June 03, 2005

The environmental limits to globalization

Niels Bohr once said that "prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." David Ehrenfeld is not afraid to try his hand. According to him globalization will be short-lived. On one hand he is glad about that; he doesn't like globalization. On the other, he doesn't like what he thinks will come after it either. Here I quote some of his thoughts. I have tried to be as malicious as possible in taking the excerpts out of their original context. Still, the whole essay is more appalling than my selection.

The social changes wrought by the globalization process are still in flux, and the outcomes over the next few decades are unclear. For example, as production and wealth skyrocket in China and India, as cars replace bicycles and skyscrapers spring up everywhere, will these countries be able to maintain their own supply of cheap labor and the new moneyed class without bloody internal upheavals that threaten national stability? And what will happen as fewer people in the once-rich countries have incomes that allow them to buy the digital cameras, toys, building supplies, and tropical produce that are the lifeblood of global commerce? The complexity of the situation beggars simplistic answers.

The end of the current economic system and the transition to a postglobalized state is and will be accompanied by a desperate last raid on resources and a chaotic flurry of environmental destruction whose results cannot possibly be told in advance.

As globalization collapses, what will happen to people, biodiversity, and ecosystems? With respect to people, the gift of prophecy is not required to answer this question. What will happen depends on where you are and how you live. Many citizens of the Third World are still comparatively self-sufficient; an unknown number of these will survive the breakdown of globalization and its attendant chaos. In the developed world, there are also people with resources of self-sufficiency and a growing understanding of the nature of our social and environmental problems, which may help them bridge the years of crisis.

Is there anything that could slow globalization quickly, before it collapses disastrously of its own environmental and social weight? It is still not too late to curtail the use of energy, reinvigorate local and regional communities while restoring a culture of concern for each other, reduce nonessential global trade and especially global finance
, do more to control introductions of exotic species (including pathogens), and accelerate the growth of sustainable agriculture.

Globalization can be scaled back to manageable proportions only in the context of an altered world view that rejects materialism even as it restores a sense of communal obligation.

I must explain that Ehrenfeld wants to curtail the use of energy but keep it cheap. He is very worried about energy being less cheap in the future. And he wants to control species introductions through "stringent, well-funded governmental regulation in cooperation with the public and with business."

I will just answer one question Ehrenfeld poses:

With so few varieties left, where will conventional plant breeders and genetic engineers find the genes for disease and pest resistance, environmental adaptations, and plant quality and vigor that we will surely need?

I don't know. I can't predict the future.

(Note: I only attempt to remain consistent within, not between, posts. So, maybe I will make bold predictions in future posts. Just may be.)

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