One-Tenth the Energy, Ten Times the Conversations

On Tuesday headlined a Reuters News Service article about BerkShares, creating a stream of media and internet discussion on local currencies in general and BerkShares in particular. You can read and view some of the international coverage at

By July one million BerkShares will have been issued through local banks to Berkshire residents wishing to show their support of regional businesses. To celebrate, BerkShares Inc. is holding a Bash on July 15th featuring noted author Bill McKibben.

In his new book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, Bill McKibben writes that:

There is a more hopeful version of the future: a shift to economies that are more local in scale. Local economies would demand fewer resources and cause less ecological disruption; they would be better able to weather coming shocks; they would allow us to find a better balance between the individual and the community, and hence find extra satisfaction.

McKibben is an adept reporter who has traveled extensively looking for hopeful examples of community-based models having a positive effect on the health and well being of the residents and the surrounding environment. What he has found are “renewed local [economies that exist] as a series of points: a farmer’s market here, a mercantile cooperative there, a radio station over there.” These are old ideas, but not a yearning for the past. As McKibben writes, “what’s nostalgic and sentimental is to insist that we keep doing what we’re doing now simply because it is familiar.” A shift to local economies is more than changing purchasing habits and helps more than just the local community. Vibrant local economies engage us in relationships with our neighbors and have the ability, when established, to “reduce the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide [and] shift the trajectory of human satisfaction.”

So how do we begin reforming relationships with neighbors and supporting each other in the process of providing necessary goods? McKibben suggests that:

[I]f you really wanted to make a local economy soar, the most important part might be to create a local currency.

With a local scrip in your pocket, choices are limited to those businesses with a commitment to your community. Your dollars, or BerkShares in our case, will not be directly funneled to a corporate headquarters. Instead it might go to purchasing goods from a local vendor, paying the salary of a local employee, or buying dinner for the shopkeeper. With a local currency your money is assured of circulating through the community, adding value with each transaction. McKibben gives us this quote from Brian Halweil, “…in West Africa, for example, each $1 of new income for a farmer yields an average income increase to other local workers in the local economy, ranging $1.96 in Niger to $2.88 in Burkina Faso. No equivalent local increases occur when people spend money on imported foods.”

Beyond the benefits of recirculating, a local currency changes the form of transactions. Local currency draws people away from internet and mall shopping and brings them back to Main Street. Shopping locally results in numerous personal interactions. These small, informal connections transform consumers into active parts of the economic system. They are responsible for the larger workings of a local economy. McKibben, using farmer’s markets as an example of local economy, writes:

The market begins to build a different reality, one that uses less oil and is therefore less vulnerable to the end of cheap energy. But, more important, the new reality responds to all the parts of who we are, including the parts that crave connection. One tenth the energy; ten times the conversations–that’s an equation worth contemplating.

Every transaction we make in BerkShares celebrates a connection: between the customer and the merchant, between the merchant and the supplier, between the supplier and the producer. In the spirit of celebration BerkShares will be throwing a bash to recognize the individuals, banks, organizations, and businesses working to make BerkShares a success.

Bill McKibben is the keynote speaker for this event. Joining him will be four area bands: Terry a la Berry & Friends, Quintessential, Cabuca Jazz, and The BTUs. The time is Sunday, July 15, 2007, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., on the front lawn of the Searles Castle, home of the John Dewey Academy, Main Street, Great Barrington, Masssachusetts. Sponsored by Berkshire Grown, The Orion Society, and WBCR 97.7 FM.