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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


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Editors' Picks - November/December 2008

Addressing Globalization’s Unequal Effects
Raphael Kaplinsky, “Globalisation, Inequality and Climate Change: What Difference Does China Make?Geography Compass 2, no. 1 (2008): 67–78

Globalization’s trajectory over the last few decades has involved significant, rapid change. In the same period, the effects of climate change have increased, and disparities in incomes within not only low-income but also affluent nations have worsened. In a relatively short but highly engaging article in Geography Compass, Raphael Kaplinsky, a professor in the Department of Policy and Practice at Open University, U.K., courageously draws together these three key themes on world development as he questions the current process of globalization.

The critique of globalization triumphalism today draws a parallel to the last decades of the nineteenth century when the world saw increasing global economic integration. This integration fueled imperialist divisions that led in part to World War I because old imperial powers would not allow a new entrant—Germany—a role in shaping the global political and institutional architecture.

Citing Joseph Schumpeter and Adam Smith, Kaplinsky recognizes capitalism’s nature inevitably fuels a globalizing economy: its ability to innovate and grow faster is at the heart of its system. Kaplinsky notes “increasingly, this growth takes a global form, as new large-scale technologies develop; new forms of firm and factory organisations result in increasingly global value chains producing for global markets; and among other things, global value chains and global markets require transport, and transport uses energy.”

This global economy, however, exacts huge environmental costs leading to “unpredictability and climate chaos,” making it unsustainable. So minimally, the energy intensity of the system has to be addressed and reversed. Consumer consciousness about the energy costs of food has grown as well. Importing food provides greater consumer choice and competition, but the costs associated with this practice, such as energy for transport, display, and advertisements, far outweigh the benefits.

Globalization has not reduced poverty but rather shifted it to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, where absolute poverty rose between 1993 and 2004. This rise has been attributed to the growing global competitiveness of East Asia in general and China in particular, where China’s share of manufacturing value doubled between 1985 and 2000. More contentiously, Kaplinsky links globalization’s success to the rise of global terrorism. With half of the world’s population now living in cities, the author argues that urban politics have moved from class-based allegiances to premodernist, millenarian, and faith-based affiliations.

To reverse the worst outcomes of globalization, the author suggests “a greater emphasis on intra-regional integration reflected in trade, governance systems, financial flows, migration and other elements that have become so important in the globalizing world of the past few decades.” The institutions of global governance need to make space for new entrants that better reflect the altering balance of global economic power.

Kaplinsky’s suggestions address the divides within regions, as well as countries, that have emerged because of globalization. Greater integration and coherence in governance and regulation of development projects will tackle many of the unsustainable practices caused by global trade. A more equitable representation for developing economies in global institutions will ultimately ensure that decisions are inclusive of those who have been sidelined because they are poor and powerless.

Ooi Giok Ling
National Institute of Education
Nanyang Technological University

Mitigating Climate Change: Who Pays? Who Benefits?
Eric A. Posner and Cass R. Sunstein, “Global Warming and Social Justice,” Regulation 31, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 14–20

Efforts to create an effective global warming regime have prompted a great deal of discussion on the ethical dimensions of different approaches. Two issues in particular have come into play: distributive justice and corrective justice. In their article in the Spring 2008 issue of Regulation, law professors Eric A. Posner, of the University of Chicago, and Cass R. Sunstein, of Harvard Law School, examine both, but it is the former to which their exposition applies most cogently. To be sure, corrective justice prominently and recurrently surfaces in international climate change negotiations: the industrial West in general and the United States in particular bear primary and historic responsibility for elevated carbon dioxide concentrations and therefore should shoulder a disproportionate burden in controlling future emissions. But while the authors appreciate the moral argument for well-off nations helping economically struggling nations, they do not see this as a compensatory obligation engendered by historic conduct. Thus, “holding Americans today responsible for the activities of their ancestors is not fair or reasonable on corrective justice grounds because current Americans are not the relevant wrongdoers; they are not responsible for the harm.” Arguments revolving around the dilemma of providing redress for slavery or colonialism have a similar character.

With respect to distributive justice, the authors assert the importance of confronting a twofold reality: “the world, taken as a whole, would benefit from an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions . . . [but] the costs and benefits of emisions reductions differ greatly across nations.” Notably, the United States “would not benefit, on net, from [an] agreement that would be optimal from the world’s point of view.”

Posner and Sunstein remind us that there are great disparities in the global share of greenhouse gas emissions, especially in per capita terms: while the United States and China now lead in aggregate emissions, U.S. per capita emissions are a huge multiple of China’s. They also point to estimates of future damages; many poorer nations, such as India and countries in Africa, will likely be the biggest losers (and America among the lesser victims) in terms of damage resulting from a 2.5°C global temperature increase. But the undeniable fact that such countries may be especially susceptible to damage from global warming in the years ahead does not alter the fact that current developmental needs (such as public health, shelter, and education) may, arguably, deserve priority. As they gain economic strength, today’s developing nations increasingly will  be able to deal with future climatic and other threats. This prompts Posner and Sunstein to question the logic of rich nations focusing on the future at the expense of the present: “If the goal is to help the poor, it is odd for the United States to spend significant resources to help posterity while neglecting the present.

But, apart from the fact that climatic uncertainties justify some mitigating actions today, do such coupled social justice impulses—international development aid and some measure of climatic protection—need to be viewed as mutually exclusive? To be sure, the cause of distributive justice ought not to be regarded as an open-ended commitment and obligation. And hard-headed benefit-cost questions surely have a place in crafting global warming policy. But, as I think the authors also would agree, generosity of spirit has an important place in such matters as well.

Joel Darmstadter
Resources for the Future
Washington, DC

Does Urbanization Lead to Wealth?
David E. Bloom, David Canning, and Günther Fink, “Urbanization and the Wealth of Nations,” Science 319, no. 5864 (8 February 2008): 772–75

Policies aimed at increasing national wealth by supporting urbanization may “miss their target,” according to research published in Science’s special issue on cities. Largely untested common wisdom holds that growing cities lead to growing economies, and this belief has guided national policies in China and other emerging and developing countries. The presumption is grounded in the strong correlation between the number of people living in urban areas and levels of per-capita income. However, the authors point out that this link “provides little insight into the causal relationship between urban population share and economic development.” For example, they say, income levels could affect how many people live in urban areas without the reverse being true, or a third common factor may affect both without the two affecting each other.

The authors, all from the Harvard School of Public Health, applied several methodologies to test the relationship, including a growth regression analysis controlling for country-specific factors such as lagged income level and initial urban population share that may affect the rate of economic growth. The authors used four groups of ten-year-interval cross-country data of urban population share and income per capita from 1960 to 2000. Overall, they find “no evidence that the level of urbanization affects the rate of economic growth,” calling urbanization “more an indicator than an instrument of economic development.”

The interpretation of the study might require some caution. For example, the number of people living in cities is not the only indicator for urbanization and might not be the best one to examine the linkages between urbanization and wealth. The widely varying and changing definition of “urban population” across countries adds the question of comparability in conducting cross-country analysis. Also, causal linkages can be highly context specific, so their absence in a cross-country analysis does not necessarily mean that a particular city or a group of cities in a similar context will lack such links. 

But the authors rightly question the blind assumption that urbanization is a key to economic growth. They point out that one possible explanation for the lack of a causal relationship is that urbanization can take many forms, whether from rural-to-urban migration, differences in birth and death rates in rural and urban areas, or an increase in population density that turns a rural area into an urban one. As well, urban migration can stem from “booming economies” or, less positively, from conflict or natural disasters. Strategies to increase long-term economic growth need to incorporate these and other nuances rather than apply a blanket approach based on blind common wisdom.

Xuemei Bai
CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems
Canberra, Australia

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