Less Net



Local Sufficiency - page 4

Of course, the modern industrial economy is altogether more sophisticated than the predominantly agrarian one of the Roman Empire. But far greater economic and environmental dilemmas exist now than have been faced by any other civilization in the past. Despite several dire warnings we have barely registered their importance other than through limited policies to reduce carbon emissions, which in themselves, are hopelessly inadequate given the scale of the crisis.

Local Sufficiency

Until very recently, suggesting radical alternatives to the globalised capitalist economy would probably have been dismissed as either heretical, or futile, or both. According to the orthodox mantra, we have entered a period of unprecedented prosperity through the internationalisation of trade and production; and even if we wanted to consider alternatives, the power and the influence wielded by transnational corporations and their network of political support are such that no realistic prospect existed of developing an alternative economic system.

But the image of capitalist dynamism is crumbling, to expose a system of inherent crisis and collapse. More and more people are willing to challenge that orthodoxy and demand real, urgent and radical economic change.

Local economic sufficiency provides a radical approach, where the necessities of life, including food and water supply, energy, housing and transportation are produced and maintained at the level of local communities. The objective will be to dramatically reduce the energy and material throughput of the economy in a way that eliminates carbon emissions, resolves other environmental stresses like air and land pollution, while at the same time, enhancing the prospects for skilled employment.

In this way, it will be possible to develop a form of economic security that provides independence from globalised capitalism and, ultimately liberates human society from its destructive processes.


A body of work exists on localisation, with various proposals for the promotion of local alternatives.9  The first stage of the process will be to identify those technologies that fit into a local sufficiency framework and can achieve its objectives in a rapid timescale. At one level, there is a range of innovative technologies that can be, and to some extent, already is being applied to address these issues, notably renewable energy, and energy efficiency equipment.

Using the example of energy, a radical decentralisation of production could be carried out, based on a range of micro-systems including solar power, and community-based schemes like combined heat and power and community-owned wind farms. However, these technologies have to compete against the dominant systems and, as with any phase of early application, there are uncertainties about their viability which inhibits investment. The issue, then, is not one of technological feasibility per se, but the socio-economic context in which technologies are developed and then can be rapidly diffused throughout the economy.10


In both cases, these incentives have led to the development of major new industries that employ tens of thousands of skilled workers in the design, production, installation and maintenance of equipment. By way of contrast, the UK has a truly appalling record, focusing its main government research support and subsidies on non-renewables, particularly nuclear power.

But the challenge of local sufficiency is  much greater since it involves both adapting and developing a range of technologies across different sectors of the economy concurrently and, by historical standards,  rapidly, to  provide alternatives to the existing networks through which the globalised economy  operates and which are the root causes of resource depletion and global warming.

Local Technology Networks

Technologies are normally, only acceptable when they are not disruptive to existing networks or where innovations can be subsumed within them. Local sufficiency requires major disruption across leading sectors. The key challenge then is not innovation but the creation of an institutional space for a new socio-technological paradigm to maximise the potential for local alternatives. The state’s role during this stage will be to signal that a fundamental transition is taking place by creating an investment pool and devolving economic development powers so that local communities can implement their own programmes for local sufficiency.

In the first phase of transition, central government prioritises the use of indigenous, renewable resources and minimises those from external, non-renewable resources, including imported oil, gas, coal and uranium. In the UK’s case, there would be funding made available for research and development and other incentives for investment so that the country had a base line of electricity-generation of at least 50% from renewables by 2025. Necessarily, some will be large-scale systems including offshore wind and wave power, to maintain sufficient capacity, alongside incentives for smaller-scale and local projects.

But the objective would be to signal a fundamental restructuring towards local sufficiency where all future electricity generation is through renewable sources, backed up by energy efficiency and energy saving technologies that substantially reduce overall demand.  A similar process would be carried out in other sectors like local food production, housing and public transport, ensuring  progress is made to significantly reduce the energy and material throughput of the local economy, over a ten-to-fifteen year period.

Given the radical scale of the transformation, a key element will be the capacity of local communities to create the framework for local sufficiency and to act as a catalyst for local economic development. To overcome the problems of uncertainty around the application of new technologies, communities could set up Local Technology Networks around a hub of accessible centres that provide technical and funding support, coupled to training and job experience. These Networks would be mutually supportive, cross-fertilising ideas across different sectors as the local sufficiency economy developed and matured.13


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