How community networks succeed around the world.
I am a member of the Gaia Network, which was set up nine years ago and holds meetings at the Geographical Society in London. At a recent meeting, Elaine Brook of Green Links gave the kind of talk I like. She advocates buying local and growing local businesses in order to enrich communities and help the planet – so she visited the Himalayas to find out how people there balance their economies with a zero-fossil-fuel existence.
She observed that the key to the Himalayan villages’ success seems to be that they take only what they need from nature, and live according to an ancient, sophisticated culture. In the Himalayas, a basket of wood will last a family a week; 10 baskets a day are needed to fuel a local restaurant for tourists. (It shows: there are terraces cleared for farming but, otherwise, the forest looks beautifully full and healthy.)
You may have preconceived ideas about hardship and poverty. But many villagers have quite big, smart houses. They dress up and dance at festivals in order to celebrate their history; children are taught their story from an early age. People have a strong sense of belonging through a shared culture: it binds them together and defines who they are and what they do. Chores can be social gatherings. Artworks are admired internationally. All this seems evidence of a sophisticated society.
So what is lacking in these communities? According to some, until they have cars on their roads, their story isn’t good enough, not globally meaningful. That until they consume French cheese they lack refinement. Their festivals are lacking in commentary, because they are too absorbed by participating in them. They lack detachment from nature.
The Himalayan villagers that Elaine visited are rich. Their richness results from communal engagement in society and economy in a way that helps it all hang together. I do not propose that we adopt a culture we have long abandoned, but that we support local business in order to help ease our dependency on fossil fuels that come from far away. After all, it’s going to run out, and it makes sense to establish a local infrastructure sooner, rather than later. I, in the mean time, will continue to grow that veggie patch.
Green Links is a local business community that helps people find eco-friendly goods and services. It also enables businesses to share energy-saving advice, cooperate on procurement, and contact new customers through events and trade fairs.