Victoria Bell Sustainability Debates

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Victoria Bell

Sustainability Debates

Debate Paper #5

Word Count: 1527


Is globalization a sustainability problem?

Globalization is the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets. (Merriam Webster online). Many different opinions exist about the effects and impact of globalization. For some, globalization is a sustainability problem that poses a major threat to the environment while standardizing cultures and undermining ethical values. For others, globalization is less of a sustainability problem; proving to be incredibly promising in terms of the progression of the world economy and market since it removes international corporations from excessive government regulation. Despite these opposing viewpoints, some believe that globalization has the potential to be sustainable through careful and intelligent transformations of the global economy and trade. The stakeholders in this debate about whether or not globalization is sustainable are: developed countries, developing countries, international organizations like the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the World Trade Organization (WTO), workers and laborers that produce the goods that are traded, politicians, etc.

Several articles in the February 2007 edition of OUR PLANET: Connected Dreams – Globalization and the Environment, the magazine of the United Nations Environment Programme, informs about the pros and cons of globalization while providing the vision for an alternative sustainable globalized economy. In the article, “Brinkmanship Needed,” by Connie Hedegaard, the benefits of a globalized economy include: the ability to acquire merchandise produced at a relatively low cost in a developing country. The globalized economy allows people to go on holidays much more cheaply due to decreases in travel costs. The disadvantages of globalization mentioned in the article include the environmental consequences and environmental costs that are not recognized by the market. Along with globalization, environmental standards tend to be unevenly dispersed and the governments’ capacity to enforce compliance with them varies. The article provided a statement by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that said, “Human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital – putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystem to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.” High demand for goods and cheap labor, as well as tapping into more of the world’s resources reinforces the fact that globalization, as it is now, has major environmental, economic and social consequences. Connie’s article suggests that in order to fully recognize the concerns of globalization, ardent thinking must be combined with political brinksmanship and effective strategies. At the end of the article, Connie states that globalization does have opportunities to sustainably manage natural resources and ecosystems through the application of environmentally sound technologies and practices; however, this method of limiting environmental consequences would require the consideration of the governments’ accountability to the people. (Hedegaard)
The affirmative argument presented in Connie Hedegaard’s article “Brinkmanship Needed,” clearly presents the benefits of globalization while also emphasizing how globalization is a sustainability problem, leaving one to inquire about the potential for a possible sustainable globalization. The argument is strong in how it effectively highlights the issues of globalization. While globalization has its benefits, in order for globalization to be sustainable, it requires governments to be active in an intelligent method for organized world trade that respects and recognizes the holistic value of earth’s resources.
“The Environment and Globalization” by Jeffrey A. Frankel opposes the argument posed by Connie Hedegaard, stating that fears that globalization inevitably threatens and harms the environment are not substantiated. Frankel presents how the economic benefits of globalization could lead to environmental benefits. He provides that recent WTO rulings do not get in the way of the issuance of national environmental regulation. Claiming that people care about both the environment and the economy, one of the major arguments that Frankel makes in the article involves how the openness of trade allows incomes to rise, consequently demanding a respective rise in environmental quality. (Frankel, pg. 1) Frankel supports this claim with the Environmental Kuznets Curve (Frankel, pgs. 9-11) which hypothesizes and displays that the relationship between per capita income and the use of natural resources and/or the emissions of wastes has an inverted U-shape. At lower levels of income, the use of natural resources and or the emission of wastes increases with income and after some turning point in the curve, the use of natural resources and/or the emission of wastes decline with income. This U-shaped relationship is theorized as a result of: the conformation of production and consumption, the preference for environmental quality, institutions that are needed to internalize externalities, etc. (Richmond) Frankel also provides the rough inverse linkage between the decrease in SO₂ pollution levels and the level of trade. However, Frankel does clarify that this does not necessarily mean that trade causes decreases in pollution because this instance of the decrease in SO levels also correlates to other factors like economic growth or democracy (Frankel, pg.15). Finally, Frankel states that open trade encourages the open communication of ideas and innovation as well and this could be beneficial to both the environment and economic progress.
The negative argument posed by Frankel in the article sounds very true; however, in some ways, the credibility of his arguments could be questioned. All of his arguments are based on hypothetical situations and theoretical ideas, not concretized statistics or data. Therefore, it is hard to visualize the beneficial effects of globalization and world trade the way that he presents them. Some of the claims made in the article are assumptions that aren’t necessarily factual. While the intent behind Frankel’s assumption and statement regarding how greater incomes demand a rise in environmental quality are unknown, it seems to not be empathetic about the fact that the cheap labor associated with globalization results in the little to no income made by laborers and workers in poor developing countries that are already struggling to support and sustain themselves.
Another article titled, “Linking Globalization, Consumption and Governance states: “Consumption in the world’s richest countries can take a great but often hidden toll on distant people and places.” A lot of the goods provided to or imported by wealthier countries like the United States and those in Europe are made by employees and laborers elsewhere. Tanzania is an example of the possible “distant people and places” presented in opening quote. Consider the environmental, economic and social state of the government and people of Tanzania. Hubert Sauper’s documentary Darwin’s Nightmare presents how exploitation of Tanzania’s resources, specifically their fish has resulted in their inability to sustain themselves. The abundance of the Nile Perch in Lake Victoria stemmed from their introduction into the lake in the 1960s. The Nile perch population boomed and wiped out most of the diverse, native fish population that existed in the lake prior to their introduction. Most of the abundance of the Nile Perch is exported to countries like those in Europe. Many of the Tanzanian people work in factories that prepare the fish fillets for the cargo to be exported. Weapons are imported into Tanzania and these weapons add fuel to myriad of wars that take place in Angola and the Congo. Tanzania’s dependence on the fish export business has resulted in many problems that contribute to their disarray environmentally, socially and economically. These issues include poverty, famine, lack of sanitation, HIV, drug addiction, etc. (DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE)
The McWorld part of the article presents the idea of and chronicles the spread of western consumer society to the rest of the world and suggests potential for global sustainable consumption by outlining global attempts for sustainable consumption beginning in the 1990s. These include Agenda 21 (developed from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro) which looked to international institutions and national governments to approve greater energy and resource efficiency, reduce waste production and encourage environmentally friendly consumerism. Others include the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development, The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the U.N. Environment Program which has been an active participant in the promotion of sustainable consumption globally with a product life cycle initiative, the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the 2000 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic pollutants, the 1997 Kyoto protocol and the UN’s Global Compact. (Linking Globalization, Consumption and Governance)
I believe that globalization results in many issues that make it a sustainability problem. However, I do believe that there are benefits to globalization that should be realized and transformed to recognize and support the protection of the environment. Today’s world’s technology and capabilities are available for the possibilities of innovative solutions to the problems posed by globalization. I believe that globalization is flexible and can be redefined as something that we want it to be. Businesses that attempt to reduce emissions, seek energy efficiency and engage in healthful sustainable practices should receive some kind of international incentive or recognition for their sustainable cooperation. For example, the article “Reflections” by Achim Steiner in OUR PLANET: Connected Dreams – Globalization and the Environment, recognizes Johnny Clegg, a South African rock star and anti-apartheid campaigner who has chosen to become a computer recycling businessman. He has decided to develop a company that recycles electronic waste. Clegg provides the opportunity for the invention of a new way of doing business that establishes knowledgeable and creative approaches to benefitting humanity and the natural world.
"DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE by Hubert Sauper." Web. Date Accessed: 25 Mar. 2012

Frankel, Jeffrey A. “The Environment and Globalization.” Pages 1, 10, 12-14. National

Bureau of Economic Research. Novermber 2003. Date Accessed 25 Mar. 2012

"Globalization." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. Date Accessed: 25 Mar. 2012

Hedegaard, Connie. “Brinkmanship Needed.” Our Planet: Connected Dreams: Globalization and

the Environment. February 2007. Date Accessed 25 Mar. 2012

"Linking Globalization, Consumption, and Governance." Worldwatch Institute. 2011. Web. Date Accessed 25 Mar. 2012

Richmond, Amy. "Environmental Kuznets Curve." Encyclopedia of Earth. 04 Dec. 2007. Web. Date Accessed: 25 Mar. 2012

Steiner, Achim. “Reflections.” Our Planet: Connected Dreams: Globalization and

the Environment. February 2007. Date Accessed 25 Mar. 2012

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