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Why localisation is a key part of the answer.

Transition Network empowers local groups to promote sustainable issues
by Rob Hopkins

Last week it emerged that the Department of Energy and Climate Change, whose official position remains that “we do not have any contingency plans specific to a peak in oil production”, was actually stating in internal documents released under the Freedom of Information Act that “it is not possible to predict with any accuracy exactly when or why oil production will peak”.

Energy bills are going nowhere other than up, with knock-on effects across the economy. The fossil fuels of the future will be dirtier, more expensive and from less accessible places. At the same time, the need to decarbonise is urgent. The world’s carbon emissions increased in 2010 by a record amount, in spite of many of the world’s economies being in recession, and 19 countries recorded their hottest ever temperatures.

In March, Mervyn King, Governor Bank of England, said: “This is not like an ordinary recession where you lose output and get it back quickly. You may not get it back for many years, if ever, and that is a big, long-run loss of living standards for all people in this country.” When something isn’t working, it behoves us to question whether a different approach might be more appropriate.

One such approach, spreading around the world with great vigour, is the Transition movement. It suggests that within the challenges of peak oil, climate change, and our economic troubles lies a huge opportunity. In the same way that vast amounts of cheap fossil fuels made globalisation possible, the end of the age of cheap oil will inevitably put globalisation into reverse.

Yet, at a time where most communities across the country are scratching their heads and wondering where the economic development of the future is going to come from, it is argued that a significant and meaningful shift to thinking in terms of localisation contains a large part of the answer.

While the government speaks of localism, a devolution of power to local government or local communities, Transition focuses on localisation, on meeting more core local needs from things produced more locally, and on increased local ownership. Perhaps, Transition argues, we need to start thinking of localisation as economic development.

“Localisation as economic development.” It’s a phrase that contains a very big idea. At present, our local economies function like leaky buckets, into which pour wages, salaries, pensions and so on, but most of it pours back out again, through chain stores, supermarkets and so on, and its potential to make things happen is lost. Yet every outpouring is a potential local livelihood, local business, training opportunity. “Plugging the leaks”, as the New Economics Foundation calls it, has huge potential for economic regeneration, as well as for making communities more resilient in increasingly uncertain times.

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