While Wendell Berry’s essay is certainly thought-provoking, it was to a certain degree frustrating to read for me because I perceived it as a perfect example of good environmentalist intentions and a legitimate desire of finding alternatives to our unsustainable system which ultimately lead to an oversimplified and irrational utopian vision to be realized by pursuing just one path which shows esoteric traits.
Berry’s idol is localism. Surely, local economic structures are vital to environmentalist efforts if they actually help to reduce for example the Carbon footprint because fuel for transportation is saved. On the other hand, if consequently carried out, this strategy will backfire. Local farming will be more diverse but it certainly won’t be more productive. In a free, global market, farmers, if they have access to the necessary knowledge and equipment, will grow the food that is best suited to their soil and climate, thereby maximizing productivity and getting out more food on less space for less energy.
This effect can and often does weigh heavier than short transportation, especially if this transportation is also carried out only on a small scale, leading to many small trucks delivering small amounts of food to countless small organic shops which do a good job on selling an ecologically peaceful mind but very poorly on actually saving the environment. Large scales might not fit to our romantic social ideals but more often than not, they are ecologically efficient More importantly, the question “What will this do to our community” is not the only important one.
If this were true, then some people in Northern Siberia should probably start burning their fossil fuels like crazy. After all, they are often available in their neighborhood and global warming would certainly benefit their agricultural returns while their colleagues a few hundred miles South will suffer from extreme dearth. No, mutual dependency and its consequence, thinking globally, are a huge step forward, if it is flanked by serious consideration of local concerns.