In 2007, Bill McKibben, prominent writer and environmentalist, published Deep Economy, a discussion of our preoccupation with economic growth. The thought-provoking book challenges the conventional belief that more is better and offers an alternative view. The book demonstrates the case for more localized economies, which would minimize pressure on our environment and help reconnect individuals to their respective communities. Intrigued, Triple Pundit wanted to ask McKibben, who heads the grassroots activist group 350.org, more about his work. We gratefully acknowledge his willingness to chat and post verbatim his responses to a few short questions. All feedback and comments are welcome.
Triple Pundit: Who or what influences your work, particularly your 2007 piece Deep Economy?
McKibben: For me, all intellectual paths lead back to Wendell Berry, who really started Americans thinking about these questions at a moment when it was hard to imagine they’d ever even begin to happen. That he’s lived long enough to see the number of farms in America increasing instead of declining is a great joy–and it’s largely his work and witness that let it happen.
Triple Pundit: You write that the “…most important work is simply to crack the consensus that what we need is More.” How or where do we start to do that?
McKibben: Hard to do, since all the institutions of our society have bought into the conventional wisdom that growth is always the goal. But we need to keep pointing out both the ecological peril and the psychological malaise that growth has produced–some combination of these will eventually turn the tide. The question, of course, is if it will happen in time to make a difference to the climate. On that, no guarantees, except that at 350.org we’re working as hard as we can to speed it up.
Triple Pundit: Isn’t a localized economy really about sacrifice? For instance, you will not eat bananas or enjoy Alaskan salmon in Vermont. How do you sell that to the American public?
McKibben: By being not grim-faced and austere, but reveling instead in the abundance on offer locally. And if you have the occasional banana, no worries. People have always traded, and always will–what’s key is to build the basic networks to supply the bulk of the food, energy, and culture we need. Instead of the virtues of endless choice, we need to offer the competing virtues of taste and beauty, of stability and durability, most of all of contact with your neighbors. The average farmers market shopper has ten times as many conversations per visit as the average supermarket shopper!
Triple Pundit: Is the localized approach realistic? Have we gone too far down the path of globalization?
McKibben: Realistic? As opposed to what? Raising the temperature of the planet a few more degrees. Take a look at the pictures from, say, Pakistan this summer and then ask yourself what’s realistic.
Triple Pundit: What do you say to those who argue that globalization and world trade help to support underdeveloped nations and foster cooperation?
McKibben: In some cases–particularly China–they have, at least in narrow senses and in the short term. But everywhere we’ve seen inequality rise dramatically when this strategy is tried, and in any event it’s all short-term since we can’t sustain it ecologically. I’m far more interested in the witness of groups like Via Campesina, who represent the vast majority, not the narrow elite.
Triple Pundit: If you could talk to Pascal Lamy of the WTO, what would you say?
McKibben: Could we please have our planet back?