Thursday, June 12, 2008

Economic Woes--Could This Be The Best Thing Ever?

A worsening economy, rising gas prices, the mortgage fiasco, the weakening dollar. It all sounds so ominous and frightening. I'm being seriously impacted by it and I'm sure you are too. But as ever-the-optimist I see the silver lining here as well.

We are being forced to change our ways. We are being forced to adopt better ways. The price of gas has us thinking about energy conservation and shopping locally and living within our means. The housing crisis may help people more wisely evaluate their living situations and their true needs before jumping into supersized mortgages. The weakening dollar may help us to rein in our focus, away from the global economy to local economies, to re-building community, to creating bartering networks and to re-embracing our specific place in the ecosystem.

But beyond all of these personal things, the economic crisis could help reform what is a broken, dysfunctional free-market system. We may personally be suffering now, but the corporate world is really going to be reeling. This situation is our way in. We may complain about how corporations are desecrating the earth, damaging human health and exploiting billions of people, but most of us feel powerless to do anything about it. Corporations wield absurd power.

The economic disaster looming before us is our chance to challenge the corporations. We can say no to cheap crap from overseas and buy locally, and it will get easier and easier to do because cheap crap from overseas is soon going to be expensive cheap crap. At some point it's not going to make sense for corporations to outsource to the cheapest country because the fuel costs involved in shipping will wipe out any savings. The same applies to industrial agriculture. People will increasingly support local farmer's markets, sign up for CSA shares, and plant their own gardens. They will no longer be willing to bear the costs involved in industrial farming, especially not the transportation costs. Why pay extra for bland Mexican-grown tomatoes, when backyard tomatoes or farmer's market tomatoes are juicier, healthier, cheaper, and don't taste like cardboard.

Imagine recreating healthy local food systems, vibrant local economies, and sustainable practices all around. Change is possible, and before us right now lies a huge opportunity.

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