How coronavirus and local weather change present the boundaries of globalization
Beijing streets are empty on February 10, 2020 as residents try to avoid contracting the Wuhan coronavirus Photo: Getty
In the past few decades the world has connected in unprecedented ways. And in 2020 we will live with these effects in full.
The most obvious example is COVID-19, which has spread to 26 countries at an alarming rate, killing nearly 1,800 people and leading to widespread quarantines as health officials fight to contain the outbreak. The World Health Organization has it as a global health crisis, and the coronavirus has the potential become a pandemic. The world’s hyperconnectivity is in part why the virus spread as a cruise ship and flights with infected passengers.
The virus could also affect the world economy, including even slightly cutting China’s greenhouse gas emissions. While climate impact is a tiny footnote in the history of the coronavirus, the spread of the virus and the way the climate crisis has grown makes a compelling case for everything that’s wrong with globalization – and where to start things to repair if we want humanity to be successful in the 21st century.
Basically, the countries are now dependent on each other in everything. And their economies are linked through tourism, manufactured goods and services. Oil and gas are shipped all over the world, fuel the economy and drive our climate into an unstable state. If a disaster strikes in one place, the effects can spread to the whole world. We see that today with the Coronavirus outbreak and the risk of a global economic slowdown. And we can see it every day in climate change. Burning dirty coal in India has an impact on the melting of Antarctic glaciers because greenhouse gas emissions are a global problem, even if they come from local sources.
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These emissions have also skyrocketed as a result of the globalized economy. international shipping contributed an estimated billions of tons of greenhouse gases between 2007 and 2012. Sea routes are the key to the transportation system that enables goods to be moved from one country to another, making the climate crisis worse. The goods themselves are also part of the problem. Although China is the world’s largest emitter, much of its emissions are due to goods manufactured there and exported around the world. Essentially, countries like the US and the EU are members have outsourced some of their emissions to China.
At the center of it all are, well, people. As practical as globalization may be in lowering consumer goods prices for the global north, it is hurting many people in the global south, where poor working conditions and wages allow companies to keep the prices of goods such as t-shirts and headphones as low as possible. Unfortunately, these same people bear a disproportionate burden from climate change, even though they themselves have contributed very little to the problem. The same populations at risk are most at risk when deadly viruses like COVID-19 reach their communities because their governments are less equipped to contain such outbreaks.
Thanks to globalization, people cannot ignore what is happening around the world either. We are connected by the atmosphere, the movement of goods and people and public health. Benjamin Hale, associate professor of philosophy and environmental science at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Earther that globalization “has made these problems visible to us in ways we would otherwise not have seen.”
On the other hand, globalization has connected us all in ways that people could not have imagined decades ago. And that is also the fuel for the environmental movement and the search for solutions to the current mess we are in. As Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, told Earther, globalization has enabled people around the world to network and promote transformative change in ways previously unimaginable. This type of movement has the potential to transform the economic system that threatens our well-being and that of the planet.
The local, of course, still has value. Distributed energy systems such as rooftop or community solar systems have the potential to loosen the influence of utility monopolies. And there is one for disenfranchised communities huge potential for local green production. However, globalization is necessary, especially when it comes to helping those hardest hit by the effects of climate.
“Countries like the US have dramatically upset the planet’s climate, so it is wrong for them to lock the door and say, ‘We’re not letting in the people who have to leave their homes because they can’t grow any more food . “Where they live, ‘” McKibben said to Earther.
So while the coronavirus outbreak and climate crisis show what can happen to globalization that has gone wrong, there are still ways to use global society for useful and even necessary avenues. The climate crisis and COVID-19 are shocks that show the risks we are facing, but the world shouldn’t need such horror to change its ways. There are signs that the globalized economy may already be changing, like China’s major investments in renewable energy or recent decisions by major financial firms to cut their fossil fuel investments, but this is far from complete.
“Big money is globalized,” said McKibben. “We also have to globalize people’s power.”