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More Local Living

For several decades the modern world has been caught in the grip of globalization. Many people now regularly eat food that has travelled hundreds and often thousands of miles to their plate. Many of the things we buy are also the product of scores of nations, with the natural resources and components from which they are made having completed many laps of the planet.

The current craze for globalization is only possible because we have the means available to transport a great many things and people over long distances on a very frequent basis. Unfortunately, with Peak Oil looming, such a means of mass transportation will not be available for much longer. There can be no getting away from the fact that globalization requires an abundant oil supply that took millions of years to create, but which we are burning away in a scant few centuries. Within the next couple of decades, the current mantra of globalization will therefore have to be replaced with a new focus on localization.

I am not here suggesting that we should or will need to abandon all forms of global exchange. Not least, a global trade in high-value, complex-to-produce and easy-to-transport items is likely to remain logical and resource efficient for a very long time to come. The Internet will also continue to facilitate mass global communications and digital trade. Nevertheless, it simply cannot be sensible for many countries to go on importing so much of their food and so many basic goods. In fact, in the face of Peak Oil, it is suicidal for any country or large region not to be able to feed itself and to supply its citizens with the basic necessities of living.

More Local Living

A transition to more local living will involve a great many gradual changes. For a start, we will see the rise of local agriculture. Today, all major cities rely on a food supply transported in by oil fuelled vehicles from far, far away. But in the future cities will have to become far more self sufficient and start producing at least some of their own food. This could involve the building of vertical farms in the middle of cities to grow food where the people who will eat it actually live. As argued by vertical farming advocate Dickson Despommier, all of the engineering and science required to grow food hydroponically in transparent, highrise buildings is already available. In fact, the Guangming smartcity development in China already includes 80 vertical farms. Meanwhile in Chicago, a former meat packing factory is being transformed into a vertical farm called The Plant.

The above experiment in Chicago is also far from alone. For example, an award-winning company in Sweden called Plantagon International is now constructing a 17 story vertical farm, while in Singapore a vertical farm run by Sky Greens is already selling produce to the public from its "A Go Grow" vertical farm. Meanwhile in Korea, a three-story experimental vertical farm is already churning-out lettuce, while -- as I saw recently in London -- a start-up called GrowUp has built an experimental city-centre aquaponic farm using a shipping container. You can see more of this in the video below:

In addition to developing urban agricutlure, we will increasingly also have to start manufacturing many things on a far more local basis. In part this will involve the re-establishment of the national production of many products from cars to clothing, and machine tools to homewares. In addition, micro manufacturing is also likely to take root on a very local level. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have come to rely on increasingly complex production technologies that have had to be centralized hundreds or thousands of miles from most of their customers. But new technologies will soon change this. For example, 3D printing will permit complex items and spare parts to be manufactured on a very local basis. In addition, synthetic biology will allow biofuels, bioplastics and bioacrylics to be produced locally, with the complex productive processes of life itself harnessed in any location.

Over the next few decades, many people will also have to start working far closer to some. More and more people are therefore likely to start teleworking at least some of the time, while others may have to relocate closer to their workplace. Long distance daily commutes are a relatively recent phenomenon and one that our civilization is perfectly capable of living without.

International travel is similarly going to be significantly curtailed in the decades ahead. This does not mean that in the 2020s, 2030s and beyond nobody will be able to fly. But aviation will be preserved for special and important trips and occasions, with most people no longer able to to hop on a plane on a relative whim.

A New State of Living

The mass individualism of the twentieth century may in some ways have been a very good thing. However, it went too far in permitting so many of us to travel as we please and to regularly consume globally, and has left us dependent on a fuel supply that will soon no longer be with us. We therefore need to rebalance our lifestyles, place the needs of the future majority ahead of current, individual whim, and establish more sustainable daily routines. As noted above, this is likely to involve many people working from home at least some of the time. More broadly, it will also involve sourcing food and other products far more locally.

More local living does not imply that we should never travel abroad or stop all global trade. However, it does mean that we need to start treating global travel and non-local consumption as a privilege rather than a right.

This topic is discussed in more depth in my book Seven Ways to Fix the World.
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Bioprinting graphic

The current mantra for globalization will soon be replaced by a rising tide
of localization.

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The New Narrative
Future Cities
GrowUp Aquaponic Farm
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