Thomas Hartmann Debate Paper 5

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Thomas Hartmann

Debate Paper 5

Is globalization a sustainability problem?

March 27, 2012

Word Count: 1820
Globalization is often confused with internationalization. Internationalization is the increased interactions between nations such as trade, relations, treaties and alliances. However, globalization does not maintain the distinction of nations and, instead, integrates all of the national economies into one global economy in which trade and the transfer of capital is free. Additionally, this can include the free movement of people between areas so that labor can move wherever. While the main purpose and benefit of globalization is to benefit the economy, there are also other consequences that must be taken into account when making a decision on whether or not globalization is beneficial the world as a whole. For example, free migration makes it very difficult for countries to govern effectively. Maintaining things such as a minimum wage, medical care, and public schools becomes nearly impossible. Additionally, punishing criminals would also be very difficult because they could easily migrate to a different area of the world where they are not known to have committed a crime. Another possibly unexpected consequence of globalization would be a loss of motivation for countries to limit birth rates and educate its people because they could easily leave (Daley “Population, Migration, and Globalization”). Globalization is also strongly linked with consumption in that trends in consumption in different areas of the world affect completely different areas of the world in many ways. For example, as world trade increases, natural ecological resources such as minerals, timber, and plant and animal resources are stressed. While globalization would increase the standard of living for people in current impoverished countries, there may not be enough resources to maintain this. To fix this, countries should promote sustainable production and consumption along with globalization. Overall, we have focused too much on sustainable production and need to focus more on lifestyle changes (“Linking Globalization, Consumption, and Governance”). Because globalization is a global change, everyone holds at least some stake in this debate on whether globalization is a sustainability problem. Some of the more significant stakeholders include countries such as the United States, China, India, and European countries. Multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organization and the UN are also significant stakeholders in this debate. Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club also hold a large stake because their missions of protecting the environment would be greatly affected by globalization. To properly analyze this debate, the sub-issues that must be addressed are the affect that globalization has on the supply of natural resources, the effect globalization has on people’s lifestyles, and the effect globalization has on local and national, and global environmental policy.

Adil Najam, David Runnals, and Mark Halle argue that globalization poses a serious risk to sustainability. They base their argument on five propositions and the idea that there is a two way relationship between globalization and the environmental sustainability. Their first proposition is that globalization is the rapid acceleration in global trade that will cause natural resources to be stretched further than they can supply. As a result, this limits economic development and conflict with the goals of globalization. Najam, Runnals, and Halle’s second proposition addresses concerns about the security. As globalization progresses and the environment is hurt because unsustainable practices are being used, society and the environment becomes more susceptible to disturbances such as natural disasters. Most at risk would be poor communities that are barely surviving and not progressing. Under these circumstances, environmental disaster could be a real possibility. Najam, Runnals, and Halle’s third proposition is that those who are benefited by globalization, become wealthy, and have a huge increase in standard of living will quickly realize that natural resources are strictly limited, that the earth can only support a limited number of people at a certain standard of living, and that they must still address the unlucky people whose standard of living remains very low. Najam, Runnals, and Halle’s fourth proposition is that the way in which everybody consumes goods defines how globalization progresses, and ultimately, how the environment as a whole is affected. In their minds, they believe that globalization encourages mass consumerism, which is a huge sustainability problem in modern life today. Najam, Runnals, and Halle’s fifth proposition is that one of the problems with the current global economic system is already strongly linked with the environment. Because they are so connected, it is very difficult to make decisions in favor of either one because that decision would likely have some negative affect on the other. Globalization would only tangle up economics and with sustainability and the environment further so that it become almost impossible to make any progress on either side (Najam “Environment and Globalization”). Najam, Runnals, and Halle’s ideas are based on the ideology that globalizing a problem that is already barely surmountable using the current system will only make the problem more difficult to tackle, especially if the globalization is based on a system that is already having difficulties addressing the problem.

Overall, Najam, Runnals, and Halle do a good job at arguing that globalization threatens environmental sustainability. For example, one good argument that they made was that globalization inherently encourages unsustainable production and consumption by opening up every product to every person and wasting resources in transporting goods. Localization would significantly reduce the environmental cost of transportation. Another good argument that they made was that current governance is not design for and cannot effectively handle the environmental problems of globalization. On the other hand, Najam, Runnals, and Halle do not consider a system of global governance that is designed for globalization and that can handle problems such as limited natural resources.

Jeffrey Frankel, a writer for the National Bureau of Economic Research, argues that globalization is not a threat to environmental sustainability. He argues that there is no solid foundation for believing that globalization hurts the environment. In fact, Frankel argues that globalization helps to improve the environment. Frankel begins his argument by insisting that there is little statistical evidence to say that globalization through international trade prevents environmental regulation. For example, Frankel argues that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has not prevented any countries from creating regulations on trade to protect the environment because the only regulations that they do not allow are those that discriminate between countries or those that target specific countries. Frankel then lists three ways in which globalization improves the environment rather than hurt it. First, he argues that globalization would encourage companies to label their products that are made in a sustainable or environmentally friendly way because consumers will want to buy these products. Frankel argues that the second way globalization benefits the environment is that multilateral rules, which have worked well for helping the economy, will also work well for increasing sustainability and protecting the environment. As an example, Frankel says that multilateral rules under globalization would ensure that companies do not mislabel products. A specific example of this would be ensuring that tuna caught with either dolphin-friendly or dolphin-unfriendly nets is properly labeled. Frankel’s third argument that globalization improves the environment is that there is statistical evidence to say that increased trade between nations, which is the beginning of globalization, has already benefited the environment. Frankel cites the example of successfully reducing sulfur dioxide pollution. Finally, Frankel argues that because globalization encourages economic growth, it gives people more resources to invest in protecting the environment and becoming more sustainable (Frankel “The Environment and Globalization”). Frankel’s arguments are based on the idea that, through deep thought, theories can be produced that accurately predict what will happen in the real world under different circumstances. One of Frankel’s arguments that reveal this ideal is the argument that because globalization encourages economic growth, people will have a greater ability to protect the environment. This argument seems plausible because it was well thought out, but there is no empirical evidence that this is true.

While Frankel’s arguments are well put and all appear to be true, many of them are based on assumptions that could easily be wrong. For example, Frankel makes the assumption that, because multilateral rules have worked well in regards to the economy, they will also work well in regards to the environment. While this could be true, Frankel does not provide sufficient evidence to convince most people that this would work. This relates to the failed “trickle-down” theory that giving money to large corporations will eventually trickle down and benefit consumers through lower prices and higher quality products. Additionally, some of his arguments are unrealistic. For example, while Frankel argues that it would be relatively easy to ensure that companies label their products accurately through regulations. This is completely unrealistic because there will always be people that slyly break the rules without getting caught. An example of this is the tourist market where local shops at tourist destinations sell fake items or items that were obtained illegally. This includes ivory from poached animals. Even though there are serious consequences for poaching, there are still people that take the risk to make the money.

Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Direction of the UN Environment Programme, provides a third more positive and balanced perspective of the relationship between globalization, sustainability, and environmental protection. Steiner explains how most people fall into two polar categories in their view on globalization. On one side, Steiner explains that some people take the extreme stance that globalization is, “an apocalyptic demon devouring the environment, homogenizing cultures and values and subverting equity, justice and common decency,” (Steiner “Reflections”). On the other hand, Steiner describes how some people love globalization because it would cause huge economic growth as a result of eliminating restrictions on trade between countries for multinational corporations. Steiner’s view extends this by declaring that globalization is neither of these and both of these at the same time. He argues that globalization can be changed to result in any desired effect. Further, Steiner argues that this desired effect should be sustainable globalization, which ensures sustainability and environmental protection at the same time as maximizing economic development (Steiner “Reflections”).

In my opinion, I believe that it would be very difficult, yet possible, to establish and enforce regulations necessary for ensuring environmental protection and sustainability. I am not convinced that it would be possible to force every country in the world would follow regulations that would even slightly restrict economic growth and development. However, I do believe that it may be possible and beneficial to establish a system where countries that make more efforts to become sustainable and protect the environment are given more freedom while countries that make no effort to become sustainable or are become less sustainable should be more restricted in the context of globalization. The purpose of this is to motivate countries to become sustainable by equating sustainability with economics. Because countries are strongly motivated by economics, setting economic growth as a benefit of becoming sustainable would be an effective way to encourage countries to become sustainable.
Frankel, Jeffrey A. “The Environment and Globalization.” National Bureau of Economic Research. Novermber 2003. <>.
Herman E. Daly. “Population, Migration, and Globalization.” Worldwatch Institute. 2004. .
“Linking Globalization, Consumption, and Governance.” Worldwatch Institute. 2004. .
Najam, Adil, David Runnals, and Mark Halle. “Envionment and Globalization: Five Propositions.” International Institute for Sustainable Development. 2007. .
Steiner, Achim. “Reflections.” Our Planet: Connected Dreams: Globalization and the Environment. February 2007. .

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