What if Local and Organic Is Better Than Networked and Global?

“She got the opportunity to see a different world, and she was smart enough to understand that she wasn’t looking at a relic, she was looking at a vision of a working future,” said Bill McKibben, an author and founder of the environmental activism group 350.org. “And she has kept that vision close over many decades, helping all of us see that the metrics we’re used to — G.D.P., say — are not the only possibilities.”

Over tea one recent day, Ms. Norberg-Hodge argued that G.D.P., or gross domestic product, the accepted benchmark of national economic output, should be redefined.

“You must know this, but G.D.P. is a measure of the breakdown of society and ecosystems,” she said. “If the water is so polluted that we are providing bottled water, it benefits G.D.P. If you and I plant a garden and say, eat most or half of our vegetables from there, G.D.P. goes down. If you and I stay healthy, G.D.P. goes down. If you need chemotherapy every year, G.D.P. goes up.”

She shook her head in quiet scorn, as if saying it out loud was enough to reignite her outrage.

What she would like to see instead, she said, is what she calls an “economics of happiness,” where the cost of environmental damage is included for products shipped over long distances; where intangible benefits like community are more deeply valued in policy.

Food is where she has had the most success so far. Alice Waters, who brought local, healthy cuisine alive at her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, said she met Ms. Norberg-Hodge in the 1980s after reading “Ancient Futures.” She described her as “tireless and single-minded.”

“I have completely internalized her vision of how we can come back to our senses,” Ms. Waters said. “Her ideas about building a community have always resonated with me. Like her, I believe, deeply, that our future is local and organic.”

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