Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Society and Centralisation

Catchy title, eh?

The reason for it is all of this snow, which you may have noticed about the place over the last week or two. You see, there's nothing like a bit of extreme weather to reveal just how rickety and shaky our systems of transportation, energy and food production really are. Honest, I was going to post something positive and upbeat this time - but there's been evidence all around that our society really can't deal with anything that disrupts business as usual. Given the increasing reality of climate change (bringing with it more extreme weather events), peak oil and the financial crisis, it wouldn't be responsible to just gloss over the inability of our economic and logistical systems to cope.

Which, of course, is what most politicians have been busy doing. According to Labour, everything is fine, rosy, and will be back to normal soon. Meanwhile, the Tories and Lib Dems criticise Labour for not responding quickly enough or ordering enough grit - failing to see that the collapse of our transport network, not to mention the panic buying of basic supplies, reveal a far deeper issue with our logistical systems than just a failure of Government competence.

Centralised systems, particularly ones that rely on large-scale and complex distribution networks (such as supermarkets, or fossil fuel energy, or even salt and grit laying), don't tend to cope well with shocks or sudden disruption. Because everyone is reliant on only one or two methods of distribution, there is little redundancy or back-up to call on. Shops which are reliant on a relatively predictable pattern of purchasing and supply, on uninterrupted energy for refrigeration, and so on, can't meet crises with any kind of Plan B.

In contrast, of course, communities which rely on a diverse range of different food sources, which generate at least some of their energy locally and from renewable sources, and which have a sense of solidarity and togetherness, tend to do much better in such situations. It's the old triumph of variety over monoculture, and shouldn't be surprising. What should alarm us is how far we have allowed many crucial aspects of our lives and communities fall under the sway of gigantic near monopoly businesses, rather than controlling them locally.

Greens have recognised the importance of relocalisation for many years, and more recently a spate of community based initiatives have begun to emerge, making much the same point and attempting to relocalise control of vital services. Transition Town Stoke Newington is just one of many of these kinds of initiatives across the borough - their work couldn't be more important. Greens on Hackney Council, and in Parliament, will be striving to give them all the policy support and back-up that is required for such a wide-scale programme of community reinvigoration.

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