Global Asymmetry through an Environmental Lens – Eliisa Carter

Since the 1970’s, studies on climate change have urged the international arena to reform their economic and industrialization policies for the sake of future sustainability and health. This has been proved successful in some instances, such as the Montreal Protocol in 1987 when the usage of chloroflourocarbons (CFCs) were cut down significantly and universally in order to stop depletion of the ozone layer.

In other instances, climate change mitigation has been less successful. Considering the Millennium Development Goals, as mentioned in the Doyle and Stiglitz reading, a 2013 report on Goal 7’s focus on environmental sustainability has turned out to be a failure in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The 2013 MDG report showed that global carbon dioxide emissions have increased 46% since 1990. These reports show that developed countries has overall reduced their greenhouse gas emissions, but developing countries emissions have accelerated.

So why would this be an occurring phenomenon, when it has been universally agreed that the international arena must combat accelerated climate change (as indicated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2014 report)? Like “Eliminating Extreme Inequality” stated, fixing some economic inequalities are counter to linear economic growth and immediate return. Developing nations perpetuate environmental degradation themselves in the name of catching up to and perpetuating the growth of ‘developed’ countries. This phenomenon can be explained Wallerstein’s Modern World System Theory. Indonesia, the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, burns thousands of acres of forests to produce and export palm oil globally.

These global actions tend to be carried out by compradors, or a Marxist term for someone part of a class of elites in third world nations who exploit their own society to feed into the global market, and pressures from a capitalist international system. Take the deforestation of the Amazon, for example. The environmental degradation of the rainforest is due to American multi-national corporations, such as Cargill, that mass produce soya to sell to livestock feed companies in the European Union. Even political representatives, such as the governor of the south Amazonian Mato Grosso province of Brazil, are in power positions within their own soya producing companies.

Inequality within today’s international organizational system threatens to impede future economic cooperation and sustainability. Marxism observes the capitalist tendencies to overproduce at a continuing lesser cost. This overproduction and exploitation bares the seeds of our future discord. As discounting future costs of our immediate industrial actions progresses, so does environmental degradation. A mismatch between sustainable development goals and countries’ practice shows the priorities of those in power in order to either play catch up or succumb to the overarching capitalist system instead of investing in the more “feminine” issues such as the environment, education, and health.

The 2013 MDG and the 2014 IPCC reports state that costs of adaptation to global climate change will be more expensive over time than currently. With states signing on to, but not abiding by, climate change mitigation, it demonstrates the realist theory’s phenomenon of states having the final say… as perpetuated by the soft law of mediating climate change. However, liberalist theory comes into play when the driving force behind environmental degradation is the overarching capitalist system, where multi-national corporations exploit the weak and have lax environmental standards. Looking at the international system through the failure of mitigation and impacts it perpetuates on the environment demonstrates the economic inequalities and dependencies between the global north and south. Fixing this asymmetry may impede economic activity today, however the continuation of lax environmental standards raises the cost of adaptation tomorrow.


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