What An Inconvenient Truth did for understanding climate change, a new film, The Economics of Happiness, is sure to do for understanding localization versus globalization. Even for those who are well versed in the negative effects of globalization, this film will further expose the systemic structures that drive the machine. But the film also offers hope in examples of the ways that localization could save us. I know of no other film that so clearly explains both of these divergent paths into the future.
Interspersed with interviews with some of the leading ecologists and thinkers of our time (Bill McKibben, David Korten, Vandana Shiva, Richard Heinberg, U.K. member of parliament Zac Goldsmith, and many others), the film chronicles a worldwide movement for localization that is underway.
But the first part of the film looks at what economic globalization has wrought. In sometimes heart-breaking imagery, the film exposes many of the effects of globalization; the ways that it destroys livelihoods and foments conflicts; the ways that people are forced off their lands, in many cases having those lands appropriated by governments doing the bidding of corporations. As Vandana Shiva, the renowned ecologist and physicist, says in the film, this process has driven 100,000 Indian farmers to suicide -- and this is just one tragic example of many.
One of the thorniest issues to understand is that of global trade, which is widely assumed to be beneficial, even in the most progressive circles. However, we see in the film the ways in which global trade is destroying the environment as countries routinely import and export massive quantities of identical products. For instance, the U.K. exports as much butter and milk as it imports. The U.S. exports about 900,000 tons of beef and veal and imports roughly the same quantities. All of this wasteful trade massively contributes to CO2 emissions and is only possible because our tax dollars go to trans-national corporations in the form of hidden subsidies.
Globalization also causes feelings of alienation. As we see in the film, young people in the less industrialized parts of the world are made to feel backward and inferior in contrast to the romanticized media images of the West. Even in the West, where marketing now targets children at earlier and earlier ages, the message is, you are not enough. You need the latest fashions, the latest technological devices, the perfect body and face to be someone. These pressures are linked to a worldwide epidemic of depression and psychological disorders.
But The Economics of Happiness, as one would surmise from its title, is not a picture of gloom. The film convincingly depicts the multiple benefits of localization. "It's not only a better way, it is inevitable," says filmmaker Helena Norberg-Hodge.
"As the price of energy escalates and as the global economy becomes even more destabilized, we will have no choice but to turn to each other. If we start now, instead of waiting for further collapse, we will have a better chance of building up more diversified and thriving local economies, and we will be happier for it."
Norberg Hodge and her organization, the International Society for Ecology and Culture, have been promoting localization for over three decades on every continent. These experiences have provided unique insights into the connection between well-being and a more localized life -- a life in which our basic needs are met closer to home.
"Localization is about connection," says Norberg-Hodge. "It is about re-establishing our interdependence with others as well as with the natural world around us. And this connection is fundamental to our very happiness." In the faltering cracks of the global economy, these are the real "green shoots" to be hopeful about.
The Economics of Happiness will be launched in public screenings in the U.S., Europe, and Asia throughout January and February. For more information: www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org