Think Globally and Act Locally – The myth and the truth

“Think globally and act locally” is an infamous slogan propagated across various sustainability forum. However, my  contention is that the phrase should actually be reversed in order to combat the existential threats to our species. First let us look at the meaning behind the phrase and identify the gaps in its approach.

The later part of 20th century onwards there has been a rapid acceleration towards globalisation. Neoliberal ideology and institution dominates the interstate relations in our globalised world. India adopted this trend in 1992 through its Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG) policy.  Globalisation has resulted in interlinking of economies through global financial markets. This has disproportionally increased the vulnerability of the developing nations that are dependent on these relations for its growth. The adverse effect of such globalised financial system was observed during the 2008 recession caused by the collapse of the U.S. housing market. The ramifications were immense and the residue of its effects are still experienced among the more vulnerable developing states in the Eastern European and Latin American countries through currency depreciations and shrinking equity markets. Unemployment and more severely underemployment are still the realities among developing nations.  

The opening up of borders, both physical and social, has led to a shift in global industrial complex. It was cheaper to outsource the work that were considered labour intensive to South and South-East Asian countries like China, India and Bangladesh. The shift took place primarily in manufacturing and service sectors to China and India respectively. The double exploitation of labour, both at home and abroad, was immensely profitable to corporations. In the developed nations jobs have become either extremely specialised or extremely unspecialised (low paying and often meeting only minimum wage standards).  The labour market is denied the opportunity to participate in the manufacturing of goods that are consumed in their markets. The Multinational Corporations with headquarters at the core countries (Developed nations) are often the ones who control the capital goods needed for the processes that are carried out by the manufacturers in peripheries (developing nations). The rapid industrialisation, albeit unequally distributed, to meet the demands of these corporations and international capitalist system  makes it impossible to accommodate sustainable development strategies. A nation that is thirsty would first want to drink water from any source available and only then would have the mental capability to think about the impact of accessing the water source. When the west has denied the periphery nations the metaphoric water for centuries, it cannot now dictate how these nations should quench their thirst with the resources that they now possess. Let the nation quench its thirst and regain its steady state to even consider its impact! China being the manufacturing hub of the world is the largest polluter in the world. Whereas India, the third most polluting nation in the world, is the centre for service industry outsourcing. Both these nations have undergone and still undergoes massive urbanisation to accommodate its demands. The global North imports these goods and services from both China and India but do not import the pollution that  resulted from the production of the goods and services.

The developing nations are constantly under stress to develop their infrastructure, not for the equal access of all its citizens but for the accommodation of these corporations who expropriate the productive labour that could have otherwise contributed directly to the development of the nation.  The labour is hired at a fraction of the cost of what they would have spent in their nation of establishment. The poor labour laws in the these developing countries makes the employees extremely vulnerable and insecure. With the illusion of opulence, where the employees have the opportunity to apparently earn more, the global corporate ecosystem subverts their basic rights as labourers. This theft of labour is not the only burden that the peripheries are made to suffer. They are compelled to borrow loans from the international developmental institutions such as World Bank with interest. These loans are not handouts but a method adopted by the west to penetrate developing markets through conditions that support neoliberal practices. Local businesses are squashed under the dominance of the MNCs who make it impossible to compete against by disrupting the playing field. With its economy now linked to the global financial institutions through its debt and commitment to contribute towards the activities of the institutions makes the countries dependent on the core. 

The forced liberalisation of the markets makes public goods available for the the corporates, either the ones run from the core countries or the ones run by the local elites ion the nation, to drive more traffic. Transport, agriculture, food distribution, water, healthcare, etc., are all now geared towards maximising profits. This creates a further bifurcation within the region into core and periphery regions (as proposed by A. G. Frank). The rural areas, underprivileged dwellings and tribal settlements are no longer connected to the public goods equally but only given access in order to facilitate movement of resources to the core regions. The urban regions of the privileged class would now hold complete access to these goods and the capability to avail them while an invisible stratum of society lives among them who are denied such privileges. The more liberal the economy becomes the more polarised this divide grows. It is not profitable to maintain transport services to the remote regions with lesser population density and affluence therefore it is neglected. This becomes a systemic issue and thereby extremely difficult to solve. The corporates use these deprivation also to their benefit to gain goodwill among its customers and communities by extending minimal performative support to the deprived communities as an act of corporate social goodwill (CSRs and other corporate initiatives). How can denying millions of people access to healthcare and then organising few seasonal remote clinics and health camps as an act of goodwill not be considered hypocritical and condemned? These conditions cannot be addressed by only thinking of climate change or global warming or any issue at a global level. At regional level the issue takes various forms and these characteristics must all contribute towards developing a holistic framework for understanding the threats that we face as a species. There are still more than 289 million people (87% of the population size of the U.S.) without access to electricity in India and it is the inequality that has widened (Qualitatively) since the LPG adoption in 1992.

Global warming, hunger, poverty and climate change are not regional or local issues and have implications at a Global scale, however to deny the local contexts that cumulatively results in the global threats is to deceitfully move away from critical engagement with the issue. 

Final consideration that I would like to put forward is that of non-participating nations. Greenhouse gases, emitted from human activity, accumulates in the atmosphere and causes an increase in global average temperature and warming process ubiquitously across all nations at an alarmingly faster rate than what was experienced in the geophysical history of the world. The catastrophe however affects nations disproportionately and discriminately. The island nations and coastal cities of the developing world are the most vulnerable and have already started bearing the brunt of the crisis. It is the vulnerable communities in the slums, ghettos, villages and fishing communities that we can observe the adversity of climate crisis. Agricultural failure from water or soil degradation and lack of social security due to the reduced size of governments under forced neoliberalism has pushed thousands of farmers to choose death over deprivation. Increasing number of disasters that affect coastal cities has put the urban poor dwellers in ghettos and slums at a gross disadvantage in relief and recovery. The destruction of marine resources and underdevelopment has left the fishing communities in vulnerable position. The island nations are facing extinction in near future despite their lower emission levels. These scenarios must be understood at a local context and then brought together to obtain a larger picture. 

The solution must be adopted at a global level. The approach must be made in an international context. By atomising nations and communities to be responsible in their action deprives the people, especially in developing nations, the capability to truly understand the issue systemically. Holding communities responsible for actions subverts them from addressing the real issue. The double burden imposed on the developing nations of increasing their emissions to serve the needs of the developed world while also bearing the guilt of its emissions resulting from the activity is a powerful mechanism by which the western nations continue their high emissions despite not contributing much towards these essential industrial processes. It gives an apparent view of a relatively similar emissions level, which immediately becomes distorted when the burden of emission is imported along with goods and services on these nations. Therefore, any action in this globalised wold must be enforced on a wider scale addressing systemic failures. Trying to impart local changes without addressing systemic issues would only make the issue worse by increasing inequality and discrimination. 

Let us abandon the notion “Think Globally, Act Locally” and acknowledge the inherent contradictions that it holds. Commodities are no longer locally sourced, produced and consumed. Our consumption is on a global scale and the issues arising from it arises from this global system that pollutes through its existence that takes place every second of every day for the at least a century. Therefore, let us understand issues by thinking locally by considering local contexts and material realities but act on a global scale to address the systems that upholds this exploitative endeavour that widens the gap between the privileged and the deprived. Let us “Think Locally, Act Globally”.

2 thoughts on “Think Globally and Act Locally – The myth and the truth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s