Richard Heinberg’s recent Museletter 237, “The Fight of the Century,” includes a curious point about criminalization: “. . . It will increasingly be up to households and communities to provide the basics. . . This is a strategy that will . . . in many cases be discouraged and even criminalized by national authorities.” The question is whether such localization can survive our political leadership. Yet the localized economy is probably one of the few self-evident proposals for a future that seems to have a rather slim number of options.
The illegalities of the “localized” life begin with the fact that many of the changes that need to be made to house design, in our post-nearly-all-materials world, are in fact illegal, if not strictly criminal. Here in Canada, one cannot legally build or inhabit a house that does not have conventional plumbing and electricity, for example. And the insurance companies have their say: a house will not be insured if it is heated mainly by wood. To be respectable, one must use our declining fossil fuels, it seems. In fact, insurance companies now look for all sorts of certification, most of which cannot be considered related to alternative approaches, but all of which are expensive.
The same problem of illegality applies to many other activities, even if these are just common sense. Localized agriculture, as I learned first-hand a few years ago in Ontario, is increasingly plagued by pointless rules related to processing, packaging, labeling, and similar issues, to the extent that small-scale farmers are simply forced out of business. Much of this is done in the name of “health,” but such farmers do not have the ability to set up the required laboratories and other equipment that would make their businesses compliant with these ever-expanding regulations.
‘m sure farmers’ markets are dismally inefficient at times, lacking the economy of scale that makes the supermarket chains such a delight for the average consumer. But a truck driver here in Canada once pointed out to me that the cost of sending those large vehicles back and forth from Ontario to California or Florida is just not going be feasible as time goes by: for each truck, every trip costs hundreds of dollars.
Even living off the land is largely a criminalized activity, and “protecting the wilderness” does not have a great deal to do with it. Hunting and fishing rules are so designed that, with the exception of native people, the only people who can engage in these activities are those who are rich enough not to need the food that is thereby supplied. The rules could easily be modified to suit those who are genuinely dependent on the food, but such modifications are rare. Why should a Newfoundlander be arrested for shooting an occasional caribou to feed his family, when a wealthy “sports” hunter can come from outside and take that same animal?
If there is any pattern to all these restrictions, it is that money is constantly directed away from the individual and into the faceless companies, institutions, and government departments that now dominate our lives. If Daniel Boone were alive today, he would be spending his years drifting from one form of incarceration to another.
So, yes, Heinberg is quite right in saying that the localized economy is one of the more practical alternatives to the economic problems that politicians are now stumbling through. But I still think I should get a 10-percent discount on every socially-aware book I buy, since I never read that last chapter, “What We Must Do.” The key sentence is inevitably, “We must encourage our political leaders to . . . .” Unfortunately our political leaders do not respond positively to those who do such “encouraging.” If anything, they are more inclined to lock up such people.