Introduction to Comparative Government, Final

The final for my Comparative Government course. I think I wrote it in the space of a few hours, while holding little interest and dealing with personal issues. Such is life.

Environment & Globalization

Globalization is good for the environment. Critics charge that globalization is an environmental destructor, that it encourages unmitigated industrial growth (requiring more energy) and unsustainable consumption, that it encourages a population bomb that the planet cannot support, and that it destroys “historic patterns of trust, cooperation, and knowledge so essential to ecological and social balance” (Dauvergne 4). These worries are understandable: the world population is increasing, emerging countries such as India and China are becoming environmental nightmares, and the old have forever lamented how people were nicer in their youth. But these critics of globalization are conflating modernization with globalization.

The World Bank defines globalization as “the growing integration of economies and societies around the world.” [1] Globalization is the reason that we have McDonald’s in Russia, buy electronics from companies headquartered in Japan, and look up definitions from economic organizations composed of 185 member countries.[2]

This is in contrast to modernization, which I will define as “the use of ever-newer technologies to increase individual quality of life.” Modernization is the reason that families in America have a car, much less two or three.[3] It is the reason that Africa is developing cell phone networks.[4] It is not globalization but modernization that is responsible for environmental destruction and the increasing energy needs of people on our planet. Other trends noted above can hardly be ascribed to some intellectual phenomena but are a result of our inborn wiring as a species: adult organisms produce offspring. Luckily for us and the planet, however, it turns out that as time progresses we as a race have less children: modernization results in lower fertility rates, evidenced by the planet’s decreasing growth rates[5] even as life expectancy rises.[6]

You might argue that globalization results in modernization, but that could not be farther from the truth. Rather, modernization — by reducing travel times and increasing the speed of information — has allowed globalization. Modernization is inevitable, and you cannot deny that it will produce negative environmental changes that need to be countered. But globalization can do naught but good for the environment, and by allowing globalization, modernization has given us the keys to solving its problems. Globalization allows the faster spread of information on environmental problems and their solutions. Without globalization, organizations such as the United Nations (and their worldwide environmental efforts begun at the Stockholm Conference (Dauvergne 7) and continuing today in such programs as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[7]) would not exist. Modernization allows the development of “ecological shadows” and the shipping of trash and ecological impact from rich countries to poor ones on its own, but globalization brings that impact back home to the rich country when news outlets report on such abuse of power in exposes.[8] Globalization allows Western environmental political scientists such as Professor Paul Steinberg[9] to meet with political leaders in developing nations to discuss their environmental policies.

The Nation claims in a Gale Group reprint[10] that globalization puts strong pressures on the environment (as corporations choose to work in countries with looser regulations) and that local governments do not then spend more on the environment. But even if this is true, it does not mean that halting globalization would do the environment any good. China, with its 1 billion people and emerging middle class, would continue to industrialize and pollute even if foreign corporations were to leave the country. Globalization, however, means that China can learn from the environmental lessons of the United States. Sharing experiences through globalization may mean that our own Silent Spring can prevent China from needing to undergo one itself. Indeed, the efforts of China to paint itself as environmentally conscious[11] and their actual concerns with the environment (Feller) indicate that this theory works in practice.

Moreover, even if developing nations do not learn from past mistakes of other countries, globalization is necessary to modern environmentalism. Problems such as global warming and overharvesting of our oceans, for all their local causes, cannot be solved at anything but the global level. No amount of emission reductions by the United States can halt global warming if China and India continue their own rise in energy growth (Feller). In the face of these truths, globalization is not only good for the environment, it is an environmental imperative.

Bibliography

Dauvergne, Peter. “Globalization and the Environment,” in Global Political Economy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005): 366-389. Available at http://www.arts.ubc.ca/fileadmin/template/main/images/departments/poli_sci/Faculty/dauvergne/15_Cha14.pdf

Feller, Gordon. “China’s Energy Demand.” EcoWorld. Accessed May 6, 2008. http://www.ecoworld.com/home/articles2.cfm?tid=428


[1]“Globalization.” The World Bank Group. http://www1.worldbank.org/economicpolicy/globalization/

[2] “About Us.” The World Bank Group. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTABOUTUS/0,,pagePK:50004410~piPK:36602~theSitePK:29708,00.html

[3] “And Gas Saver Makes Three Cars in the Driveway.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/26/business/26small.html

[4] “Africa’s cell phone boom creates base for low-cost banking.” The Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0826/p07s01-woaf.html

[5] “World Population Information.” U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idb/worldpopinfo.html

[6] “Life Expectancy.”  The World Bank Group. http://www.worldbank.org/depweb/english/modules/social/life/index.html

[7] “About IPCC.” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. http://www.ipcc.ch/about/index.htm

[8] For example, see “Report: America Shipping Its Tech Trash Overseas,” Jason Mick, DailyTech: http://www.dailytech.com/Report+America+Shipping+Its+Tech+Trash+Overseas/article8960.htm

[9] Assistant Professor of Political Science and Environmental Policy at Harvey Mudd College: http://www2.hmc.edu/www_common/humsoc/paulweb/

[10] December 6th, 1999 Issue, page 26

[11] For instance:

“China: Energy Consumption Down,” United Press International, http://www.upi.com/International_Security/Energy/Briefing/2008/03/11/china_energy_consumption_down/6600/

“New Energy Consumption Standards Released,” China Daily, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2008-04/18/content_6628137.htm