Globalization and the Environment

Topics: World Trade Organization, Environmentalism, Free trade Pages: 18 (5561 words) Published: March 15, 2013
Globalization and the Environment
• The globalization of environmental affairs takes a number of forms , including: the encounters between previously separated ecological systems from different parts of the planet; the pollution and degradation of the global commons (such as the oceans and the atmosphere); the overspill of the effects of environmental degradation from one state to another (environmental refugees); transboundary pollution and risks (nuclear power, acid rain); the transportation and diffusion of wastes and polluting products across the globe (toxic waste trade, global relocation of dirty industries); and, finally, the formation of global institutions, regimes, networks and treaties that seek to regulate all these forms of environmental degradation. • For most of human history, the main way in which environmental impacts circulated around the earth was via the unintentional transport of flora, fauna and microbes, of which the great plagues are the sharpest example. • The globalization of environmental affairs took a distinct leap with the European colonisation of the New World and the unequal exchange of flora, fauna and microbes across the Atlantic. Within a generation a substantial majority of the indigenous populations of the Caribbean, Mexico and other parts of Latin America had been wiped out. Over the following centuries , the ecosystems, landscapes and agricultural systems of these societies were transformed by European agriculture, flora and fauna. • The early history of colonialism also threw up new forms of environmental degradation driven by consumer demand in Europe and America. This led to the intensive exploitation of Sumatran and Indian forests, the extinction of some species of whale, the over-hunting of seals. • However, until the mid twentieth century, most forms of environmental degradation - at least the degradation that could be perceived - were overwhelmingly local. • In the post Second World War era, the globalization of environmental degradation has been massively accelerated by a number of factors: fifty years of extraordinary resource-intensive, high-pollution growth in the OECD; the industrialisation of Russia, Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet states; the breakneck industrialisation of many parts of the South; and a massive rise in global population. In addition, we are now able to perceive risk and environmental change with much greater depth and accuracy. • Humankind faces an unprecedented array of truly global and regional environmental problems, the reach of which is greater than any single national community (or generation) and the solutions to which cannot be tackled at the level of the nation-state alone; these include, most obviously, global warming, ozone depletion; destruction of global rainforests and loss of biodiversity; oceanic and riverine pollution; global level nuclear threats and risks. • Over the twentieth century these transformations have been paralleled by the unprecedented growth of global and regional environmental movements, regimes and international treaties. However, none of these institutions has as yet been able to amass sufficient political power, domestic support or international authority to do more than limit the worst excesses of some of these global environmental threats.


Just as globalization will shape environmental protection efforts, so may environmental choices affect the course of globalization, particularly efforts to liberalize trade and investment flows. At one extreme, a rigid harmonization of policy approaches and regulatory standards could run roughshod over diverse environmental circumstances, resource endowments, and public preferences.22 At the other extreme, uncoordinated national environmental policies might become non-tariff barriers to trade that obstruct efforts to open markets. In these...
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