15.5.2017: Beyond Globalization
At the end of April, there were demonstrations in support of science and climate change research around the world. Inspired by the remarkable ineptitude of the current administration in the White House in America, the demonstrations are a long overdue reminder that science, in particular environmental science, should be shaping global politics and economics. The current capitalistic model seemingly only allows for environmental innovation when it does not pose a significant threat to corporate profits, especially profits within the fossil fuel industry. Our habitat has suffered for far too long at the hands of the fossil fuel industry, globalization, war, and mass production of food and meat.
The same elements have detrimentally affected humanity by removing the instinctive connection to nature, community, and region. The economic ramifications of globalization have ultimately evoked another wave of xenophobia, nationalism, and racism, which demonstrates the necessity of incorporating sociological considerations when developing and implementing economic policy. Research from the disciplines of politics, environmental science, sociology, and economics must converge and aid in a transition beyond the current capitalistic model of globalization to a just and sustainable global economy.
Globalization in its current form is driven by capitalism and the primary aim is to increase corporate profits through free-market competition, specialized production, and reduced labor and manufacturing costs. This model clearly benefits multi-national corporations, but theoretically also benefits consumers who enjoy lower costs and increased choice.
In practice, however, this often translates to lower quality and increased quantity. Lower prices of cheaply-made, foreign goods are detrimental to local producers who often struggle to stay in business because their prices reflect a premium over imports. Lower prices of cheaply-made, foreign goods are detrimental to consumers because 'billig gekauft ist zweimal gekauft.' Furthermore, globalization causes detachment to community and region as it creates dependent, imbalanced, and empty economies. Production is outsourced to maintain market competitiveness and oftens results in labor exploitation. Geographically-driven economic stress is caused by the increased cost of trafficking goods all over the world.
At the onset of globalization and certainly at the onset of capitalism, there was complete disregard for the environmental impact or 'cost' of these market concepts. A Canadian company called Lole, for example, produces raincoats in Vietnam because domestic production would make them uncompetitive in the market place. This company has an eco-label indicating fair labor standards, but it is difficult to quantify the cost of global shipping to the environment.
It is the same issue with mass production of food. Darrenkampf grocery store in central Pennsylvania recently only had grapes from Peru or Chile. Not only are the intercontinental distribution costs detrimental to nature, but the entire human relationship to the food supply chain is far removed from nature. Meat production has an even more profound impact on the environment than fruit and vegetables. “At virtually each step of the livestock production process substances contributing to climate change or air pollution are emitted into the atmosphere” (FAO 79).
Multi-national, large-scale producers are the primary, if not only, beneficiaries of this global economic structure and they seek to ensure its perpetuation through political involvement and manipulation. American corporations directly, but more or less covertly, author favorable legislation and then make excessive donations to related individual campaigns or political action committees. Similarly, on the global stage, multi-national corporations authored TTIP and other trade agreements that essentially usurp national legal sovereignty.
Within this model, people are relegated to homogenized consumers and the majority suffer from increasing wealth disparity that is seemingly inherent in capitalism. Britain and the people's vote to Brexit is in effect a retaliation against this homogeneity as Britons strove to assert their cultural identity and national sovereignty. Although the population was relatively misinformed and voted on this complicated economic matter with irrational emotion, it demonstrates the importance of considering sociological implications alongside economic integration.
The United States provides an interesting case study to examine the ramifications of increasing wealth inequality in a capitalist society. Many Americans, due in part to the subjective, corporate-owned media, believe that socialism is the worst possible economic model without fully realizing what it entails. Capitalism has corrupted their natural, human characteristics of empathy and mutuality. Lacking these characteristics while simultaneously enduring financial hardship cultivates a dangerous opportunity for racism or nationalism to take hold as people search for the source of their economic misery. They are more likely to believe xenophobic rhetoric that identifies a religion, race, or nationality as the scapegoat and this was the case in the presidential election last year.
As humanity and the environment endure the consequences of capitalistic globalization, the multi-national corporations and banks strive to preserve the status quo. However, perhaps the new American president and Brexit are contributing factors to a broader awakening in the Western world. The marches for science and climate change research last month drew hundreds of thousands of participants from every continent and are preceded by an unprecedented level of global political cooperation to combat climate change through the Paris Agreement of 2015. If humanity, or at least politicians, can break free from the corporate shackles perpetuating capitalism and globalization, then a new global economic system that is just, sustainable, and driven by science would be possible.
Sustainable, technological innovations with the potential to transform society already exist within industries such as energy, food production, and transportation.
Human energy needs can be met with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. There has been significant progress in recent years in terms of power generation, storage, and distribution. With an economy driven by scientific innovation instead of profit, progress will continue at an accelerated pace.
A healthier existence could be achieved through sustainable food production by stressing “the essential link between farming and nature … [with] respect for natural equilibria” instead of maximizing “yields through the use of various kinds of synthetic products” (FAO 117). More than ten years ago, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations researched livestock's environmental impact and presented mitigation options for each issue. In addition to the implementation of these mitigation options, should be a corresponding educational campaign to generally reduce meat consumption and limit its production in terms of scale and geography. Localized food production is physically and economically healthier.
Transformative innovations in transportation include solar-powered and magnetic levitation trains. Modernizing existings rail networks and creating convenient connections are immediately viable replacements to regional air travel. Ending the capitalistic and monopolistic structure of the airline industry and breaking up the global oil cartel would open the door for increased technological innovations in long-distance travel.
Due to the penetrating and globalized nature of capitalism, it is not enough to improve single industries. Only through an interdisciplinary approach driven by environmental science and incorporating sociology, politics, and economics can viable and comprehensive solutions for the future be formed.
Since capitalism and globalization have divided society from nature, the human relationship to nature will need to be reconstructed and nutured through continual education beginning in childhood. Humanity and the planet can no longer afford to be patient and respectful of religious theories that block scientific progression. Religion has no place in the classroom and instead of avoiding the subject of evolution, for example, the educational system must emphasize ecological history, humans' impact on the planet, and environmentally-responsible behavior. Within sociology; equality, education, social change, and social environment are likely the most relevant concepts to consider in transitioning beyond globalization.
Within the political realm, maintaining democracy and an informed population will be paramount to achieving a just and sustainable economic system. In Requiem for the American Dream, Noam Chomsky outlines ten principles that have led to extreme wealth and power concentration including reducing democracy and shaping ideology. Examining failed or damaged democracies will help preserve future democracies. Creating a truly independent media would inform the masses without shaping ideology.
Considering these sociological and political concepts; a potential, sustainable economic model could be a global network of localized economies.
In a localized economy, each industry could have predefined regions and each producer within that industry can produce and sell a percent within the region. This avoids over-production, needless consumerism, and import undercutting. A producer's percent would have a certain range of flexibility based on demand to maintain a degree of competition. The size of each industry's region would vary by the specialization of the industry and industries without physical production would also be without geographic limitation.
Pharmaceutical companies, for example, would have larger regions, but also participate in an intercontinental patent-sharing plan to prevent monopolies and reduce transportation costs while improving access to healthcare.
Every industry in every economy must adhere to strict sustainability standards. The Paris Agreement and countries' various internal goals to cut emissions are certainly positive developments, but prolonged timelines associated with such developments prove that multi-national corporations, particularly within the fossil fuel industry, play too large a role in policy. Preventing producer influence will be a central challenge to political administration. The success of transitioning from capitalism and globalization to a just and sustainable global economy is possible with environmental science as the driver of change and will be dependent on widespread, interdisciplinary motivation.
Related: The Case for Localization, May 2015
also by Jennie Overholt