Vol.2 No.22, 09 September 2002

Helena Norbert-Hodge in Cape Town

Dear SANE Viewer

As a by-product to the WSSD in Johannesburg we have had the extraordinary privilege of a visit to Cape Town by Helena Norberg-Hodge, world-renowned for her work on ancient cultures. In particular she has worked and lived in Ladakh (the 'Little Tibet' tucked away in the western Himalayas in northern India, near the source of the Indus river). Her focus is actually not so much on that of ancient cultures per se, but on the lessons we can learn from them for establishing a sustainable future for our planet. We found great harmony between her ideas and those of SANE.

Ms Norberg-Hodge is the author of numerous works, including the inspirational classic: "Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh" which has been translated into 40 languages. She is co-founder of the International Forum on Globalisation and the Global Eco-village Network, and is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, (also called the "Alternative Nobel Prize").

In the four days she spent in Cape Town, where she was hosted by SANE and the Tibetan Buddhist Centre, she visited local sustainability projects and spoke at three events on the following topics:

To find out more about her experiences of the wisdom of old cultures and their destruction when confronted by the global mono-culture of modern materialistic consumerism you can visit the website of the International Society of Ecology and Culture at http//www.isec.org.uk.

Of particular interest for SANE is Ms Norberg-Hodge's driving concern for the transformation of the global economy. She sees this as the most vital concern for the survival of human society and of many species of the animal and plant kingdoms.

Just before Helena Norberg-Hodge's visit to Cape Town, I (ardl, SANE Views editor) happened to have been reading the book "What EVERYBODY really wants to know about MONEY" by Frances Hutchinson (Jon Carpenter, April 1998). The foreword of this book is written by Helena Norbert-Hodge. It is absolutely in line with SANE's thinking and is presented in greater part below.

Foreword by Helena Norberg-Hodge to book
by Frances Hutchinson

"Despite massive public awareness campaigns and educational efforts, the environment continues to deteriorate from year to year, communities and families fragment, ethnic conflict, poverty, crime and violence continue to grow, and democracy slips away Economic globalisation is having a disastrous impact-socially, politically and environmentally. But globalisation is far from a natural process: it is occurring because governments are actively promoting it and subsidising the framework necessary to support it. What is needed now is fundamental shift in direction towards economic localisation.

"Many people find it difficult to imagine a shift towards a more local economy. 'time has moved on,' one hears: 'We live in a globalised world'. Many such misconceptions can make the shift towards the local seem impractical or utopian. An emphasis on the local economy, for example, can easily be misconstrued as meaning total self-reliance on a village level, without any trade at all. But the most urgent issue today is not whether people have oranges in cold climates, but whether their wheat, their eggs, their milk - in short , their basic food needs - should travel thousands of miles when they could all be produced within a fifty-miles radius. The goal of localisation would not to eliminate all trade, but to reduce unnecessary transport while encouraging changes that would strengthen and diversify economics at the community as well as national level.

"Another stumbling block is the belief that people in the south need access to Northern markets in a globalise economy to shift them out of poverty, and that a greater degree of self reliance in the North would therefore undermine the economies of the Third World. The truth of the matter is that a shift towards smaller-scale and more localised production would benefit both North and South - and facilitate meaningful work everywhere. The globalised economy requires the South to send a large portion of its natural resources to the North as raw materials; its best agricultural land must be devoted to growing food, fibres and flowers for the North. Rather than further impoverishing the South, producing more ourselves would allow the South to keep more of its resources, labour and production for itself. Globalisation means pulling millions of people away from sure subsistence in a land-based economy into urban slums from which they have little hope of ever escaping.

"The idea of localisation also runs counter to today's general belief that fast-paced urban areas are the locus of 'real' culture, while small, local communities are isolated backwaters.

In order to see what communities are like when people retain real economic power at the local level we would have to look back some hundreds of years ...(into our own economic history). The relatively isolated region of Ladakh, or 'Little Tibet', provides some clues about life in largely self-reliant communities. Unaffected by colonialism or, until recently, development, Ladakh's traditional community-based culture was suffused with vibrancy ,joy, and tolerance of others that was clearly connected with people's sense of self-esteem and control over their own lives. But in less than a generation, this culture was dramatically changed by development. Development effectively dismantled the local economy; it shifted decision making power away from the household and village to bureaucracies in distant urban centres.

"If these trends continue, future impressions of village life in Ladakh may soon differ little from unfavourable Western stereotypes of small town life.

"Even in the North, unhealthy urbanisation continues. From the most affluent sections of Paris to the slums of Calcutta, urban populations depend on transport for their food, so that every pound of food consumed is accompanied by several pounds of petroleum consumption, as well as significant amounts of pollution and waste.

"(The book) What EVERYBODY really wants to know about MONEY revives a half-forgotten debate on the potential for community control of money in order to divert resources towards local needs and away from the massive centralised system of production and distribution. I welcome this book as a valuable resource for all who seek to re-awaken a sense of conscious connection between our everyday lives and the community and place in which we live."

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