2.7 Globalization versus localization - where do progressives stand?

The question in the title of this section is a rhetorical one. It illustrates one of the blind alleys into which discussion is frequently diverted. The problem is with capitalist globalization, that is, with increasingly unaccountable economic and political power in the hands of corporate executives and their political and academic flunkies. A consequence is reduced economic and political power for the rest of humanity, experienced as reduced resources for meeting the needs of people in the localities where they live and work. Posing this problem as an opposition between globalization and localization is a diversion. The trend towards concentration and centralization of economic and political power is endemic to capitalism. It cannot be successfully reversed through capitalist localization, that is, by a countervailing trend to more economic and political power in the hands of local capitalists.

The opposing trends towards globalization and localization are inevitable and mutually reinforcing, a product of the continuing development of science and technology. The meaningful question is what purposes these trends are to serve, greater freedom for capitalism to victimize people and nature? Or more international cooperation to maintain peace and preserve nature and gain mutual benefit from increased personal mobility and fair trade in goods and services.

Looked at in evolutionary perspective, globalization is a consequence of human migration from our origins in Africa to all parts of the earth. That process, however, was also accompanied by varying degrees of geographical isolation of one group of humans from others. In that sense, globalization is the growing contact of peoples who were formerly more isolated from one another, both patterns traceable through DNA analysis, confirming our common origins, our geographical dispersion and our increasing intercourse.

The recognition of the modern significance of globalization was signaled by Marshall McLuhan's observation that we now live in a global village (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964). Globalization is characterized by continuing advances in transportation and communication, the expansion of trade, the diffusion of technology and the global reach of many languages and other cultural artefacts, each originating with a particular people in a particular location on earth. The entire process has been accelerated by the expanding movement of capital, enabled by its high degree of local accumulation and by growing freedom from technological and legislative barriers to its flow across national boundaries. The international is overtaking the national. The greatest need now is for improved governance at both the international and local levels. What remains is to take the main barrier to this achievement, capitalism, out of the equation, so that what has been created by nature and people, including during the era of capitalism's dominion, can be protected and passed along to future generations.

The need for enhanced international cooperation and regulatory agreements is nowhere more evident than in relation to climate change and the other negative consequences of fossil fuel capitalism on the environment. It is also an illustration of the parallel need for enhanced local initiative and action.

A digression on climate change

Because of the critical importance of climate change at this time, the reader who may be less familiar with the nature and seriousness of human impact on climate is asked to bear with the authors as this theme is here briefly elaborated, expanding on its presentation in Chapter 1. If, on the other hand, the reader is among the many already well acquainted with the scientific dimension of the challenge, please feel free to skip the next six paragraphs of this argument.

Climate change is a result of a disequilibrium of the thermal state of the biosphere. The biosphere is today responding to human impact, primarily to our burning of fossil fuels and cutting down of much of Earth's forest cover, by departing from equilibrium. The accumulation in the atmosphere of more greenhouse gases traps more thermal energy, resulting in an increase in the average surface temperature.

As the average surface temperature of the earth increases, glaciers that are the source of water for irrigation needed for agriculture by billions of people, especially in Asia and Africa, are disappearing. A drying up of the rivers fed by these glaciers could be the weak link leading to widespread famine and possibly even global civilization collapse in the absence of needed political changes.

Other effects of increasing surface temperature include the gradual release of some of the vast stores of greenhouse gases sequestered in the arctic permafrost, a warming of the ocean surface and consequent disappearance of arctic ice surfaces that otherwise reflect significant amounts of radiant heat back into space, desertification, with the same consequence, and ocean acidification with a consequent increase in ocean dead zones and thereby a decline in the ocean's capacity to sequester carbon. These positive feedbacks to global warming are synergistic, magnifying the rate of warming. They also mean that even if we were able to put an end to further human caused greenhouse gas emissions, our past and current emissions will have cumulatively greater effects on climate for centuries to come.

If we don't want this process to play out to its worst conclusion, the most rapid transition possible from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and an ambitious global program to halt the decline of forests and embark on a vigorous program of re-forestation would be important elements of a rational human response. Lester R. Brown, international leader for over three decades in the monitoring of the earth's resources, makes this case persuasively, arguing that the question is not whether we can achieve such an ambitious program. It is whether we can afford not to try. (See Lester R. Brown (2010, Earth Policy Institute) Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.)

Evidence of the seriousness of the threat comes from the geologic record, where climate change, possibly caused by collisions of extra-terrestrial bodies with the Earth or intense volcanic activity, is associated with major changes in the earth's flora and fauna. On the other hand, in the absence of cataclysmic natural or human caused disturbances, the biosphere appears from the geologic record to be a remarkably stable system, with a climate and atmospheric composition only possible due to the presence of living things. It has been a system supportive of human life. The evolution of complex living organisms that process matter and energy, including healthy, diverse ecosystems, is an integral, necessary party to the maintenance of relative thermal equilibrium.

To repeat and emphasize what has been said: in order to maximize the potential for the continuity of human life on Earth, we are going to have to play our part in maintaining the thermal stability of Earth. This will need to begin with an unprecedented expansion of current global efforts to reduce and then eliminate the burning of fossil fuels and reduce and then reverse the harm we are doing to the Earth's ecosystems and biological diversity. Reforestation to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the elimination of waste to protect the environment and ensure that future generations will continue to have the resources that sustain life will be necessary contributions. In summary, to limit the current move away from the conditions which have been more favorable for human existence and to adapt to the changes in the Earth's biosphere that our current and past actions will inevitably produce, a cooperative effort of the entire international community will be required. Spaceship Earth is our common home, for better or worse.

Readers interested in a more extensive account of human impact on the earth system are encouraged to read Ian Angus (2016, Monthly Review Press) Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Fuel Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System; then follow this up by reading his argument for meeting this challenge, Ian Angus (2017, Monthly Review Press) A Redder Shade of Green: Intersections of Science and Socialism or perhaps first continue reading our own argument.

Further on countervailing trends towards globalization and localization

With globalization, including a growing role for international cooperative agreements and international regulatory agencies, up to and including the United Nations and its organizations, there has been a countervailing trend towards localization, which continues to include the formation of nation states and the acquisition of territorial and other national rights for national minorities within nation states, and extends to the strengthening of local government jurisdiction over communities of people whose relation to one another is simply that they live in a particular area, however small. It also includes the strengthening of local initiative and local governance. Even the movement towards the rights of individuals and families to greater control over how their income is spent is part of this continuing countervailing trend towards localization. Support for this trend will become even more critical in securing the cooperation that is needed to meet the challenge of human impact on the environment.

The transition to renewable energy, primarily wind, solar and geothermal energy, involves not only global cooperation, it also means a transition from global trade in geographically dispersed fossil fuels to greater use of locally available sources of energy. This in turn, coupled with an emphasis on eliminating waste in the use of natural resources, means a return to greater reliance on local agriculture and industry. In summary, we should expect both globalization and localization to remain essential trends of human civilization.

Further examples of the need to reconcile globalization and localization can be found in immigration law, particularly when coupled with the intention of responding humanely to catastrophic environmental disaster and achieving international cooperation in relation to climate change and other human impacts on the earth system. Already, several of the economically most developed countries, for example France in relation to Haiti and the United States in relation to Haiti, Mexico and central America, are being challenged over their responsibility for the lack of economic ability of many of the least developed countries to prepare for and withstand earthquakes, droughts and other natural disasters. This responsibility, however, pales in comparison to that which those who have contributed most to climate change will bear in relation to countries where droughts and sea-level rise may force hundreds of millions of the poorest peoples on earth to find new homes, often in other countries. Arguably, human induced environmental disaster is already the case in relation to immigration from North Africa to Europe and from Central America and Mexico to the United States.

Compounding the environmental responsibility of the developed countries is the freedom of capital to move across national boundaries in search of the lowest labor cost while working families do not have the same right to cross the same boundaries in search of the best paying jobs. Altogether, the right to emigrate and the rights of immigrants will be among the greatest civil rights battles of this century, one that will define our humanity or lack of it.

Our thesis then can be stated as follows:

Thesis 5. Globalization and localization are opposing but incontrovertible geopolitical trends.

Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles McFadden, The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.