Gulf oil spill: A tipping point for 'slocal' living?

As trust in big government and big business erodes, momentum for slow, local living could build.

Bill Young / Jaynes Gallery / Danita / Newscom
A snail with a spoon and fork symbolizes the Slow Food movement. Could the BP oil spill accelerate a "slocal" movement?

Americans don't trust big government. They don't trust big business, either. Those were some obvious headlines from a Pew poll in April. And that was before the Gulf oil spill spurred public anger at BP and the Obama administration, neither of which has been able to plug the leak.

But another finding of the Pew poll suggests that the key objection Americans have is not to "business" or "government" but to "big." After all, the public institution that won top marks was small business.

"Small is beautiful" became a rallying cry after the 1973 oil crisis. Perhaps after the 2010 oil crisis, another movement will take flight: "slocal." (Slow + local = slocal.)

The time seems to be ripe for a slocal movement that combines elements from the political right and left.

• American workers are increasingly free agents, either working for small businesses or for themselves. As Joel Kotkin and the Praxis Strategy Group explained in a recent essay: "U.S. employment has been shifting not to mega corporations, but to individuals and smaller units; between 1980 and 2000, the number of self-employed individuals expanded tenfold to comprise 16 percent of the workforce."

They also note: "Indeed, many Americans on both the right and left are instinctive decentralists."

• The locavore movement – striving to eat food grown close to home – is appealing to aging hippies as well as young conservatives. Ever see those survival seed bank ads on Glenn Beck?

• Slow is the new fast. Sure, we still crave 4G networks and FiOS, but we're increasingly turning toward slow media (vinyl records), slow food (roasted farm-raised chicken, please; hold the McNuggets), and slow lives (Digital Detox week and anti-Facebook campaigns).

• Americans are fed up with Democratic big government and Republican individualism. As political consultant Matthew Dowd wrote in a recent Monitor essay, Americans crave a new community-centered politics: "What does the public want? I believe an approach organized around creating and empowering local, community solutions (not based on a federal government direction) would resonate exceedingly well with most Americans." Britain may be leading the way on this hybrid approach, as this "Monitor's View" explains.

• Pockets of America are relying on local currencies to power their economies. BerkShares, based in Massachusetts' Berkshires region, is one model that's attracting broader interest.

• The debt crisis sweeping across Europe is reminding us that a self-reliant, savings-based economy can be a very good thing. Credit is fast and easy. Saving is slow and hard.

Biking to work is back.

Globalization and the oil-based economy aren't going away any time soon. But the two go hand-in-hand. And as the public watches millions of barrels of oil seep into the Gulf, they're confronting the costs of our dependence on petroleum to fuel a "bigger, better, faster" lifestyle. If a slocal movement goes mainstream in 2010, it could be at least one silver lining to the Gulf spill tragedy.

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