On the one hand, it is very easy to get bogged down in details and lose sight of the bigger picture – to not see the wood for the trees. On the other hand, though, it’s also very easy to have an understanding of the bigger picture and struggle to put that understanding into practice in concrete practical ways – it can be difficult to translate that big picture into smaller, manageable steps.
So the political slogan of ‘think global, act local’ may not be as easy as it initially sounds – but that is no reason to abandon it, as it is an important principle, not only for eco-politics, but also for our lives more broadly. So, what is involved in thinking globally, acting locally?
‘Think global’ basically means that we need to consider the wider and longer-term consequences of our actions (at the macro level) and not just focus on the here and now of our current circumstances (the micro level). This is why the slogan has been adopted by the environmental movement – each time we switch on a light we don’t need or throw away something that could have been recycled we are contributing to the global picture of the gradual destruction of our habitat. But, of course, most people don’t think about this as they go about wasting precious natural resources. So, the idea is that our actions (what we do at a local level) need to be informed by the global picture.
Not only is this vitally important in terms of preserving our habitat, but it is also a wise lesson for how we live our lives more broadly, in the sense that there is much to be gained from being clear about how what we do at a local level has an impact on our lives in a number of ways. If we have no sense of what our actions at a micro level are doing in terms of their impact on the macro level, we may be acting against our own interests. If I have no sense of where I am going in my life or what I am doing with it, I may do things that are against my long-term interests. For example, I may commit one or more offences and thereby get a criminal record that closes off career opportunities that I might have wanted to pursue.
Many people would recognise this as a feature of spirituality, part of how we develop and maintain a sense of purpose and direction and thus meaning. It also reflects the spiritual notion of ‘connectedness’, the awareness that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, whether that be culture, society, religion or one or more political causes. Religious doctrines tend to provide a more global, macro picture to guide their adherents, but, of course, it is not necessary to subscribe to a religion to get the same benefits, the sense that there is a ‘global’ that our ‘local’ is a part of.
So, the idea of ‘think global, act local’ is not only a useful ecological strategy. It is also a way of making sure that what we do makes sense in terms of the wider picture of our lives and is not just an uncritical reaction to the circumstances we may find ourselves in at any time. It gives us a firmer basis for making sure that we are enriching our lives, rather than just being carried along on the waves of circumstance.