26 May 2007

Trading Futures

In spite of the breaking out of civil war in Lebanon and the deaths of many innocent people, the fire aboard the Cutty Sark topped the news agenda earlier this week. Can this be because we have a nostalgic yearning for the days when Britain ruled the waves? We were the original maritime globalisers with merchant ships like Cutty Sark providing the wealth to support the British Empire.

Perhaps we still long for the certainty of those days, when we sang confidently that our nation had arisen at heaven's command from out the azure main, as hundreds still do every year at the last night of the proms. The role the sailing ships played in the Slave Trade and in the stealing of resources are less prominent.

On the same day that the Cutty Sark burned the government announced the centralisation of planning and the removal of the right of local people to have a democratic say over what is constructed in their neighbourhood. The Empire spirit lives on, at least in the sense that nothing shall be allowed to stand in the way of economic growth. Although these changes are of general application it can be no coincidence that two days later we are told that nuclear energy is the response to climate change. Since nobody wants that in their backyard the link is clear.

So how we would we organise trade in our green economy of the future? The need for exchange is obvious once you move beyond the survivalist position of trying to make everything yourself. For goods that can be made with local materials the only problem is establishing a fair price. And for those that need to travel the world the Cutty Sark may have something to teach us. One local man in Stroud has a long-term plan to buy a sailing vessel and use it to trade with low carbon impact. Discussions are being had about the possibility of using sailing barges to bring goods along the canal to Stroud.


  1. I'm very attracted to human activity mimicking natural ecosystems. Localism and subsidiarity can be strongly supported with respect to feedback mechanisms which are so important to any self-regulating system. Feedbacks are critical in biology and it seems to me that globalisation serves to destroy local feedbacks whether it be with respect to absentee ownership of corporations or through the loss of feedbakcs related to pollution (through "offshoring" our pollution and waste).

    Clearly we can't go back to providing all of our own needs but diverse, complex, ecologies of small businesses (rooted in local trade) seems attractive.

  2. Yes, I agree: this is interesting thinking. There is always encouragement to sit comfortably inside your eco-system. In a sense our exploitation of other eco-systems and our intelligence has allowed us to buck this trend, but only for a short while I think.