Could globalisation actually be better for the environment?

Well, not like this: Grangemouth, Scotland. Image: Getty.

The increasing pace of globalisation and how it affects the environment has been a major global concern. Although the research has been fraught with contrasting results, there are many who strongly believe that increased globalisation has been harmful to the environment.

A large number of environmentalists who support this view base their arguments on the premise that globalisation leads to an increase in global demand, resulting in increased production. This indirectly contributes to the exploitation of the environment and the depletion of natural resources.

Amid rising environmental concerns, an important question is whether deglobalisation would have the opposite impact on the environment. Put differently, if globalisation is harmful, then should we expect that the current deglobalisation trend will be less harmful for the environment?

It’s an important question to ask right now considering the mounting anti-globalisation sentiments that have engulfed the Global North. We have not only witnessed Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the Belgian opposition to the trade agreement between the European Union and Canada in the recent past, but more recently, we have seen anti-globalisation sentiments heating up even in the United States, once the strongest architect and proponent of globalisation in the world.

This is resulting in uncertainty and a near stalemate for NAFTA, steel and aluminium tariff hikes and the potential trade war with China.

Is globalisation bad for the environment?

The adverse effect of globalisation on the environment is supported by what’s known as the race-to-the-bottom hypothesis. This school of thought argues that increased gains from globalisation are achieved at the expense of the environment because more open economies adopt looser environmental standards.

Those who support this bleak view of globalisation argue it creates global competition, resulting in a boost in economic activities that deplete the environment and its natural resources.

The increased economic activity leads to greater emissions of industrial pollutants and more environmental degradation. The pressure on international firms to remain competitive forces them to adopt cost-saving production techniques that can be environmentally harmful.

Deglobalisation may worsen emissions

But in fact, deglobalisation may not necessarily translate into reduced emissions of harmful gases such as CO2, SO2, NO2, but could actually worsen it. Through what’s known as the technique effect, we know globalisation can trigger environmentally friendly technological innovations that can be transferred from countries with strict environmental regulations to pollution havens.

Globalisation doesn’t just entail the movement of manufactured goods, but also the transfer of intermediate, capital goods and technologies. That means multinational corporations with clean state-of-the-art technologies can transfer their green know-how to countries with low environmental standards.

It’s widely recognized that multinational firms use cleaner types of energy than local firms, and therefore have more energy-efficient production processes. Deglobalisation could mean these environmentally friendly technologies aren’t passed on to countries that are trying to go green.

The rise of anti-globalisation forces also means less specialisation in sectors in which countries have comparative advantages. This can create an inefficient allocation of resources that leads to the dissipation of scarce economic and natural resources. If every country has to produce to meet its domestic demand, in other words, it could result in duplication in production processes and therefore an increase in local emissions.

Iran sanctions backfire for the environment

Since some countries have weaker environmental standards than others, this could possibly worsen global emissions.

A good example of this is Iran, which has been slapped with economic sanctions, making the country less integrated in the world economy. The result has been domestic production that’s wreaked immense havoc on the environment. As result of import bans of crude oil, for example, Iran started refining its own crude oil that contains 10 times the level of pollutants of the oil it used to import.

Globalisation has another benefit — it’s been at the forefront of creating public awareness about labour and environmental standards through the platforms of international activities such as fair trade and eco labels.

The success of this environmental public awareness has resulted in consumer preferences evolving. Producers are therefore able to build their customer base by producing eco-friendly products.

Without international trade, consumers would have limited choices, and could be forced to purchase only domestic goods that may have been produced under lax environmental standards.


WTO and RTAs help protect the environment

Globalisation achieved through multilateral negotiations via the World Trade Organisation has also demonstrated that, although environmental protection is not part of the WTO’s core mandate, it has spurred enthusiasm within its member countries for sustainable development and environmentally friendly trade policies.

There are several WTO trade-related measures that are compatible with environmental protection and sustainable use of natural resources. For instance, the green provisions of the WTO direct countries to protect human, animal or plant life and conserve their exhaustible natural resources.

Apart from the WTO, regional trade agreements, known as RTAs, are another feature of globalisation that promote environmentally sustainable policies. As countries seek to join RTAs, they are also made to simultaneously embrace environmental cooperation agreements.

Many countries, including Canada and those in the European Union, have developed national policies that stipulate that prior to signing any trade agreement, environmental impact assessments must be carried out. That means that any country that signs trade agreements with those countries must also automatically sign environmental cooperation deals.

China leading while the U.S. lagging?

We’ve seen over the years how countries like China, once pollution havens, are making tremendous gains in reducing their emissions, especially after becoming more integrated into the world economy.

Because of the incentives to increase global market access for its products, China has moved from the position of one of the world’s top polluters into a global leader spearheading the fight against climate change and pollution.

In 2017, China closed down tens of thousands of factories that were not complying with its environmental standards.

In contrast, we have seen a country like the U.S. slowly drifting away from the climate change fight in part because of the anti-globalisation inclinations of Donald Trump. He pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change in keeping with his anti-globalisation rhetoric during the 2016 U.S. election campaign.

Through its America First Energy Plan, the Trump administration has outlined its preference for polluting industries, the use of fossil fuels and the revival of the coal industry. This signals that deglobalising countries may drift away from sustainable development practices towards industrial policies that are devastating to the environment.

As countries restrict international trade, the environment is likely at risk.

The ConversationDeglobalisation isolates countries, making them less likely to be responsible for the environment. The gains associated with globalisation, on the other hand, can be used as effective bargaining strategies or an incentive to demand environmental accountability from countries hoping to benefit from global trading systems.

Sylvanus Kwaku Afesorgbor, Assistant Professor, Agri-Food Trade and Policy, University of Guelph and Binyam Afewerk Demena, Teaching and research fellow, International Institute of Social Studies.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 


CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.