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Why small-scale is the next big idea

What should we value? It is a question many of us are asking right now as we confront the existential threat of climate change and the different ways COVID-19 has rocked our worldview.

People know that moving forward as before is a one-way ticket to disaster. In that sense it does feel a bit like a collective eureka moment for civilisation, in terms of an acceptance of where we are. But what we don’t know yet is what will come from this understanding.

Ashley Colby, the Executive Director of the Rizoma Foundation, and my guest today on Inside Ideas, hopes that what will follow will be a growth in local economies, where decentralised networks of people are empowered to produce goods locally.

“This is the era we are in where neoliberalism is failing, people have a very strong sense of it post-covid,” she said. “These systems are breaking down that we once thought were trustworthy or reliable – they are not any more, and so what comes next is a process of experimentation.”

Colby believes the “seed of what will become the next world order is being planted now” and that small-scale production, something she champions in her book: Subsistence Agriculture in the US: Reconnecting to work, nature and community, and valuing what really matters, should be the types of things we see “germinating and blossoming into the main world order”.

“I make the argument that small-scale production, not just food production, but even craft production is our normal state, it is our normal economy historically as human beings. For the most amount of time in civilisation and for the most amount of the world, most people would be involved in some kind of production.”

And Colby, who has a PhD in Environmental Sociology, doesn’t just advocate for this reconnection with local systems she lives it with her family, who moved to Uruguay to be a “lived example that it is possible to adapt to small-scale living, to low energy, low carbon living, and to thrive”.

She added: “I figured I would try to take a step towards detoxing from too much consumer culture; too much time on phones; running from one place to another; commuting; never seeing my kids; always trying to seek out that next level of prestige and instead see if I could focus my values and my family’s values on connection, and meaning and maybe the act of producing things together.”

This search for connection and meaning is one that will ultimately shape the future world we create, and I am delighted to bring that future closer into view with Ashley Colby.

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Written By

Marc is Editor-at-Large for Innovators Magazine and host of INSIDE IDEAS, his OnePoint5Media video podcast show. Marc is an official UN SDG Advocate, member of the World Economic Forum Expert Network, Resilient Futurist, and award-winning Global Food Reformist.

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