Understanding Relocalization

Sustainable Bellingham Vision (Where we want to go):
To promote and participate in the co-creation of sustainable community in Bellingham and the surrounding bioregion, in partnership with other groups and individuals.

Sustainable Bellingham Mission (How to get there):
To reach the goal of Sustainability, we advocate for the process of Relocalization – becoming self-reliant (not self-sufficient) at the local level and rebuilding communities based on the local production of food, energy, and goods as well as the relocalization of governance and culture. Relocalization includes a firm commitment to reducing consumption and improving environmental and social conditions.

Because our current Sustainable Bellingham Mission statement is about Relocalization, I want to make sure everyone has a good understanding of what this term actually means.

After viewing The End of Suburbia in 2004, the first activity I’m aware of by the group that came together to become Sustainable Bellingham, was to host a day long workshop with the founders of the Post Carbon Institute: Julian Darley and Celine Rich. We then became affiliated as a Post Carbon Outpost – now renamed as The Relocalization Network. The Post Carbon Institute came up with the term “relocalization,” I suspect, to distinguish it from the term localization, which is commonly used in computer software, but is also used in response to economic globalization. “Economic Localization” concerns itself primarily with counteracting economic globalization.

The tagline the Relocalization Network now uses, to put the term into the smallest nutshell is “Reduce Consumption; Produce Locally.”

Here's how the Relocalization Network defines the term:

“Relocalization is a strategy to build societies based on the local production of food, energy and goods, and the local development of currency, governance and culture. The main goals of Relocalization are to increase community energy security, to strengthen local economies, and to dramatically improve environmental conditions and social equity.

The Relocalization strategy developed in response to the environmental, social, political and economic impacts of global over-reliance on cheap energy. Our dependence on cheap non-renewable fossil fuel energy has produced climate change, the erosion of community, wars for oil-rich land and the instability of the global economic system.

The Relocalization Network helps Local Groups develop community activities and programs that can be used locally and as working models for other communities when the effects of energy decline become more intense.”

Our Sustainable Bellingham website has always contained a page on Relocalization, which contains the following content:


To reach the goal of Sustainability, we advocate for the process of Relocalization. RELOCALIZATION means becoming self-reliant (not self-sufficient) at the local level and rebuilding our communities based on the local production of food, energy, and goods as well as the relocalization of governance and culture. It moves one step further than the strategy of Localization (increasing the local production of goods and services in order to fight the detrimental effects of globalization) in that Relocalization also makes a firm commitment to reducing consumption and improving environmental and social conditions. In this way, communities begin to develop a greater degree of economic self-reliance and stronger sense of community.

The Goals of Relocalization:

* Increase community energy security
* Strengthen local economics
* Dramatically improve environmental conditions and social equity
* Operate well inside eco-system limits
* Address the fears of scarcity and redefining the concept of “needs” and “enough.”
* Implementation of the Earth Charter – a sustainable framework and progress measure

The Results of Relocalization:

* A self-reliant local economy run by local stakeholders.
* A healthy community for ALL.
* A healthy and intact ecosystem that can sustain us.
* An increase in local manufacturing and energy production.
* Living wage jobs that fulfill the desire for right livelihood, and opportunities to reclaim lost skills.
* Healthy food grown locally on family farms.
* An improved quality of life—meeting the basic needs of all.

In these times of uncertainty, are you interested in actively helping to create the systemic change necessary to ensure the continued quality of life we enjoy so much here in Whatcom County? Yes, this is a challenge. But, together, it's one we can meet. We have more in common than our needs for clean air and water, and nourishing soil.

We can work locally to create a microcosm of sustainability than can serve as an example for all the people that are fleeing the areas they live in now because they've been destroyed. Together, we can build a society that is ecologically wise and socially just. Our grandchildren will thank us for it.

Join us--because it is going to take us all to create the change we want to see in the world.

Sustainable Bellingham is a member of the Post Carbon Institute's Relocalization Network.

For more, read Global Relocalization - A Call To Action, from the Post Carbon Institute.

And Relocalization: A Strategic Response to Climate Change and Peak Oil, by Jason Bradford of WELL.

And Relocalization and Reconnection, by Dave Ewoldt.


DavidM's picture

Relocalization: A Strategic Response to Climate Change/Peak Oil

In the posting above I referenced Jason Bradford's article on Relocalization that was posted at The Oil Drum. It's well worth reading if you have the time, but it's long. Jason Bradford is the man behind the Relocalization effort going on in Willits, CA.

I hope he doesn't mind, but here's my edited version of his post. Edits and boldings all mine. (Please at least read the bolded parts!)



Relocalization: A Strategic Response to Climate Change and Peak Oil
By Jason Bradford

Relocalization may be a new term, but conceptually it has long roots. Some related recent precursors include E.F. Schumacher, Ted Trainer, Garrett Hardin, and Wendell Berry as well as what are called the “anti-globalization” movement, the “slow food” movement, the “voluntary simplicity” movement, the “back to the land” movement, “new urbanism,” and the “environmental movement.” In general, common themes include decentralization of political and economic structures, less material consumption and pollution, a focus on the quality of relationships, culture and the environment as sources of fulfillment, and downscaling of infrastructural development.

…The case for relocalization will be made in the context of responding sensibly to two problems facing societies right now: climate change and peak oil and gas. Both problems are a result of our dependency on fossil fuels, but some solutions to one will only exacerbate the other. This is why a new approach, that of relocalization, is necessary.

Relocalization is based on a systems approach that doesn’t solve one set of problems only to make another problem worse.

…Predominant economic thinking usually distorts or fails to fully understand the fundamental interconnectedness of “the economy” and “the environment.” In recent decades economists have begun to give more attention to the environmental or ecological dimensions of human productive activity. But even so, their formulations are typically partial or misguided from a vantage point that takes the global environment seriously.

…Relocalization is based on an ethic of protecting the Earth System--or Natural Capital-- knowing that despite our cleverness, human well-being is fundamentally derived from the ecological and geological richness of Earth.

…Relocalization starts from the premise that the world is a finite place and that humanity is in a state of overshoot. Perpetual growth of the economy and the population is neither possible nor desirable. It is wise to start planning now for a world with less available energy, not more.

…While we can’t know future threats precisely, scientists do agree that creating a carbon-cycle neutral economy should be the dominant task occupying our minds. This is exactly what Relocalization aims to do.

…Relocalization advocates rebuilding more balanced local economies that emphasize securing basic needs. Local food, energy and water systems are perhaps the most critical to build. In the absence of reliable trade partners, whether from peak oil, natural disaster or political instability, a local economy that at least produces its essential goods will have a true comparative advantage.

When many analysts consider peak oil or climate change they start from the position of “keep the current system going at any cost.” Rather than envision an alternative that doesn’t have the same liabilities, these “solutions” only perpetuate a problem.

A classic case of this kind of thinking is the Department of Energy sponsored “Hirsch Report.” The Hirsch Report is great for understanding the economic consequences of peak oil given how integrated the global economy is. But its call for a crash program to develop new sources of liquid fuels using non-conventional fossil fuels without any broader context, such as what this would do to soils, air, and water are misguided. A wise perspective would at least acknowledge that these choices involve painful tradeoffs.

Relocalization takes a different perspective altogether. Instead of working to keep a system going that has no future, it calls us to develop means of livelihood that pollute as little as possible and that promote local and regional stability. Since much of our pollution results from the distances goods travel, we must shorten distances between production and consumption as much as we can.


Responding appropriately to the problems of climate change and peak oil and gas requires an understanding based on a systems perspective. From this angle, clear limits exist for the ability of our society to maintain growth in both resource consumption and pollution. However, most of our economic and social norms do not recognize these limits, and therefore find it difficult to respond to current threats.

Relocalization recognizes the liabilities of fossil fuel dependency and promotes greater security through redevelopment of local and regional economies more or less self-reliant in terms of energy, food and water systems. Many social benefits might accrue to a relocalized society, including greater job stability, employment diversity, community cohesion, and public health.

The laws of physics and ecology will drive economic incentives that begin to unwind some forms of global trade. However, as the “Stern Review Report” on climate change and the “Hirsch Report” on peak oil make clear, the market alone will not make this happen quickly enough or smoothly. Given our advanced state of ecological debt and the long social lag times involved in changing so many fundamental patterns of behavior, only sound and consistent government policies can succeed in setting up the right incentives for rapid, sustained change.

In any case, an easy or painless transition is highly unlikely. But nobody is guaranteed an easy life and sometimes during our greatest challenges we also find a profound sense of purpose, and a focus on what makes life worthwhile, such as meaningful work, camaraderie and beauty.