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What “Little Tibet” Can Teach Us about Globalization

Posted by >>>>> on May 7, 2009


Lorna Garano



In 1975 Helena Norberg-Hodge was one of the first Westerners to visit the Himalayan region ofLadakh, also know as “Little Tibet.” As a linguist and researcher, she studied the complex language of the Ladakhi people and immersed herself in their culture. What she found were self-sustaining, vibrant communities in which people lived in harmony with nature and each other. Then globalization and “development” came. It started with tourism, then the building of roads and a power plant, then came the onslaught of media, shops, imported food, industrial farming techniques, and consumer goods from around the world. As the foundations of this agrarian, communal society were shaken, Norberg-Hodge witnessed firsthand the cultural, ecological, and psychological degradation that followed. She observed Buddhist and Muslim communities that had coexisted peacefully for centuries begin to talk of “exterminating” each other as competition for work and political power grew more fierce. She saw once-confident women develop eating disorders as they tried to emulate movie stars and Barbie dolls. She saw men who had been traditionally gentle become aggressive as they followed the lead of gun-toting screen icons. She watched a chasm develop between rich and poor, family structures break down, and a once-pristine land become polluted by the by-products of foreign technology.

Norberg-Hodge chronicles this transformation in her book, ANCIENT FUTURES: LESSONS FROM LADAKH FOR A GLOBALIZING WORLD, now out in a second edition, with a new afterword by the author (Sierra Club/Counterpoint, May 2009, paperback). For her, Ladakh isn’t simply a tale of one society upended, rather it exemplifies what is happening to traditional cultures around the world as globalization subsumes them, an example of “the jihad of a global consumer culture against the rich diversity of cultures on the planet.” Through her work as the founder and director of the  International Society for Ecology and Culture she has devoted the last thirty years to promoting sustainable communities and economies.

Norberg-Hodge is available for interview. Here’s just some of what she can discuss.

•     How globalization is the result of specific policies, not a natural evolutionary process that we are powerless to change

•     Toward an economics of happiness: New ways of creating just, humane economies

•     Why we need to re-localize and how the local food movement is showing the way

•     Why the GDP is a poor measure of prosperity

•     How we can have development without destruction

•     The Global Village as Global Monoculture: How Western consumer culture is steamrolling cultures
across the globe and what we can do about it

•     Why we need radical changes in trade policies

•     Reasons for hope: The movements that are happening across the world to take on globalization

•     Ladakh today: How Ladakhis are reclaiming their culture

ABOUT HELENA NORBERG-HODGEHelena Norberg-Hodge is an internationally recognized pioneer in the worldwide localization movement and a leading analyst of the impact of the global economy on culture and agriculture. She is the founder and director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC). Based in the US and UK, with subsidiaries in France, Germany, Japan, Australia, and Ladakh, ISEC’s mission is to examine the root causes of social and environmental crises, while promoting more sustainable and equitable patterns of living in both North and South. Norberg-Hodge also founded The Ladakh Project and helped establish several indigenous organizations including the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LEDeG) and the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh (WAL).  Over the years she has received support from many world leaders, including H.R.H. Prince Charles, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, H.H. the Dalai Lama, and Indian Prime Ministers Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. In 1986 she received the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.

Norberg-Hodge was educated in Sweden, Germany, Austria, England and the United States.  A linguist by training, she studied at the doctoral level at the University of London and at MIT, with Noam Chomsky. Fluent in seven languages, she has lived in and studied numerous cultures at varying degrees of industrialization, giving her a unique international perspective.

She is co-author of Bringing the Food Economy Home and From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture.  Her work has been the subject of more than 250 articles in over a dozen countries. In 1993, Norberg-Hodge was named one of the world’s ‘Ten Most Interesting Environmentalists’ by the Earth Journal.  She has also been featured on radio and television programs in Austria, South Africa, Spain, France, Germany, Canada, Sweden, India, and many other countries. In Carl McDaniel’s book Wisdom for a Liveable Planet, she was profiled as one of eight visionaries changing the world today. Ancient Futures has been described as an “inspirational classic” by the London Times and together with a film of the same title, it has been translated into 30 languages.

Norberg-Hodge serves on the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture, launched with the support of the government of Tuscany. She is also a member of the editorial board of The Ecologist magazine and a co-founder of the International Forum on Globalisation and the Global Eco-village Network. Over the years, lecture tours have brought her to major universities, government agencies and private institutions.  She has made presentations to parliamentarians in Germany, Sweden, and England; at the White House; the Plenary at the UN Habitat Conference in Istanbul; to UNESCO, the World Bank and the IMF; and at Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, Cornell and numerous other universities.


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