Innovations Lead Way for Citizens to Shift to Local Economies

Innovations Lead Way for Citizens to Shift to Local Economies

Resilience the counterpoint to economic growth: Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis says the impetus to write his new book started nine years ago when his family went on what they call the "annual tramp to the Stamp."

Heading to the Stamp River in B.C. with his granddaughter to look at salmon in the early fall was a tradition, says Mike. The day before this visit, he read a scientific journal on salmon and the temperature gradients they need to thrive.

If the trends at the time continued it was apparent there would not be salmon in 40 years time, he says.

This convergence of new information, a sense of place and having his grandchild present precipitated an emotional, spiritual, intellectual and learning journey, says Mike.

  Mike Lewis pictured in his "outdoor office" - an alley behind his home where spent time writing The Resilience Imperative. Photo: Donna Sheh

Out of that journey, he says it became apparent he had to try to shift the mission of the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal, where he is the executive director, and find a way to take the learning and reweave economics on a more local and regional basis.

The question, he says, is how to approach this in terms of food, finance, shelter, basic energy and basic needs, and what that means in terms of ownership.

“The critical thing is that we are going to be forced I think by the implications of climate change and peak oil to really look at the way we organize ourselves very differently,” he says.

The resulting book Mike co-authored with Pat Conaty entitled The Resilience Imperative: Co-operative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy is being published in June.

Among the many examples of innovation in the book is one from Kristianstad in southeastern Sweden. In 1999, Kristianstad's district municipality decided to become fossil-fuel free and within nine years cut their fossil-fuel consumption in half across 25 communities.

Mike says there are many reasons for Kristianstad's success, including a political vision and two municipally-owned companies in energy and waste management. The framework they operated in demanded public interest and economic viability that integrated into energy efficiency.

From a resilience point of view, he says Kristianstad is diversifying its energy base, decentralizing the capacity for electricity generation and waste management, democratizing ownership through ongoing reinvestment and distributing benefits that lowers cost at the household level.

Moving to local and regional economics is possible, says Mike, but at the end of the book the question is whether it is probable.

"The possibility is clearly evident in many sectors, the practice is there, this is more than just promise, we could scale up," he says, adding the probable question is "deeply troubling" and these experiences are a source of learning.

The book focuses on local and regional innovations and concrete lessons, but Mike notes there are larger issues. There is a need to be smart politically, he cautions, and interests that thwarts progress, such as the pricing of carbon and corruption in the global financial system.

While there is tension embedded in the book, Mike says the balance he has tried to bring forth in the effort is summarized in the saying of an anonymous Welsh poet: "Our job is to make hope more concrete and despair less convincing."

At the end of each chapter that deals with innovations — such as the JAK co-operative bank with finance charges based on fees rather than compound interest, and a household energy efficiency initiative in Kirklees, England that has impacted fuel poverty — savings for a fictional family household with a mortgage of $330,000 was calculated.

Over 25 years, the savings as a result of the innovations was almost the same as the value of the house, at approximately $15,000 per year.

Mike says when it is brought down to the household level people get excited, and he'd like to see people begin to connect the dots as to how they can organize with others co-operatively and collaboratively at the community level to advance these innovations.

"Economic growth is in fact what we have to move away from. We cannot survive any kind of possible dignity if we stay on the path we're on," says Mike. "Resilience is the counterpoint to economic growth."

Albertans have the opportunity to hear Mike share examples of these innovations and discuss ways to move forward at events being held May 29 and 30.

Follow the links below for more information.
Minding Our Own Business: Cooperative Approaches to a New Economy

Cooperatives: Case Studies in Resilience and Sustainability

Click here to purchase the book.

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Writer Bio

Jennifer Neutel's picture
Jennifer Neutel

Jennifer Neutel is a Story Advocate and Generative Journalist at Axiom News. She completed her Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa in 2006, and joined Axiom News in 2007. She has taken on a variety of roles at Axiom including new social media intiatives and has a passion for creating strengths-based questions that can lead to positive change.

Contact Jennifer:, or 705-741-4421 ext. 26.

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