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New Film and Panel Call for Localization

Friday at the Rio Theatre, a one-time showing argues that support for local businesses is a silver bullet for some of the biggest problems of our times.

Are climate change, the economic crisis and depression parts of a single phenomenon, like holes in the same cloak? According to The Economics of Happiness, a documentary released last January, they are.

The film makes the case that supporting local business is the answer to reducing our environmental footprint, supporting sustainability and enlivening community—and thus, mental health.

“It argues not for a globalization movement but for a localization movement,” says Elizabeth Borelli, the organizer of Friday's showing, which will be followed by a panel of experts from the city, local companies and nonprofits.

The film, which features eco-writer Bill Mckibben, corporate watchdog David Korten and Monsanto-cilice, Vendana Shiva, was created by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick and John Page.

Norberg-Hodge, a social anthropologist, lived in the Ladakh region of India for 35 years. From her rural Himalayan perch, she had a front-row seat to the effects of globalization on community, the environment and locals' happiness—elusive as that may sound. As farmers left local life for the cities, they joined the ranks of the unemployed, abandoned locally grown produce for fast food and gave up cultural traditions in exchange for wares sold by chain stores, says Borelli.

Friday's panel, which will underscore the localization message, includes the city's climate change coordinator, Ross Clark; ocean activist, Wallace Nichols; coordinator of Transition Santa Cruz, Michael Levy; author and speaker, Ocean Robbins; and proponent of the Gross National Happiness movement, Irene Tsouprake.

For his part, Clark will talk about the environmental benefits of shopping at local businesses.

“Supporting localism is important as a climate action strategy as well an economic strategy,” says Clark. “From a climate perspective, there's multiple values, from reducing car trip lengths to being able to use alternative transit or bikes.

“Supporting local businesses in the long run definitely sets us up to reduce energy use overall and become a more resilient community as energy prices continue to fluctuate,” he said.

Tsouprake will talk about the connection between supporting the local economy and happiness in general.

The connection may owe its roots to an enigmatic concept, which a growing number of people have heard about: Gross National Happiness.

What's that?

In the 1970s, it was devised by the government of Bhutan, a small Himalayan nation, which assesses its country's success not by Gross National Product but by a measure it called Gross National Happiness.

GNH is based on nearly a hundred criteria but follows four central pillars:

• The promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development.
• The preservation and promotion of cultural values.
• The conservation of the natural environment.
• The establishment of good governance.

“The government knows people are happier when they go to music festivals, and when they notice music festival attendance is down, they encourage festival producers to lower prices so more people can go, and they do,” says Tsouprake. “It's beautiful.”

Tsouprake says the GNH movement has gained steam in France, England and Vermont, and she sees Santa Cruz as an ideal testing ground for the unusual model.

“I am interested in building a coalition of citizens in Santa Cruz and working with local government here to pursue the idea of launching a happiness-assessment survey of Santa Cruz,” says Tsouprake. She says she has opened discussions with city officials and hopes to fund the study through a public-private partnership.

The happiness survey has yet to be carried out by any U.S. city, although Seattle might be first in line.

On a recent tour of the U.S., the Bhutanese secretary of Gross National Happiness, Kharma Tshiteem, gave a two-hour presentation to the Seattle City Council, which resulted in an anonymous $20,000 grant to launch a happiness-assessment survey in the city, according to Tsouprake.

Following his trip to Seattle, at Tsouprake's invitation, Tshiteem also presented in Santa Cruz. After the talk, he asked to see the redwoods and the ocean.

“We drove along West Cliff, and a truck pulled in front of me with a bumper sticker on the car, and it's the only time I've ever seen that bumper sticker in 25 years in Santa Cruz,” said Tsouprake. “It was a Bhutan GNH bumper sticker, and Tshiteem said, 'I can't believe it; my nation is so small.' I said, 'Yes, but it's shining a very big light right now.”

The Economics of Happiness will be screened Friday at 7 p.m. at the Rio Theater. The panel will be from 8:30-9:20 p.m. Tickets are $7 at the door or can be purchased in advance for $5 online or by going to Greenspace, across from the Rio Theatre at 2200 Soquel Ave.

Jann Gates March 19, 2011 at 10:34 PM
"Keep going!" I am tempted to add, "and speed it up, please," but that sounds way too Western. How about a Western Hemispheric, "todo en calma." I want to meet our pioneering Bhutanese friends in a like-minded spirit. By the way, I have actually met Bhutanese monks, musicians and dancers in remote Northern New Mexico.

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