ECONOMIC GLOBALIZATION AND THE ENVIRONMENT 11
EconomicGlobalization and the Environment
EconomicGlobalization and the Environment
Theimportance of a healthy environment cannot be gainsaid as far as theoverall wellbeing of people in any economy or country is concerned.Indeed, it is well acknowledged that the cleanliness of theenvironment determines the health of people, which, in turn,determines their capacity to engage in activities that would resultin the creation of wealth. This has necessitated an increase in theamount of attention that the governments in the contemporary humansociety give to matters pertaining to the environment, in both thelong-term and the short-term. Unfortunately, such efforts by thegovernment have been facing immense opposition from both within andwithout particularly as a result of the bearing it has on the mannerin which economic activities are conducted. Indeed, research hasshown that the manner in which goods and services are produced in thecontemporary human society creates an opportunity for the enhancementof the economy in terms of increased output and sales, while harmingit on the other hand through the devastation of the environment. Thisnotion is captured well in volumes of literary works and videos, asis the case for Annie Leonard’s “Story of Stuff”.
Inthe “Storyof Stuff”,Leonard examines the manner in which the environment is raped anddevastated as a result of wastefulness and the consumer culture thathas taken up the contemporary human society. To do this, she examinesthe cycles or stages through which common items that are used anddiscarded in the daily lives of individuals are taken, each of whichis rife with wastefulness, only for the same items to be replaced byother more innovative and creative items, thereby rendering theearlier items obsolete and unusable. At the extraction stage, it isacknowledged that there have been immense exploitation of resourcesso as to meet the growing demand for items. The immense usage ofstuff has resulted in the depletion of resources, with researchshowing that a third of the natural resources base of the planet havebeen consumed in the last 30 years. The United States has taken alion’s share of the blame considering that it has been consumingabout 30% of the planet’s resources and spewing 30 percent of thewaste in the globe, in spite of the fact that it makes up about 5% ofthe world’s population (Smith, 1997). Given that there is only oneplanet to use, it has been forced to use up other continents’natural resources.
Atthe production stage, where energy is used in combining naturalresources to toxic chemicals to produce toxic contaminated products.Unfortunately, the incorporation of toxics in the production systemmeans that there is always going to be toxics in the items that arein households, schools and workplaces, as well as the human bodies.This new system also means that the local economies and environmentsare eroded, in which case there is a constant ssupply of individualsthat have no other option but to move to the cities, a large numberof who live in the slums from the environments that have beensustaining them for eons. The United States industry has owned up tothe release of more than 4 billion pounds of toxics every year, whichcould be more. As a solution to the immense pollution of theenvironment, the dirty factories are moved to overseas countries,preferably in the third world countries, whose main concern iscreation of job opportunities than the environment. The distributionstage would mean the sale of the toxic and contaminated stuff as fastas possible (Smith, 1997). Of particular note is the fact thatworkers in those factories are paid the bare minimum and are notprovided with health insurance, thereby allowing for the maintenanceof low prices in the long-term. This is externalization of costs.Externality underlines the uncompensated and unintended loss or gainin one party’s welfare as a result of an activity of another party.The consumptions stage comes as the central part of the system orrather the engine that drives it. Unfortunately, the United Stateshas become a nation of consumers, where individuals have theirprimary identity as consumption. The fundamental technique formeasuring individual value is demonstrated and measured by themagnitude of their consumption. Underlining the consumption nature ofthe population is the fact that only 1% of the total materials thatflow through the system are still in use 6 months after they are soldin the North America. This means that 99% of the items that has beenmined, harvested, processed transported and taken via the processbecomes trash within 6 months. The increase in consumption has beenrecorded by the fact that an average individual in the United Statestoday consumes twice as much as he or she consumed half a centuryago. The government has made its ultimate purpose the production ofmore consumer goods, as these are the ones that drive the economy.This consumption is driven by two most effective tactics includingperceived obsolescence and planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescenceinvolves the production of items that are designed to become uselessas quickly as possible so that it can be trashed to allow for thepurchase of an entirely new one. In the past, that should have onlyimplied stuff such as coffee cups and plastic bags (Ekins,2000).Unfortunately, this has changed to other big stuffs such asbarbeques, DVDs, cameras, computers and even cars, among others. Theconstantly changing technology makes gadgets that were pretty muchusable about 6 months ago an impediment today, simply because a smallproportion of their firmware has been changed or added. Of particularnote is the fact that the industrial designers are pretty open aboutthe need to make stuff that breaks as fast as possible. Indeed, theydiscussed the speed at which they could make items that break whilealso leaving consumers with sufficient faith in their product as toallow them to go and buy a new one (Langston&Ding, 2001).More often than not, the stuff does not break as fast as thedesigners would want in which case they use perceived obsolescence toconvince individuals and consumers to throw away the things that arestill perfectly useful. This is accomplished via making an extremelysmall modification in the manner in which the stuff looks. Inessence, if an individual bought a particular gadget some years ago,everyone would tell that they have not made a contribution to thearrow in the recent times and since individuals show their valuethrough their contribution to the arrow of the cycle, the holdingonto an item for a number of years is seen as embarrassing in spiteof its being pretty much useful. This is also accomplished by the useof fashion, which has been noted to be cyclical, where one fashionreigns today, only to become obsolete tomorrow and then return backthe next day (Langston&Ding, 2001).For instance, the heels of shoes go from skinny to fat to skinny andthen fat the next year. This is not triggered by a debate pertainingto the most healthy heel structure for the feet of women rather it isbecause having a skinny heel in a year when fat heels are in fashionshows that an individual has not made a contribution to the arrow inthe recent times, which case she is not as valuable as the personwearing skinny heeled shoes. This means that individuals have topersistently buy items, a feat that is also driven by the media andadvertisements. Adverts have become a fundamental component of thecontemporary human society, where it is noted that human beings todaysee more adverts in one year than an individual could have seen in alife time fifty years ago. These adverts are simply aimed at makingindividuals unhappy with the things that they have, with the onlyoption for rectifying the problems would involve shopping (Ekins,2000).In essence, the consumers only see the shopping part of the equationand are not privy to the disposal, extraction and production stagesof the products.
Evenworse to the environment is the last stage involving the disposal ofproducts that individuals have bought over a couple of decade. It isnoted that the persistent consumption and purchase of items meansthat there is little space for everything that individuals buy, inwhich case they have to get rid of some of the items. The discardeditems form the landfill, or is burned in the incinerator before beingdumped into a landfill. This results in the pollution of water, landand air, as well as a change in the climate in the long run. Thetoxins that were used in the production stage would find their wayinto the air that individuals inhale, water that they drink and landon which they walk and grow food. As a solution to the buildinglandfill, companies export the obsolete items to other countries andvouching for the recycling of products. Recycling, however, is notthe solution considering the waste coming from houses is a tip of theiceberg, in which case even a 100% recycle of waste coming fromhouseholds would not get to the basis of the problem. Further, alarge proportion of garbage is not recyclable as a result ofincorporation of too many toxins or in instances where its designdoes not allow for the same.
Indeed,“The Story of Stuff” underlines the finite nature of the planetand the resources that they use in the short-term and the long-term.In the article “Economics in a Full” world, Daly underlines thefact that persistent and exponential growth would be a desirableaspect if only the world was infinite in both its magnitude and themagnitude of its resources. It is, however, impossible to tell someindividuals to give up the uneconomic growth considering the factthat they reap benefits from it. Nevertheless, varied things need tobe sustained if there is any hope for the planet (Leonard, 2005).First, the sustainable economy has to stop growing, withoutnecessarily ceasing to develop. This entails shifting the path ofprogress from unsustainable growth to sustainable development, wherequality, rather than quantity will be the main focus. Second, theutility has to be sustained, where the wants are satisfied withoutcompromising on the future of the planet. Uneconomic growth takesplace in instances where an increase in the production wouldcompromise the resources and wellbeing of human beings, which aremore valuable than the stuff that is made (Leonard, 2005). This oftenresults from the imbalance between utility and disutility, where theformer underlines the level of satisfaction of the wants and needs ofa population, while the latter underlines the sacrifices that arenecessary as a result of the increase in consumption and production.
Nevertheless,there are varied strategies that could be used in enhancing thesustainability of the environment. Of particular note is the factthat sustainability would not have to be the role of one entity suchas the government alone, rather, it should also involve the input ofother stakeholders and particularly the general public who make up afundamental component of consumers.
First,it is imperative that consumers are educated regarding the infinitenature of resources and the declining quality of the environment andeverything that is in it as a result of their persistent consumption.This would, undoubtedly, necessitate information regarding their rolein reversing this trend by purchasing items simply because they needthem rather than because they want them (Redekop,2010).Of particular note is the fact that a large number of commoditiesthat are responsible for the pollution of the globe and increasedlandfill fall in the category of luxuries, not particularly on thebasis of their quality but rather because of who their manufacturersare. The fact that these things are eventually phased out despite thefact that they remain perfectly usable is a cause for concern.
Onthe same note, it is imperative that the government take a moreactive role in the determination of the items that are purchased ormanufactured in the society. Indeed, it is imperative that itdetermines the components that go into the manufacture of some ofthese items and levy high penalties and taxes on these items (Hill&Gale, 2009).This will make them considerably expensive and unavailable for thelarger proportion of the society, thereby decreasing theirproduction. Of course, there may be concerns regarding the fact thatthis could cripple companies and dis-incentivize innovation andtechnology growth. However, it is noteworthy that such efforts wouldonly ensure that there is a reduction in the over-utilisation ofnatural resources in the production of items that are prettyworthless in the long-term (Hill&Gale, 2009).As much as the concerns pertaining to losses of jobs may be valid, itis worth noting that much more financial resources are being expendedor wasted on medical expenses and ailments that could have beenprevented by simply having a cleaner environment. It is time forcompanies to pay for their share of environmental degradation in boththe long-term and short-term. Allowing companies to get away withtrashing the environment and making it unsafe for future generationsand even other countries would be inexcusable (Hill&Gale, 2009).Governments can also provide incentives for the creation of greenproducts in both the long-term and short-term. More often than not,green companies are crippled as a result of immense competition fromother more established companies.
Needlesto say, these strategies will have immense ramifications on futurelives. There are varied pros and cons for the strategies. First,imposing higher levies may cripple businesses and increase the levelsof unemployment, thereby breeding other problems for the countryincluding crime. In addition, it may simply make the possession ofthe items so produced more desirable as they would indicate class orwealth (Redekop,2010).Nevertheless, such strategies would make companies be more innovativewith regard to the manner in which they produce items so as to avertthe possibility of paying hefty fines and still remain competitive inthe market. In addition, they would increase the revenue for thegovernment, which could be used in supporting sustainable andenvironment-friendly companies and businesses (Dovers,2005).
Inthe case of creating awareness, the achievement of the same can bequite daunting considering the high dependence of the population onmarketing and adverts. Nevertheless, its success would causecompanies to pay more attention to quality than quantity in themanufacture of products (Redekop,2010).On the same note, creating awareness could be coupled with “namingand shaming” of companies that increase the landfill and pollution,thereby reducing its reputation and market. This would causecompanies to pay more attention to sustainability in the long-termand bring competition back to the aspects that really matter ratherthan just financial resources (Dovers,2005).
Asmuch as providing financial incentives to companies that engage ingreen production may be taxing financially, it would go a long way insustaining them and providing alternatives that would essentiallypull the power back to them and allow other companies to follow suit.This would create an immense competition block that has the capacityto change the game and reduce the competitiveness of companies thatdo not engage in sustainable activities (Dovers,2005).
Oneof the most fundamental lessons learnt from this revolves around therole that every individual plays in keeping the cycle of waste andunsustainability going. Indeed, it has been well acknowledged thatthere seems to be a competition, where individuals fight to see whowould have the newest and highest number of items and gadgets in thesociety. More often than not, these are not items that individualsneed but rather items that they want. This aspect results inwastefulness and the trashing of items that are in a perfectly goodcondition so as to acquire others that seem more advanced (Vezzoli&Manzini, 2008).On the same note, as much as recycling may have seemed like a prettyviable option, it is evident that it is pretty limited with regard toits capacity to eliminate all the landfill and wastefulness. This,nevertheless, does not mean that I, as a consumer, have no role toplay in the long-term. Indeed, it would be imperative that oneincorporates a change of mindset to avert the possibility for beingdefined by what one does or does not have (Vezzoli&Manzini, 2008).Consumers determine the values that are acceptable in the society, inwhich case, making sustainability a virtue and a goal would beimperative.
Daly,H.E (2005). Economics in a Full World. ScientificAmerican
Dovers,S. (2005). Environmentand sustainability policy: Creation, implementation, evaluation.Sydney: Federation Press.
Ekins,P. (2000). Economicgrowth and environmental sustainability: The prospects for greengrowth.London [u.a.: Routledge.
Hill,J., & Gale, T. (2009). Ecotourismand environmental sustainability: Principles and practice.Farnham, England: Ashgate.
Langston,C. A., & Ding, G. K. C. (2001). Sustainablepractices in the built environment.Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Leonard,A (2005). TheStory of Stuff.YouTube
Redekop,B. W. (2010). Leadershipfor environmental sustainability.New York: Routledge.
Smith,F (1997). EnvironmentalSustainability: Practical Global Applications.New York: CRC Press
Vezzoli,C., & Manzini, E. (2008). Designfor environmental sustainability.Berlin: Springer.