The Impact of Globalization on the Individual

Emily Whisenant: I’m a Junior Political Science major, with minors in Spanish and Environmental Policy and Planning. I will be graduating in December and hope to work within the realm of environmental politics; more specifically with environmental justice efforts. If I don’t secure a job right after graduation, then I plan to travel throughout Latin America for a while, cultivating my Spanish and volunteering with environmental organizations. 

Christen Cook: I am a senior majoring in Environmental Science and minoring in Wetland Science. I like adventuring outdoors and hope to find a career that will allow me to work outside possibly in wetlands. After graduation I plan on finding a job that will provide experience in my field outside of the classroom. 

Michael Wheeler: Michael Wheeler is a senior majoring in Construction Engineering and Management (CEM). He was born in Blacksburg and lived the rest of his pre-undergraduate life 20 minutes down the road in Radford, Virginia. It may seem that Michael is not geographically diverse, which is not completely untrue. Through the years he has seen different areas in the United States through traveling but will always happily return to Southwest Virginia. Michael has been intrigued through this class because of the knowledge that has been obtained about environmental issues throughout the years, which goes hand-in-hand with construction because of the effects that industry has on the environment.

Death, Karen Litfin, “Chapter 16: Localism”

In Litfin’s chapter of Critical Environmental Politics, the movement of localism is described in detail with its connection to our modern world. In short, localism calls for the “relocalization of life,” in our individual ways of existing (156). Karen Litfin argues that recent globalization has spurred the movement of localism, where individuals think and act locally when it comes to their consumption habits. Just to give a few examples, localists go to a farmers market that they can walk or bike to, they support farm-to-table restaurants in their communities, and they recycle instead of throwing away all their trash. “All things being equal, a local economy will have low energy requirements and therefore be ecologically friendlier,” is the motto for the localism movement (157). When individuals act locally, whether that be by supporting the local economy with the purchase of a handcrafted vase at a small business downtown or riding the public bus to and from work, localism claims that we can have a significant impact on the environment. Localism promotes sustainability and going green at an individual level. It promotes this idea that we can stop rising temperatures and reverse climate change if we just buy our organic spinach from a local farmer instead of buying it at Kroger. Litfin argues that the slogan of ‘think globally, act locally’ has prompted people in the last quarter century to make changes that promote sustainability at an individual level if they really want to make a difference when it comes to saving the Earth (160). This expression has made us feel responsible for our changing climate, which is great that individuals feel the need to be more environmentally conscious, but at the same time we know that corporate capitalism overwhelmingly contributes to the pollution of the Earth. These individual environmentally conscious decisions are a product of green consumerism, circling us back to Week 4 of the course with Ecocritique (Luke, 1997). 

Litfin asserts that “local producers are not necessarily any more deserving or trustworthy than peasants or factory workers overseas,” (161). Our choices to eat produce grown in the county we live in don’t automatically make us more sustainable. A lot of the time we don’t know if our locally grown vegetables are any more sustainably produced than the organic ones we get at the grocery store. Now I’m not saying that farmers all over the world can’t be transparent about if they use pesticides and harmful chemicals or not on their crops, but just because we support our local farmers and businesses doesn’t make us better people for not buying pineapple imported from Costa Rica. Agriculturalists work hard all across the globe and they contribute to our global markets that we as consumers still demand. Even if you do consider yourself to be a localist, you’re probably still buying clothes that were made at a factory in China, eating fruits only grown in tropical regions of the world, or ordering products from Amazon so that you can get it conveniently and in two days. 

Though localists tend to buy their produce in season and from a local vendor, such as at a farmers market, what makes those local farmers reliable in their practices? How do we really know where the peppers we are buying come from and if they were ethically produced? The answer is that we really don’t know. We don’t know how much a farmer is paying their workers and under what conditions. A lot of us don’t even know where the location of that farm is. I know that I haven’t driven out to Floyd just to see where my peppers are grown after I’ve purchased them at the Blacksburg Farmers Market. It’s equally as important to consider how local any farmer is if they’re operating machinery that was produced thousands of miles away or in a different country. On another note, simply because a local farmer grows vegetables on their own land does not mean that they don’t purchase imported seeds to start growing and maintain their crops. 

A lot of the products that you consume on a daily basis are produced overseas, too. For example, Litfin mentions our smartphones and the hypocrisy of only thinking about means of sustainability on a local level (161). Ethics come into play, and not simply concerning our environmental impacts. For example, globalization has allowed us to constantly have access to Colombian coffee that we can drink before we go about our days, but at what social and 

environmental cost? Coffee producers are being directly impacted by our changing climate and need more money to take precautions for the survival of their business. Are we willing to pay a little more for our imported coffee so that a Colombian farmer can run their family business, or do we just want to pay our local barista an extra fifty cents to substitute cashew milk in our latte, because we think that cutting back on our dairy consumption is the best way to save the planet? 

This video explains the implications of our global coffee consumption in our changing climate, especially in developing countries, where coffee producers have an uncertain future ahead when it comes to their livelihoods. 

Luke, “The System of Sustainable Degradation”

In this article Timothy Luke discusses sustainable degradation and how it is masked by the term sustainable development.  Sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of today without compromising future generations” (99). He states that sustainable development is “neither sustainable nor development” (99). Development means there is raw materials used and waste produced, which leads to degradation of the environment. In the system of sustainable development, ecological degradation still exists but at a slower rate.

Luke provides three strategies for how sustainable degradation is implemented in capitalism, they are ecomangeralism,ecojudicalism, and ecocommercialism. Ecomangeralism refers to legislation, activism and other things that address natural resource management, and capitalists use these sources of environmental awareness and display it positively. They use the situation to their advantage and see it as an opportunity for success in the market, instead of seeing as a roadblock in their business. Sustainable degradation is worked into policies and activism in an attempt to mesh economic and sustainable success. One method is putting a monetary value on ecosystem services, for example economists look at a plot of land that is forested and determine what is the value of it and what use will maximize profit? Should we use the trees for timber or should we leave the forest for recreational purposes? etc. managing the environment is all on how it is valued. This creates a bigger issue than environmental degradation alone. It allows for capitalists to keep developing and growing while making it look like they are doing good, when in reality not much has changed. People are fooled by this strategy because they think corporations are doing all that they can but they are actually doing the bare minimum. They are managing the environment to their benefit.

When a company tries to use less resources in their production, that is seen as positive because they are being environmentally conscious and recognize that we need to be more sustainable, the consumer will appreciate their efforts and purchase their product. It is merely a strategy to be more successful in a time where people want to be more sustainable. This is a form of sustainable yield that is more sustainable than before. Luke argues that this strategy will not improve degradation but magnify it.  With the smoke and mirrors that producers put up, there are some benefits and positive reactions to this. Minimizing environmental degradation of ecosystem services, waste, and over production and consumption is a better thing to do then not. Overall the issue is not being handled properly. The root of the problem is corporations still have the same goals that don’t include being  truly sustainable. This is because of the grow-or-die mentality inherent in capitalist development implying that “sustainability” is cast in terms of linear and continual growth regardless of resource use. There is little if any incentive for capitalists to change course and actually stop degradation. 

The second strategy that Luke discusses is ecojudicialism to consider environmental issues, but the goal is ultimately the same. Policies are created the same as industries create their products, strive to be more sustainable but the objective is the same. One example is Cap and Trade, it is a market for air quality, where pollution is still permitted but at a “sustainable” rate. The idea is to conduct as business as usual with the same goals but pollute less. There are many flaws in the system and the issue of air pollution isn’t really being dealt with. It is just a way for capitalists to say they are doing something about it but in reality, they aren’t doing much if anything to address the problem. This negates the idea of sustainability, nonrenewable energy like fossil fuels are still being used at a rate that isn’t sustainable. They are called nonrenewable for a reason: we consume them at a rate that is faster than they can be renewed. Cap and Trade is just cover for corporations to keep polluting so they can keep making money. Ecojuridicalism also stacks the deck in favor of the wealthiest polluters as court fees, lawyers, lobbyists, expert testimony and other forms of legal representation are prohibitively expensive for any who would use ecojuridicalism as a conduit of environmental change. Yet again we see how corporate environmentalism uses money for shaping “the environment” to their advantage through non-democratic means that increases the scope of technocratic rule against the rule of the demos. 

“The Story of Cap and Trade” is a little dated but provides a good background of cap and trade and the issues with it. It operates as business as usual instead of addressing the real problem. It also looks at flaws and how businesses can cheat the system, which leads to more pollution not less.

The last strategy Luke discusses is ecocommercialism, which is the root of two previous strategies.  Slight changes are made to reach them more “sustainably”, meaning they are still degrading but just at a slower pace. Ecocommercialsim is the front that is put up by corporations, and governments to positively advertise their degradation. Entrepreneurs support these efforts by funding them, which comes back to the incentive here is money not saving the planet. Investing in something that isn’t going to grow and develop is not a smart business move. An example is the corona virus vaccine, it could have been developed before the pandemic but there was no incentive, entrepreneurs and businesses didn’t see the value in it, but now they do. Just like Covid-19 it will be too late by the time the value in a clean environment is relizaed. 

Luke provides insight into corporations and how they are using ecocommercialism and incorporating it into ecomanergilism, ecojudicialism and ecoentrepreneurism. Consider this when you walk into a store and see a product that is being advertised as sustainable, you might want to investigate it to see if they actually are or if they are just trying to fool you into thinking they are. Also think about this when you see environmental legislation and consider what the goal is, are they really trying to address the climate crises or do they want to expand their capital under the banner of sustainability? In the end money makes the world go round, even if it won’t exist anymore.

Stubberfield, “Chapter 4: Localized Instruments: Epistemic Networks and the

Environmental-Industrial Complex”:

In this chapter the author generally dives into the environmental-industrial complex and the technocrat’s involvement with the evolution of technology, specifically analyzing the connections in Wyoming through the Wyoming Conservation Exchange (WCE). The Wyoming landscape was affected through the tactical insertion of technocrats that were focused on manipulating the environment and withdrawing the fossil fuels and trona in Southwestern Wyoming. Sage-grouse is also a big topic in the area given the population of these birds were decreasing and in relation to this event there are many working groups that work towards utilizing the machinery and policies to benefit the corporate rule, specifically the Southwestern Wyoming Local Sage-grouse Working Group (SWLWG). Wanda Burget and Julie Lutz were figures that spread awareness and pushed an environmentalism approach. The author refers to these figures because of the windows of insight into the networks of environmental degradation that have been occurring under an illusion that hides the economically rational, but ecologically unsound intentions that these technocrats – as extensions of the corporations they represent – have in mind. Both figures were involved with an environmental organization and they focus on the mining industry and conservation initiatives in Wyoming. The author points out that trona and the soda ash that follows the decomposition of trona will become more desirable as global urbanization increases. Trona (soda ash) is used greatly in buildings to soften the water in the building systems – in general trona is good for manipulating the chemical makeup in water. Tesla also used soda ash in their technology because of how much soda ash is used to make lithium from brine. Lithium batteries play a large role in Tesla’s batteries.

The author summarizes the chapter into four main points: how technocratic power is formed through the technocrats and their evolution alongside the technology involved; how technocratic power is correlated with environmental organizations and why technocrats are menaces to the environment and the living species part of society involving machinery operations and the GRSG assemblage; how Julie Lutz is a peer of Burget and is in the Southwestern Wyoming Local Sage-grouse Working Group (SWLWG); and exposing the politics behind LWGs (Wyoming Local Sage-grouse Working Groups), and how the SWLWG translated biopower from the GRSG assemblage into geopower that benefits the natural soda ash industry in terms of the paleotechnic complex. 

It is important to understand that Stubberfield, following Luke, sees and understands corporations as machines for producing and capturing capital and organizing labor. Touching on the first point, technocrats have a key role in the machinery and the materials that are needed for these machines along with holding a position of power that they can use to improve their area of work. These positions are referred to as “managers” in the author’s eyes, and don’t benefit any other focus other than supervising the machines. This “labor” is important in the production ensembles because of the continuous flow of capital and the human relationships between the technology and monetary exchange. This results in an aimless constant production of commodities and daily work from the humans involved. Technocrats sum up what these “workers” are and show extensions in the machinery involved which means they are well versed on how these machines work as well as the relationships that are needed to form a commodity flow. Therefore, technocrats are a perfect example of machine-human coevolution.

“What is a technocracy?” is a very good explanation of technocrats and how technocrats improve their focus of work. On the contrary, there are many other negative impacts this has on humans and the environment. This video touches on how the Greek economy was in a massive debt and experts brainstorming the idea of bringing technocracy into Greece to improve their economy. This example relates to the point of this chapter being how technocrats are utilized in society, but in most situations these technocrats are economically motivated to ignore the locality and the specifics of humans and their environment and focus on corporate needs. The video points out how in the early 1900’s, technocracies were prevalent to create an economical improvement which was especially needed in the great depression era. The video summarizes why technocracy’s are not as prevalent today, but the point of this video is to show the upbringing of technocrats. 

            The author begins to speak on the power elite and what it is while focusing on this “power elite” idea on the environmental issue of soda ash and hydrocarbon production. This production affects many different parts of the environment in Wyoming, which include the Greater Sage-grouse, the landscape in Wyoming, and those who inhabit this area. The environment in Wyoming where soda ash and fossil fuels are prevalent, are all negatively affected by “power elites” and technocrats.  As a result, this gives an “excuse” for power to become prevalent in the landscape of Wyoming which technocrats from transnational organizations are rewriting to protect their extractive and ecologically destructive enterprises under the false banner of sage-grouse protection. 

The WCE utilizes the power of the landowners and the industry to oversee the landscape and living subjects of Wyoming and have the ability to manipulate the environment. Wanda Burget gives insight of the vast mining network that exists in the Green River Basin in Southwest Wyoming. Global trading of natural soda ash exists in Southwest Wyoming (a majority of soda ash comes from this area), and this area is where local sage-grouse working groups are tasked with monitoring the population of these birds. In conclusion, Technocrats and those in power in the organizations (for example, the local groups) are able to create policies and enact machinery in the areas for the benefit of corporate rule. The focus by these power holders is for the non-living machinery, not the environment and a majority of the living species population. Other methods and social organizations are not brainstormed by these technocrats in “private sectors” because doing so would be working themselves out of a job. Yet again, we see the insertion of technocrats as extensions of corporate machines that allow those machines to write the rules for how we and other non-humans live and reproduce our patterns of life well beyond any notion of popular sovereignty or democratic decision-making. Our common world, even at the local level as the chapter shows, is being taken, written and ruled by actors with interests far removed from any particular locale. In the final analysis, the means through which “sustainable, local development,” is practiced in Wyoming is little more than a front for the largest polluters to write environmental policy in their continuing favor at the expense of an indigenous and unique avian found only on the North American continent and an icon of the West.