Helena Norberg-Hodge

Swedish activist and documentary director

Helena Norberg-Hodge (born February 1946) is an author, film producer, an outspoken critic of economic globalization, a leading proponent of localization as an antidote to the problems arising from globalization, and the founder and director of Local Futures.

For our species to have a future, it must be local... The good news is that the path to such a future is already being forged. Away from the screens of the mainstream media, the crude ‘bigger is better’ narrative that has dominated economic thinking for centuries is being challenged by a much gentler, more ‘feminine’, inclusive perspective that places human and ecological well-being front and center...
The local food movement is demonstrating what can happen when you shorten distances: you encourage a shift from monoculture to diversification on the land; you reduce the energy consumption, the packaging, the refrigeration, and the waste; you provide healthier food at a reasonable price; and you have healthier, more prosperous farming communities.
In an ideal world, we’d be looking at the way that the whole weapons race is linked to the race into space, and we would be putting an end to that.
I think part of the big shift that we need is a better balance between masculine and feminine — finding a more deeply interconnected, nurturing side.

QuotesEdit

2011Edit

  • I’ve been waxing on about happiness for a long time because I think it’s time we realize, in the West, how much our notion of “progress” has cost us—how much it’s cost us personally... It’s clear that the damage we’re doing to the seas and to the earth, to the birds and to the bees, is a damage that we’re inflicting on our selves... From my point of view—and there’s plenty of evidence to back it up—that’s the fundamental reason for most of today’s human malaise, including an epidemic of depression in the Western world, and an epidemic of self rejection... And now, throughout the so-called Third World, where there’s media there’s even a desire for lighter skin, for blue eyes—we touch on all of that in the film (The Economics of Happiness). This is a terrible, terrible price that we’ve paid, and it’s something that is simply not recognized or articulated enough.
  • The thing that became so clear was that there were two structural areas that we had to look at simultaneously. Along with the images that made people feel stupid and backward and underprivileged were structural pressures that destroyed local economies and created a scramble for artificially scarce jobs. I think we need to raise awareness about how this system works.
    • A Conversation with Helena Norberg-Hodge, Part I, by Nick Triolo, Orion Magazine (October 2011)

2015Edit

  • In the End, the economic problem in Greece is the product of a global system that puts the needs of corporations and banks ahead of people and the planet. The same system is responsible for the polluted rivers and air in China, for the sweatshop conditions in Bangladesh, for the economic refugees from Africa desperately seeking asylum in Europe, and for the collapsing economies of Puerto Rico, Greece, and beyond. The internal logic of this global system favors no nation – not Germany, not even the United States – but only the footloose corporations and banks that dominate the global economy.
  • There is an alternative to starving our own people to enrich foreign banks: it involves moving away from ever-more specialized production for export, towards prioritizing diversified production to meet people’s genuine needs; away from centralized, corporate control, towards diverse, localized economies that are more equitable and sustainable. This means encouraging greater regional self-reliance, and using our taxes, subsidies and regulations to support enterprises embedded in society, rather than transnational monopolies.
    • We Are All Greece by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Common Dreams, (31 July 2015)
  • In part, the Ladakhis’ confidence and sense of having enough emanated from a deep sense of community: people knew they could depend on one another... But in 1975... the Indian government decided to open up the region to the process of development, and life began to change rapidly. Within a few years the Ladakhis were exposed to television, Western movies, advertising, and a seasonal flood of foreign tourists. Subsidized food and consumer goods — from Michael Jackson CDs and plastic toys to Rambo videos and pornography — poured in on the new roads that development brought...
    For more than 600 years Buddhists and Muslims lived side by side in Ladakh with no recorded instance of group conflict. They helped one another at harvest time, attended one another’s religious festivals, and sometimes intermarried. But over a period of about 15 years, tensions between Buddhists and Muslims escalated rapidly, and by 1989 they were bombing each other’s homes.

2016Edit

  • Implicit in all the rhetoric promoting globalization is the premise that the rest of the world can and should be brought up to the standard of living of the West, and America in particular. For much of the world the American Dream – though a constantly moving target – is globalization’s ultimate endpoint. But if this is the direction globalization is taking the world, it is worth examining where America itself is headed. A good way to do so is to take a hard look at America’s children, since so many features of the global monoculture have been in place their whole lives. If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

2017Edit

  • People (in Ladakh) were so so at ease with themselves and with the world, and so full of vitality and joy... I saw step-by-step how the outside consumer culture was destroying local businesses and jobs, particularly farming. Everything about the local culture became under-valued or – more than that – seen as primitive and backward. I saw how destructive that was for people.
    • Quoted in Wellbeing campaigner: society should shape business – not the other way round, by Anna Leach, The Guardian, (18 Jul 2017)

2018Edit

  • Rather than attempting to solve every problem by growing the economy, we need to focus instead on meeting real human and ecological needs. This is what we mean by the economics of happiness... The world is at a tipping point - culturally, socially and economically. We urgently need to reclaim our sense of community and our connection to place.
    • Quoted in An economics of happiness, Marianne Brooker, The Ecologist (8th October 2018)
  • If you’re seeking some good news during these troubled times, look at the ecologically sound ways of producing food that have percolated up from the grassroots in recent years. Small farmers, environmentalists, academic researchers, and food and farming activists have given us agroecology, holistic resource management, permaculture, regenerative agriculture and other methods that can alleviate or perhaps even eliminate the global food system’s worst impacts: biodiversity loss, energy depletion, toxic pollution, food insecurity and massive carbon emissions.
    • Unlike a Globalized Food System, Local Food Won’t Destroy the Environment, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Truthout (1 December 2018)
  • Even bolder action is needed if there is to be any hope of eliminating the damage done by the global food system. A crucial first step is to raise awareness of the costs of the current system, and the multiple benefits of local food.
    • Unlike a Globalized Food System, Local Food Won’t Destroy the Environment, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Truthout (1 December 2018)

2019Edit

  • For our species to have a future, it must be local.
  • The good news is that the path to such a future is already being forged. Away from the screens of the mainstream media, the crude ‘bigger is better’ narrative that has dominated economic thinking for centuries is being challenged by a much gentler, more ‘feminine’, inclusive perspective that places human and ecological well-being front and center...
  • There is a growing awareness – from the grassroots to academia – that the real economy is the natural world, on which we ultimately depend for all of our needs. Only when we embrace a structural shift in the current economy – away from dependence on a corporate-run global marketplace, towards diversified local systems – will we be able to live in a way that reflects this understanding.
  • Tragically, our political and business leaders remain blind to these and other realities. They are taking us down a different path, one where biotechnology will feed the world, the internet will enable global cooperation, robots will free people from the drudgery of physical and mental effort, and that the wealth of an ever richer 1% will somehow ‘trickle down’ to benefit the poor.
  • Resistance to corporate rule at the policy level will need to be coupled with the generation of alternatives from below, to fill the gaps left by the departing old system. This is not about ending global trade or industrial production, but for most of our needs, we will need to shift towards smaller scale and more localized structures: decentralized, community-controlled renewables for energy, revitalized local food systems to feed us, and robust local business environments to employ more people and keep wealth from draining out of our communities.
  • We can begin this process without national governments on our side. Indeed, it is unlikely that they will jump on this bandwagon before it has already become unstoppable. Instead, we should look to local governments for solidarity. Mayors and local councils are already realizing what higher levels of government have not: that economic and political self-determination go hand in hand.
  • As the fault lines in the global economy continue to grow, and the desire for genuine human connection becomes ever more keenly felt, these existing initiatives will provide direction as well as inspiration, and stand as a compelling alternative to the faux-localist path of violence, fear, and hate.
    • Resist Locally, Renew Globally, Common Dreams (23 August 2019)

Caretaking by Wendell Berry and Helena Norberg-Hodge, Orion Magazine, (12 March 2019)Edit

  • I believe that we need both “resistance” and “renewal” simultaneously. What I mean by “resistance” is, first of all, linking together locally to resist the advances of the top-down global monoculture in all its destructive forms. But it also means linking up with other groups around the country, and even around the world, to push for a kind of democracy where people have a choice...
  • The local food movement is demonstrating what can happen when you shorten distances: you encourage a shift from monoculture to diversification on the land; you reduce the energy consumption, the packaging, the refrigeration, and the waste; you provide healthier food at a reasonable price; and you have healthier, more prosperous farming communities.
  • What I find so inspiring is that, in the localization movement, communities around the world are rebuilding truly healthy economies by diversifying. Those are like little diamonds in the landscape, aren’t they, of beauty and joy....
  • Another important point is that small, diversified farms always produce more per unit of land, water, and energy than large monocultures. So we have to turn this lie around that there are too many people now to localize, too many people to have small farms. It’s exactly the opposite.
    • Caretaking by Wendell Berry and Helena Norberg-Hodge, Orion Magazine, (12 March 2019)
  • Genuine local economies connected to the land have been systematically destroyed in the name of progress and efficiency, and we are now at a point where more than half of the global population has been urbanized.
  • But we do have an opportunity to say in a loud voice, “Let’s push the pause button on this juggernaut that’s pulling people away from real livelihoods, and then start a journey back to the land.” Not everyone has to live on the land, but we need cities that have a relationship with the land around them and that have some breathing space within them so that we regain that contact with nature and with the real source of our livelihoods — with the real economy.

2020Edit

  • We should be talking about what is essential in an economy: the ways people use nature and other people to make ends meet, and basically, it should be about providing for our needs, not about a system that artificially creates needs. Using psychological manipulation to encourage people to consume was tied to economists arguing that the only way to avoid another economic depression was to integrate economies around the world, in other words to create one global system...
  • Multinationals using the Internet are basically impossible to tax. Look at Apple, at Google. And these technologies are linked to massive manipulation, not just in terms of manufacturing needs, but even [in terms of] the voting behavior in different countries. Ideally, the change toward democratizing the Internet would be in incremental ways.
  • In an ideal world, we’d be looking at the way that the whole weapons race is linked to the race into space, and we would be putting an end to that. We would be looking at the ecological and social effects of mineral use in technologies. We would be talking about slowing down and shrinking our use of the Internet for global business, the way that several European countries have done with bans on advertising... I think part of the big shift that we need is a better balance between masculine and feminine — finding a more deeply interconnected, nurturing side. But that requires time... A genuine appreciation of the other, a genuine appreciation of the plants, the animals, and the sun requires free time we cannot get through the speed that these new technologies are imposing on us. You might ask yourself: What happens to us — as individuals, as communities — under the time pressures that nearly all of us experience today?
  • The first step is to connect with like-minded people, and then collectively start questioning the dominant assumptions. Part of that is to listen to what really makes your heart sing. Where were you and what were you doing when you experienced moments of deep contentment and happiness? Listen to the answer and use it as a guide.
    • Quoted in On Radical Cultural Change, A conversation with political thinker and activist Helena Norberg-Hodge, William Powers, Earth Island Journal, (Spring 2020)

Globalization and Extremism - Join the Dots, Helena Norberg-Hodge New Internationalist (4 February 2020)Edit

  • With rightwing authoritarian leaders and extremist political parties gaining strength, people who care about equality and the future of the planet have good reason to be worried. To counter this trend we need to address its root causes – not the personality traits of individual leaders or the unique conditions that fueled their rise.
  • In short, we need to look at the process of economic globalization. While its supporters portray globalization in terms of international collaboration and interdependence, it is actually an economic process by which diverse cultures and economies are amalgamated into a single, global monoculture dominated by huge businesses and banks. Critics of globalization acknowledge its role in expanding the obscene gap between rich and poor, but there is little recognition of globalization’s profoundly personal impacts: in country after country, it is leaving the majority feeling increasingly insecure – not only economically, but psychologically. And insecure people can be highly susceptible to false narratives purporting to explain their precarious situation.
  • Changes in education also had a huge impact. In the past, Ladakhi children learned the skills needed to survive, even to prosper, in their difficult environment: they learned to grow food, tend for animals, build houses from local materials. But in the new Westernized schools, children were instead provided with skills appropriate for a fossil fuel-based, urban life within a globalized economy – a way of life in which almost every need is imported.

Quotes aboutEdit

  • Ever since Helena Norberg-Hodge, a Swedish linguist, set up the Ladakh Project in 1978, winters in far-flung villages like Kubet, 150 km from Siachen, Stokna in south Ladakh... are more tolerable because of improved housing. In these villages, vegetables are grown throughout the year in greenhouses and water is available through pumps. In 1983, the Ladakh Project was expanded to form the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG). LEDeG, with 80 full-time employees, works in 50 locations in the district. It is funded by the Swedish Nature Fund and Danish Church Aid. In 1986, Norberg-Hodge received the... Right Livelihood Award for her work.
  • Ever since I was an undergraduate two decades ago, I’ve been inspired by political thinker and activist Helena Norberg-Hodge’s books and films. Serendipitously, I met Norberg-Hodge in person in England recently. She knows, perhaps better than anyone I’ve encountered, how to connect re-localization, the reclaiming of the Commons, and the importance of direct participation in community with the transformation of big corporate dominance. She also spent decades working and living with Indigenous people in Ladakh, India, and is a pioneer in integrating traditional and Indigenous worldviews into a coherent critique of techno-industrial society, politics, and finance.
    Norberg-Hodge speaks eight languages and was educated in Sweden, Germany, Austria, England, and the United States. She specialized in linguistics, including doctoral studies at the University of London, and at MIT with close mentor Noam Chomsky. She founded and directs the groundbreaking nonprofit Local Futures, and is now on an international tour leading conferences on the penetrating documentary she produced, The Economics of Happiness.
  • Helena Norberg-Hodge... doubted the current growth model in the early 1990s. She came up with the idea of localisation rather than globalization as she highlighted that the root cause of inequality is globalization. In her book Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World, she showed us how Ladakh was once a happy place before its initiation to Western ideas and material goods. From her own experience of living in Ladakh, she wrote that earlier interdependency in the community was very strong but everything changed socially, ecologically and economically after so-called ‘development’ took place there. She also wrote a book called Local is Our Future (2019) in which she strongly argued for a localized economy as an alternative to the globalized economy. In her localized model of the economy, she has advocated developing a robust, local food production and delivery system and a democratic structure that can give local farmers more power. The local producers will thus be less dependent on the ‘outside power’.
    • How Buddhist Economics and Bhutan’s happiness model show us the path in post-COVID era, Biswajit Jha, Times Now. (30 June 2020)

See alsoEdit

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