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Impact of Globalization on the Environment

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 4405 words Published: 31st Jul 2017

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Human race faces some desperate challenges to replenish for what has been done by ‘our’ generation in the name of globalisations. The definition of ‘our’ in this context is to eloquently emphasise that the outcome of globalisation today was the result of the ‘comprehensiveness’ of all human race and ‘our’ here refers to every living human being on this earth who contributes to both the positive and negative outcomes of globalisation. According to Pierik and Werner, the “all-inclusiveness” (2010, p. 2) applies to every living human being in general and the access to basic rights should also be equally available to every individual on this earth. For instance, right to clean air or clean water. In similar fashion, cosmopolitans argue that as citizens of the world, we should conjointly tackle both the positive and negative impacts of globalisation. As documented by Pogge in World Poverty and Human Rights, “every human being has a global stature as the ultimate unit of moral concern” (2002, p. 169). However, in the era of globalisation, this is not always the case. The environmental problems have become a pressing issue often relating it to the causal effect of globalisation contributed by the human activities.

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As stated by Mol in Globalization and Environmental Reform, the environmental repercussions are often related to the market demand and supply, or also widely known as “Global Capitalism” (2001, p. 71). Global capitalism is no foreign to the global consumptions and economic production which severely hampers the stability of the environment. So, this boils down to one question, what impacts does globalisation really has on the environment? To begin with, this essay will discuss about the implications of globalisation towards the general society. It also argues on the question of distribution equality of environmental risks and followed by the discussion on the ramification of global warming caused by the processes of globalisation. The second part then details on how globalisation has lead to the harmonisation of environmental practices among Transnational Corporations (TNC’s) and the last part will then entail on the development of global environmental governance discourses.

Is Globalisation eco-friendly?

In respect to the effect of global capitalism, it has certainly induced or in a bold way of saying it, it has ‘messed up’ the entire climate system and the environment respectively. Global warming is no longer a foreign term to most of us and this issue has been overly argued that the economic globalisation is partly behind this which has brought us to where we are now. In relation to the act of global capitalists, it boils down to one question, is there an equal distribution of risks relating to environmental threats across the globe and are the responsibilities on emitting Green House Gases (GHG’s) being shared equally by every state in the world? As argued by Mol (2001 p. 79), it is hard to escape from the environmental threats in a highly-globalised era and it is merely impossible to do so. Another scholar like Gray suggests that developed countries conserve their environments by moving their productions to the developing world where environmental regulations on Multi-national corporations (MNC’s) are more slack and thus, exporting their pollutions to the operating countries (Gray cited in Lofdahl, 2002, p. 9). Hence, making it one of the negative impacts of globalisation. In this case, the environmental risks are not being shared equally nor fair as the win for few are often a dispense for many others. As a cosmopolitan, being equally fair is the way to do it and in a perfect world, sharing environmental risks should be borne not only by states but also transnational actors across the globe and putting effort in conserving the environment in any possible means. This may sound superficial for some of us, but a cosmopolitan scholar like David Heater himself also share the same believe as he had documented in his book, World Citizenship:

when possible, participate in schemes for positive conservation and cleansing; and the understanding that the most deleterious effects of environmental degradation can rarely be contained within boundaries of the state where the depleting or polluting processes originate (2002, p. 123).

Having said that, to have an equal distribution of environmental risks among nation states and global actors in the real world is really difficult. The question on whether or not the risks are equitably distributed also depends on some bodies in the global governance, for instance, transnational actors like the MNC’s or TNC’s. There has been debates about transnational corporations for not acquiring feasible (sustainable) production methods and such practices has been widely lauded by most business people across the globe. These unsustainable practices have contributed harm towards the environment both in the operating countries and its neighbouring countries respectively. To top it all, these activities are being operated mostly in the developing nations. Why is that? Is developing nations a soft target for transnational corporations to conduct their unethical business operations? In answering this question, according to Daly and Cobb, one of the many reasons for the favour of operating in most developing countries is due to its weak local trading system and the laid-back regulations on transnational corporations. In this respect, the issue on trades and environmental problems could be explained in a wider context involving the WTO (World Trade Organisation) or formerly known as GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). Technically, the formation of globalisation itself was partly moulded by the GATT or WTO in making the world a freer trading ground by opening the markets everywhere across the globe (Baylis et al, 2014, p. 346). According to liberal economists in respect to WTO’s trade policies, they argued that the result form pollutions due to the trade could be treated as part of the production cost of producing the goods, and hence, supporting their claim that it could be favourable towards the environment as resources will be utilised in a more efficient manner (Baylis et al, 2014). However, one could contest that its equitability remains questionable. As a money-making organisation, this is often seen as a benefit to further grow their companies in seeking more profits out the production despite for its unsustainable practices in these countries (Daly and Cobb cited in Mol, 2001, p. 83). For instance, the tragic Bhopal incident on December 1984 was the result of unsustainable practices done by a Transnational Corporation. It killed more than fifteen thousand people and approximately more than two hundred fifty thousand people were injured due the pipes leakage mishap; releasing over forty thousand tons of toxic gases to Bhopal’s open air (Fortun, 2009). Bhopal was obviously a soft target for a multi-national corporation like the Union Carbide. Bhopal region were seen to be backward in terms of development, but due to its prominent location for easy transportation access, it made Bhopal to be an ideal location for the operation (Fortun, 2009). Put simply, Bhopal incident is just one of the examples of an unequitable distribution of environmental risks, not only to the population of Bhopal region, but the result from the mishap has an indirect effect in contributing to transboundary pollution and thereby ultimately, increasing the GHG’s emission level on a global scale. In short, every emission made everywhere around the world will be in the expense of every living things on earth including, human, our future generations to be, and even biodiversity.

Secondly, its responsibility for the environmental damages and severe climate change particularly on the increase of GHG emissions since the industrial revolution era. Environmental agencies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believes that the cause for the environmental degradation or global warming is caused by the increasing amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the result of the increasing number of human activity over the past decades (Huwart and Verdier, 2013, p. 112). Many argues that globalisation is partly responsible for the environmental issues that we are currently facing which is caused by the increase in industrial productions and surging amount of international trade deals due to massive global consumption. That said, several human-induced activities that contributes to the surging emission amount of CO2 are mainly from transportation, global capitalist activities (mainly on industrial activity and consumption) and deforestation. According to Huwart and Verdier (2013), transportation takes a big chunk of the CO2 emission level to the atmosphere. For instance, roughly about nine percent of the GHG emission is from the aviation sector and overall, approximately about eighty-six percent increase of GHG emission from the aviation sector from 1990 to 2004 (Huwart and Verdier, 2013, p. 113). Nonetheless, aviation industry is one of the most profitable industries now. According to International Civil Aviation organization (ICAO, 2016), the overall amount of CO2 emission for India aviation industry was roughly around 16.4 million tonnes as of 2014. On that note, between 2005 to 2007, the local airline companies have ordered about five hundred aeroplanes due to the rising number of passengers travelling locally and internationally (Huwart and Verdier, 2013, p. 113). Put simply, the dilemma between economic growth and pollution is never ending, it is an unprecedented loop. So long as there is consumption, we are inevitably bounded to experience global warming. In relation to the issue on global warming, as Huwart and Verdier documented in Economic Globalisation, “Globalisation is often an ally of the chainsaw” (2013, p. 114). Huwart and Verdier (2013) argues that transportation is not just the only source of pollution, other human activities such as deforestation also contributes towards the gradual increase of GHG emissions over the past decades. This is none other due to the increase in consumption percentage globally and it pushes mass production of goods in order to cater the market demand. For example, as of 2003, soy exports by the Brazilians to China was approximately around six million tonnes. Deforestation of lands in some parts of Brazil has enabled them to produce more soy to cater China market. The rule is simple, more soy export, more rainforest is being turned into farmland (Huwart and Verdier, 2013). All of these activities has a chain effect which contributes to global warming. Besides, global warming is one of the reasons for the increasing number in natural calamity such as increase in sea water level causing floods and also hurricanes. For instance, low-lying island states that only lies about three metres above sea level will be in jeopardy, countries such as, Tuvalu, Palau, Maldives and other low-lying states will be severely affected (Ashe, Lierop and Cherian, 1999). Considering that these small island states play a very little role in global pollution and this boils down to one question, could this also be a case of unequitable distribution of environmental risk? Looking at it in a different perspective, a realist or a sceptic would perceive it as an equal loss or gain. For instance, as pointed out by Ritzer (2010, p. 337), the North is more concerned on the issue of global warming, meanwhile the South is heavily encumbered with other pressing issues like HIV, famine and Malaria. So, is this a fair game?

Mass migration is also often discussed in unearthing the several effects from the result of global warming. Its side effect within itself has caused several problems and it will be catastrophic to the human race in many years to come. In this respect, the rising sea level is one of the products of global warming. Scientifically, this is due to the rapid melting of ice sheets throughout the world which is caused by a rapid increase in temperature. For instance, it is expected that there will be a rise in sea level globally by twenty-three feet if the ice in Greenland were to be completely melted and another seventeen-foot rise on sea level if the ice in the Antarctica were to be ruptured in a similar manner. Hence, that make it up to forty feet increase in sea level in total. It goes without saying if this happens, it would be a massive calamity on a global scale and it could easily wipe out the entire low-lying states and the small island nations in a glimpse (Ritzer, 2010, p. 345). This is not a new phenomenon, temperature has been increasing and the rise in sea level is expected to be quicker than previously forecasted – putting the small island and low-lying states in a most vulnerable position (Collins Rudolph cited in Ritzer, 2010). In many cases, natural disasters like floods, droughts or even storm could be a golden opportunity for businesses out there. As stated by Klein in This Changes Everything, natural disaster could open doors to business opportunities especially in the reformation of new houses and infrastructures like in New Jersey right after the superstorm sandy died down. Or, the surge in numbers of patent for genetically engineered seeds that withstands extreme weather conditions is also seen as business opportunity by big corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta (2015, p. 9). None of these are much of a surprise for us as this is rather a norm for most capitalists to act in such manner. That said, natural disasters are often seen as an opportunity, making money out of one’s agony. Referring to the earlier statement, could this also be the case for the small island nations if the entire land is no longer inhabitable? Charging each and every individual from these nations for a new ‘place’ to stay when the sea level hits exactly at three feet above the ground? The idea behind this is that, charging would not solve any of these problems. The issues on global warming is very complex that it is interconnected with the well-being of the world society. For instance, looking at the small island nations and low-lying states circumstances, it is expected to be about 60 million people will become refugees if sea level were to rise above three feet (Ritzer, 2010, p. 347). The potential haphazard from the migration would be a nightmare for the world society and the likely effect from this would be an increase in crime rate, surging number in poverty, food scarcity and security issues as the world will become more borderless. Are we ready for this? Should this happen, this will become a world problem as catastrophe as such is irreversible. Hence, preventing or slowing down global warming would be the best solution to this.

On the other side of this coin, thanks to globalisation for leading us to a world without border in a sense where creating awareness on global warming and other environmental issues are easier now than it was 50 years ago, despite for the damages that it has done over these years. Put simply, it is a way forward and it could be a way out for the citizens of the world. As stated by Mol in Globalization and environmental Reform:

Globalization can trigger the harmonization of national environmental practices, regimes, and standards, produce new institutional arrangements at a supra-national level, transfer environmental technologies, management concepts, and organizational models, and accelerate the exchange of environmental information around the world (2001, p. 96).

In a way, globalisation had already created a platform in addressing the issues on environment. That said, a collective effort is needed in order to achieve certain objectives on creating a sustainable environment and a ‘greener’ economic growth. As argued by Mol (2001), globalisation has led to the harmonisation of environmental practices among the key drivers on the global market, i.e. transnational corporations. As one of the key drivers in the global scene, their position is quite prominent which enables them to influence the environmental improvements and promoting best practice to their consumers and as well as to their suppliers. Transnational corporations are seen to be as a strong actor in the global governance especially in the transmission of new technology and producing influential advertisements (Choucri, 1991). Choucri (1991) also stated that transnational corporations will be useful in shaping up new means of doing business and trades in the most sustainable way as possible. However, issues on environmental reformation is not a one man show, it is rather a collective initiative from other responsible parties as well. In light of this, Mol (2001) also argues that efforts on environmental harmonisation practices by transnational actors would not have been possible without the help of few driving factors like the International Standard Organisation (ISO), environmental Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s), international regulatory bodies and even public pressure. These underlying has been a push factor for some, not all, TNC’s everywhere around the globe. Some international standards were created cohesively with the harmonisation of environmental practices for manufacturing purposes, namely, the ISO 14000 series (Mol, 2001, p. 99). Having said that, this kind of initiatives help to reduce unsustainable manufacturing methods and act as one of the triggering tools towards a greener means of production across TNC’s. But then again, having ISO alone will not secure the future of the environmental problems that we are currently facing because it acts as only a jumpstart for a greener way of manufacturing goods. On another level, globalisation could also somehow create a join force or formation of positive social movements especially in combating the environmental challenges that are contributed by TNC’s across the region. Let us take the social movement of the Bhopal incident survivors as an example to help explain this particular point. After the Bhopal incident, many social movements were formed with regards to the unethical business practices by TNC’s in the region. In this respect, the focus of these initiatives has also evolved overtime where issues on gender were also integrated in these social movements. Underpinning gender in this context, Suroopa Mukhrejee argued that the tragic Bhopal incident has put gender under the limelight where the social movements were formed and lead by the women survivors of the Bhopal incident (Mukrejee cited in Scandrett and Mukhrejee, 2011, p. 201). That said, Mukhrejee also argued that the core of the social movement was focused in addressing women’s well-being which the outcome from the incident had caused several complications to women’s health and body respectively. As stated by Scandrett and Mukhrejee,

the experience of poison in the women’s bodies in its disruption of menstrual cycles and gynaecological functions, abnormal births and dependent children, becomes reflected in the bodily practices of protest (2011, p. 202).

Put simply, the result from the incident has somehow induced for such movement to happen allowing women to step forward and be empowered in fighting not only for women’s right, but also environmental justice in their region and throughout the country. In view of this, I argue that the strive from these kind movements is not just beneficial for the present society, but also for the future generation to come which has the right to access clean air and clean environment. After all, living in a clean environment is part of human rights as well. However, scholars like Wilfred Beckerman and Joanna Pasek believes that the ‘unborn’ future generations hold no rights and do not deserve to have anything out of it as they are not here to utilise these rights in present (Beckerman and Pasek cited in Pierek and warner, 2010, p. 32). On contrary, scholars like Simon Caney argued that the rights for the unborn generations will be jeopardised if such approach are not going to be taken into account now. If such right like the ‘rights for the unborn generations’ were to be in placed now, the future generation would hold a full moral sentiment on duties to protect and not to harm the environment (Caney, 2011, p. 235) and hence, shaping up a better and highly morale future society. Therefore, the current generation should be obliged to not act in a way where it will threaten the rights of the future generations.

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In relation to the collective efforts as mentioned earlier, there are several initiatives that has been done over the recent years in addressing the environmental issues especially on mitigation of climate change. For example, the development of global environmental governance like the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto Protocol in 1997, Copenhagen Accord or even the recent Paris Agreement. In general, these initiatives are recognised as an effort in spearheading the global economy towards a greener global business direction. Of course, having institutions or agencies as such does not necessarily bring about a complete success in tackling environmental issues, but rather, it could be a game changing process for the businesses especially the TNC’s in modifying their production practices into a more sustainable method. For instance, the carbon tax could be a powerful tool in reducing the emissions on GHG’s. Businesses will be taxed on a basis of their carbon emission usage from the utilisation of fossil fuels and the aim of this instrument is to motivate businesses to divert their production methods into a more sustainable one (Ritzer, 2010, p. 356). Having said that, instruments as such would be more effective if nations from all over the world participates, especially some major polluters like the US and China. Thus, participations are also seen as a collective effort in mitigating environmental issues. Several instruments like the carbon credit purchase and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) were also introduced in Kyoto Protocol which aims to reduce GHG emissions especially from the highly industrialised developed countries (Lechner, 2009, p. 257). For instance, the essence of the CDM encourages cooperation between developed and developing countries in a sense where a conducive sustainable development could be harnessed from utilising this instrument i.e. green technology transfer to developing countries. Of course, the motivating factor for these developed countries to run CDM is to ensure that their emission target could be achieved by 2012 to 5 percent below 1990 level (Ma, 2010). The idea behind this is that, globalisation has lead us to a stage where issues on global warming are seen to be a severe world problem if its left untreated. Also, we have witnessed growing numbers of environmental agencies and regimes over the past years and it would not have not been possible without the essence of ‘globalisation’. A scholar like Lipshutz argues that the creation of a sustainable environment could be done because human has an ability to be innovative in resolving complex issues as such (Lipschutz cited in Lechner, 2009, p. 261). On another note, Lipschutz also argues that, “we cannot grow or consume our way out of the crisis” (Lipschutz cited in Lechner, 2009).  Referring to Lipschutz argument, it suggests, the world we are currently living in is worn out and the more we are trying extract more resources from the ecosystem, the more damages will be done to environment. For example, increasing sea level and catastrophic natural disasters as mentioned on the earlier paragraph. Therefore, it makes more sense for us to spearhead towards a greener and sustainable economy where changes in attitudes towards consumption is required, ultimately, improving the quality of the environment, social and also economic inequalities.

Globalisation: is it good or bad for the environment?

What can be concluded based on the arguments above is that, globalisation has certainly brought us to an era where the stability of environment is at stake. The results from globalisation has lead us to another level of environmental deterioration – global warming. For a fact, the environmental risks are not being distributed equally across the globe due to the ever-rising levels of consumption which in turn, affecting the level of GHG emissions on a global scale and as well as climate stability. Regardless of its negative consequences, the nature of ‘interconnectedness’ in globalisation could also be seen a vector in bringing down the environmental issues that world is currently facing. Globalisation has open doors for green politics through the development of global environmental governance with the involvement of other bodies like Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) and social movement groups which helps to elevate the awareness across the globe.

As a cosmopolitan, I argue that every individual has a duty of engaging with activities that is sustainable and causing less harm to the environment. Not to completely neglect globalisation as it is inevitable, but rather, placing commitments on doing things in a most sustainable manner and citizens of the world should also associate themselves to environmental groups because the world of politics can be used as an agent of change. On this note, Derek Heater also argues that, “encouraging appropriate activity can alter the horizons of what seems possible to leaders and to the mainstream public” (Heater, 2002, p. 129). This process maybe slow, but I strongly argue that with a collective effort from the citizens of the world, the ‘impossible’ can potentially be accomplished and further harnessed.


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