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Developing Naturally

Systemic Solutions: Relocalization

Dave Ewoldt, May 2006

   Most people today realize sustainability is the goal for our future. But, it's a "goal," which makes the obvious point that we're unsustainable now. If a sustainable future is indeed our goal, we need to ask ourselves, "How do we get there?". An honest answer must begin with an examination of what brought us to this stage, and realize that a transition is needed for which a process, a strategy, a plan must be developed and put into action.

   Sustainability doesn't just mean becoming more energy or resource efficient, or non-polluting, or having a low impact or lighter/smaller footprint on the Earth. Being sustainable is more than just organic gardening, getting rid of your lawn in favor of a perennial native edible landscape, taking the bus to work, and buying local. All of the above are among the necessary steps, but they must be coordinated and have the will of individuals who cooperate in community and assume their joint responsibility to implement a comprehensive, systemic plan of action.

   Relocalization is such a systemic action plan. It addresses the root causes of the widening wealth gap, the loss of sovereignty to corporate globalization, the Industrial Growth Society and its culture of domination, materialism, and waste. Relocalization does more than just point out the problems of Peak Oil, global warming, agribusiness, unrestrained growth, and central government control--it provides an effective response. It's the alternative we're told doesn't exist to business as usual.

   I've been doing a lot of research on this issue for the past 5 years. There are other concepts that relocalization builds on being applied toward a transitional shift to sustainability such as bioregionalism, new urbanism, permaculture, and the partnership way. Their core commonality is that they all at least touch on adhering to natural systems principles and overcoming our disconnection from the natural world.

   And, when they lay out a systemic action plan, they all start in the same place--determining assets and needs so projects can be prioritized. Relocalization, however, has formalized the initial step of undertaking an asset inventory that looks at all three aspects of a sustainable community: economy, society, and environment. But it doesn't just measure these aspects as discrete entities. It also uncovers the relationships among them. Just as in a healthy and thriving ecosystem, it's the strength of the mutually supportive relationships that determine the health, viability, and resilience of the system.

   Without the data that a regional asset inventory can provide, we're planning in the dark. We can't measure our progress toward the goal of sustainability because we don't know where we are. For example, we don't know how much of what type of resource land we need in order to sustain a particular population size, or what skills that population will need to contain. We don't know how many acres of agricultural and forest land are necessary, how much should be dedicated to light industry, or how many beachfront condos we can (or should) cram in per square foot of Bellingham, Birch, and Samish Bays. How much of what are we getting, and from how far away? As the glaciers melt away and the oil becomes unavailable or too expensive, how many of these imported consumer goods and foods could (or should) we replace locally?

   These are the questions we need to start asking, as they directly impact the growth versus development debate.

   As I said last month, sustainability is more than an environmental movement. It is a social movement. It is particularly a social justice movement. As such it addresses issues such as poverty, underemployment, homelessness, affordable housing, childcare, education, health, and the negative impacts of growth. It is more than just buying local, it pertains to ways we can create living wage jobs in business and industry that don't increase the toxicity of our planet. Becoming sustainable through relocalization also means building strong, mutually supportive community relationships that benefit from our diversity. It carries the core concepts of bioregionalism's decentralization and sense of place, and provides the underpinnings to move from the exploitive growth economy to an equitable steady-state economy.

   Through the process of relocalization, becoming sustainable in the environmental, social, and economic realms provides a direct and effective manner in which we can become resilient and thrive through the undeniable looming crises of Peak Oil, global warming, and loss of sovereignty to corporatism.

   Where is our plan?

   If you would like to schedule an introductory consultation session or arrange a presentation or workshop for your group, please contact or give Dave or Allison, co-founders of Attraction Retreat, a call at (360) 756-7998.


"You didn't come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here."
Alan Watts


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