Helena Norberg-Hodge

6 February 2013 — Byron Bay will host the second of three conferences titled “The Economics of Happiness” “to promote systemic solutions to today’s social and environmental crises”.

The international conference, organised by the non-profit organisation International Society for Ecology and Culture, will be held from 15 to 17 March.

ISEC director Helena Norberg-Hodge told The Fifth Estate that the conference was held to create a “global forum for localisation”.

Ms Norberg-Hodge said an international voice was needed to strengthen local economies.

“It is always better if we can use food, basic materials, from closer to our homes,” she said.

“And even with the industrial world, it would be so much better if China and India were using the washing machines made in their own countries.

“It’s all about sustainability. It is so unsustainable to have this mad, mad travel with the cost of fuel.

“And I think at some intuitive level we feel the difference between a local mango and one that has been flown across the world.”

Ms Noberg-Hodge, who created The Economics of Happiness documentary, said she had her eyes opened to the connection between the economy and inner well-being, or the opposite, a loss of self-esteem, while living in the Himalayas.

“When I first came there the people were the happiest with the most self-esteem that I had ever met. And I learnt their language so I really knew that.

“And then I saw how film, and advertising, changed the role model for the children, showed them that they had to perfectly thin, and perfectly wealthy and perfectly clever.

“The Economics of Happiness is about helping children to form role models from those around them. I particularly like programs that help young people connect with elders.

“We need to rebuild communities and help them reconnect with nature and people.”

Ms Norberg-Hodge said the economic advantages of communities was already well known with a study showing that shopping at a farmers’ market was likely to result in 10 more conversations than at a supermarket.

“And it’s not just farmers’ markets, there is a food movement with local shops, restaurants, all sourcing their supplies from the local region. It is more sustainable and a happier way of life.”

Ms Norberg-Hodge said many councils around Australia were also taking on the concept with quite a few showing the documentary and “talking about it in terms of sustainability”.

At the conference, economists, authors and indigenous activists will descend on Byron Bay from more than 12 countries to highlight the social and environmental impact of economic globalisation, and explore the potential for more localised economies worldwide.

The main focus will be: “We know what we are against; it’s now time to decide what we’re for.”

Vandana Shiva

Speakers include:

  • Mark Anielski, the author of The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth and an advisor to governments and corporations.
  • Keibo Oiwa, the co-author, with David Suzuki, of The Japan We Never Knew: A Journey of Discovery and professor of International Studies
  • Manish Jain, a Harvard-educated grassroots activist, focusing on radical alternatives to conventional development and education.
  • Winona LaDuke, co-founder of the Indigenous Women’s Network and Ralph Nader’s two-time presidential running-mate.
  • Charles Eisenstein, the author of Sacred Economics and a world-renowned speaker on the “gift economy”.
  • Michael Shuman, the author of Local Dollars, Local Sense and director of research and economic development at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

There will also be live Skype presentations from environmentalists Vandana Shiva and Bill McKibben.

The first conference was held in the US in 2012 and the final conference will be held in Japan in 2014.

Ms Norberg-Hodge, is a pioneer of the localisation movement, recipient of the 2012 Goi Peace Prize and the author of Ancient Future.

More details and a full list of speakers are here.