essence, a more sustainable region can be created, as multiple reinforcing benefits are found with such an economy. While there is no hard-fast rule (see the often cited example where it is less carbon intensive to raise a sheep in New Zealand and ship it - and many others - to London, than it is to raise one in the UK), local economies generally cut emissions due to less transportation and potentially, less fertilizer used. So in essence we have a conundrum…. start generating local economies in a globalized world. Does this make sense?
It has the potential to, depending on what we ‘globalize’ and what we ‘localize.’ Figuring out how to globalize and/or localize the complex array of systems (agriculture, water, consumer products, technology, transportation, international trade, etc) within this world is not easy. Globalization continues to provide a wide range of benefits (see ‘The World is Flat’), but also creates more avenues for GHG emissions. However, bringing more communications technology to areas in need creates more opportunities for fast and free distribution of knowledge (good and bad) that can be helpful in climate change action.
A great example of the potential of global communications can be found in San Francisco’s EcoMap project. Urban EcoMap, which was launched as a part of the Connected Urban Development program’s, went online this past Earth Day 2009 as the first worldwide site (Seoul & Amsterdam are to follow). Working with the global consulting arm of Cisco, San Francisco has put forth a platform for its urban communities to post, track, and monitor its GHG contributions regarding transportation, waste, and energy. It organizes all this data under zip codes, allowing users and policymakers to determine if and where success is occurring. At the same time, it provides a wide array of actions to help improve one’s score in the three categories.
It also provides a social networking tools to bring people together within regions and across the globe to innovate and share in climate change strategies. For example, a resident can generate a profile, input their methods of transportation, energy usage, and waste generation (i.e. how often do you bike, do you compost, do you recycle? etc), and see how their zip code collectively compares to others, creating a small competition. Also, you can display what ‘green’ activities you do, so others can access your profile and potentially ask you questions. For instance, your neighbor down the street (or across the globe) started a vermiculture bin and now you could access this person and the information via the web, or even meet up. For a less convoluted explanation, see the ">video.
This type of globalization provides excellent opportunities for us to collectively address climate change. Globalization, while it is often easy to beat down, provides excellent opportunity gaps where we can begin to generate sustainable communities. At the same time, our local economies can bring us closer together, and Bill McKibben argues, make us more happy and healthy. But to advocate localizing to a point where we isolate ourselves is not sustainable. We must continue to move and produce reputable information, technology, and decision-making processes in a global arena, while functioning within our local economies. This will keep us healthy and happy in our community, yet continue to bring necessary change to global problems. It’s not as simple as phasing out CFC’s, so we must think systematically in approaching local economies in a global context.
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