Going local

Looking back at High Branthwaites
You can’t grow strawberries here

My mother is pretty tech savvy. She reads my blog and can follow a twitter post, but when it comes to commenting she prefers to send an email. Her recent email  has me thinking. She’d been reading my blog about looking to local water supplies as a way of dealing with California’s water crisis. Her comment was that even in sleepy Sedbergh,  northern England, they are using untreated water from the fell to flush public toilets. But her other comment — that  almost every home in Victorian England harvested rainwater — had me thinking.

To me it was another case of returning to a more local, decentralized approach.   Take three examples.

  • The power grid is changing as consumers become micro-power generators and roof-tops become solar plants;
  • Back-yards, medians, and vacant urban land are being turned into  farms while  orchards are springing up in the heart of our neighborhoods;
  • And of course, we’re capturing, storing and using water that falls on our properties to flush toilets and water yards.

All this is happening at the same time that political power and decision making is being shifted closer to the people. As Washington and Westminster face partisan gridlock, political power and decision making are being devolved to regions.  That’s where the action is: closer to the people who see the results.

All this is good, as far as it goes. But it risks fostering disparity as some regions soar, while others are left behind.

Again, to paraphrase my mother (she’s quite smart). “It’s all well and good for you in California to bask in local organic food. But if you live in northern Britain where winters are long and summers short and wet, you’d soon get tired of eating potatoes.”

I think the challenge ahead is to encourage and support local innovation and specialization, while maintaining the best of the centralized approach. When we’re able to do that, regions will thrive and the state and nation as a whole will flourish. After all, as tasty as my local organic potato is, it’s nice to eat the occasional juicy strawberry. Even if you live in northern Britain.

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