Globalisation & the environment (a rap)

Thomas Sheldon



With regard to the environment, the

impact of globalisation is significant,

Multifaceted and complex, but I will

try my best in this brief talk to address, a

few theories and thoughts that have been put forward,

to assess the descriptive and normative nature,

of this relationship between nature and global

trade between nations. So let’s begin…


Globalisation is often thought,

To damage our ecology across the board. When the

transport of goods by ocean and air alone, a-

-ccounts for a tenth of all petroleum blown, it’s

easy to see how you’d reach this conclusion, but

in reality the situation is nuanced,

The bad may well outweigh the good, but

some positive elements can’t be ignored.

Perhaps a global neoliberal order,

Allows positive pressure to spread wider,

If we vote with our wallets and purses,

And every time we make a purchase, we

take into consideration, the pollution and re-

duction to bio-diversification that ensues,

the companies that profit from it, will see their profits plummet,

Unless they change the way they make their pay,

J. Frankel puts it quite simply,

Without global trade between countries,

The ethical consumer in Milan wouldn’t

be able to sway the producer in Taiwan,

But that doesn’t negate the state’s role, con-

sumers can only control when they’re in the know,

Proper labelling of packaging is a must,

With origin and method of production up front,

Without a set of laws to dictate,

Companies can too easily obfuscate,

If free markets entail a free choice,

Then the state has to step up and regulate,

But what chance is there that they’d do this?

Most governments have double incentives,

As Professor Peter Newell puts it:

Those charged with tackling environmental problems and promoting sustainable development are the same actors that create the conditions for the expansion of trade, production and finance which generates environmental harm in the first place. It is imperative to be clear about the contradictions and strategic dilemmas that flow from this situation if we are to meaningfully advance a project of socially just sustainable development in a context of globalisation”.


There’s the fear that globalised markets, make

states afraid to reign in their corporates,

So they reduce the regulatory burden, placed

upon them so they compete stronger.

If China can produce your goods cheaper,

Despite causing more pollution,

And if neither you nor them pay for the clean up,

Most firms will see it as an efficient solution.

This ‘race to the bottom’ hypothesis,

Isn’t entirely evidenced however.

Empirical studies have generally concluded,

Environmental regulation doesn’t always do this,

The cost of complying with eco-regulation,

Doesn’t compare to other considerations,

The price of labour, training and infrastructure

Is much greater, and besides

In his book, ‘Trading Up’, David Vogel,

Says that northern markets are too profitable

To be ignored even when the cost of compliance is

borne, so standards rise overall,

I think this analysis is flawed,

Although a company that moves overseas wouldn’t

want to ignore northern markets and in

turn they ensure that their goods are fit for

Sale over here and fully comply with

our laws, our laws are quite poor.

Though not by design, it’s more by compulsion,

Let me explain the conundrum…


It’s all because the W.T.O,

Though permitting the setting of trade barriers

Where an imported product is damaging to the

environment of the importing country,

Don’t allow for the importing country

To set restrictions on the method of production

Utilised in the originating country

Even if the method contributes to global warming.

Therefore it’s hardly surprising to see that

in developing states factory standards are shaky,

and to compete on the international scene they

have to keep production methods cheap or cease to be.

Consider an example: a

factory in Bangladesh that manufactures textiles.

It’s heavily polluting, but a

waste treatment plant would vastly reduce this.

The only problem is the cost,

When any global company can cut corners to undercut,

They can’t afford to clean up, and the

tax rate’s low so the state’s broke and can’t pay too.

Well that’s not exactly true,

The government has money but has to spend it subsidising,

Water supplies for the factories’ dyes,

To keep the economy alive.

So in a sense, it’s fair to say that

states have the power to regulate effectively,

But in reality, it depends entirely

on the type of externality.

If pollution is local to a region, then

states can legislate to alleviate the grievance,

But if the problems are more global, then

unilateral action won’t work to solve them,

And wealth plays an enormous part, or

What Boyce calls the ‘ability to afford’.

The UK can pay for clean cars, while

developing countries can’t.

If we feel that a decent environment,

Isn’t a luxury but more a human right,

Then the north can’t just ignore, the

damage that’s caused by the goods we import,

When pollution is externalised to war-

mer climes or future times so that we’re blind to

what we’ll reap from what we sow, it’s inevita-

ble that competition won’t address on its own

The crisis of the commons,

That global warming represents.

We need to co-operate or

sooner or later we’re spent.


So far we’ve looked at how people,

countries and international agreements,

In the context of neoliberal

capital can still act to advance en-

-vironmental protection.

But this doesn’t necessitate action,

Despite the fact that we can see,

Global temperature rising so predictably,

And due to human directed activity,

There are those who would deny responsibility,

And as the far-right gains in popularity,

The worrying fragility of public awareness is

laid bare before us, and it’s enormous-

ly important to reflect on the fact that

right now the man who sits in the White House,

thinks the Chinese invented the greenhouse,

And wants to ignore environmental law, and

thinks we can afford to abort the Paris Climate Accord,

He may be on the other side of the pond,

But the consequences will be felt from London to Hong Kong,

For decades most states could have been blamed

For not doing enough to help save the

planet from our ecologically damaging ways

but other threats dropped off the radar,

It’s not exclusively the laws that are made and the

talks that are staged that relate in an obvious way

to the environment that have the potential to sway,

climatological change. Let me

give you an example so you can relate,

As Trump and Bannon plan to ban citizens travelling from seven

Majority Muslim states, thereby undermining

trust that wasn’t easily made, it’s not unthinkable that

all the work that went into assuaging Iran,

could be harmed beyond repair and lead to an affair where,

both end up proliferating nuclear arms,

and the aftermath sees the earth scorched bare and,

leaves the seas toxic sees the leaves dropped from

all the treetops. And that’s just the local,

turn to the global, most studies show that,

from pole to pole will be frozen over,

A cyanosis that the globe won’t cope with,

For five years our crop yield will be near zero,

Black smoke injected into the stratosphere

will block light and cause plant life to die,

Sobriety is called for,

We can’t afford to ignore the risk of a nuclear war,

And how it would affect the climate,

On a global scale like no war before it,


So to conclude I’ll offer my own thoughts.

In my view we need more co-operation,

And less competition to ensure,

We make globalisation work for us all.

From hate-mongering to greed,

From cutting every corner just to earn enough to eat,

To maximising profit by homogenising seeds,

It’s unsustainable. So I propose…

Well, right now the W.T.O

sets rules to promote financial growth,

and though the evidence shows it’s not so, they

hold that this is the sole consideration,

In trying to fight degradation:

‘States will clean up if they prosper’ they say.

But we need compulsion,

The stakes are too high to rely on fake wisdom.

In the same way world trade states,

must agree to liberalise their trade with others nations,

I say they should make a dedication,

To cut pollution and reduce carbon emission.

If all countries had to play ball,

Companies couldn’t be undercut anymore,

It would encourage finding genuine efficiency,

And not externalising liabilities.

So in short its worth keeping in mind,

Despite all the trends we might find,

The way globalisation will evolve,

Depends on us and the world we choose to mould.

I’ll end now with a quote from James Boyce,

To emphasise this most important point,

When it comes to our future direction…

As its critics fear, globalisation could accelerate worldwide environmental degradation and deepen environmental inequalities. Yet globalisation also gives impetus to countervailing forces that could bring about a greener and less divided world. The history of the future is still to be written.”

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