We hear this every day on the news: Missiles of North Korea, Donald Trump with his best buddy Twitter, immigrants, West Bank, bitcoins, the EU.
We hear someone claim that these matters are induced by what they call “globalization” from time to time, a useful word for some, and it sounds smart. And yes, globalization seeps into the systems of the world and influences our actions of daily lives. However, “globalization” has become a redundant word, and that is because it has been used with an empty meaning.
What actually are the characteristics of globalization? Many would shrug or look away. I would have shrugged as well, a year ago. It would be close to impossible for us to perceive the entire meaning of globalization, for it is a vast and flexible term. However, we can dissect and figure out part of its inside, and what it holds. Globalization has evolved with humans and history. First, trade opened up the gates, and soon after, industry and technology provided knowledge to people and promoted globalization further. Nowadays, the world has “shrunk”, and we are able to travel anywhere across the globe in a day or two by plane, and the internet gives us further information.
We also can learn and meet people from other cultures, with immediate communication possible. However, globalization is not always good news. The balance between sovereignty and liberalism has become one of the most controversial issues discussed today. Let me discuss some topics about the gaps and holes that globalization created. Globalization not only promoted the movement of people and trade but also boosted illicit trade as well 1.
The Drug War in Mexico has not yet come to an end, from its breakout in 2006. As many as 15000 people die each year from drug violence in Mexico 2. What’s making it troublesome is the ample amount of money and weapons gained from selling drugs. Since high risk accompanies drug trade, the cost of drugs leaps up as close as to a thousand times from its farms in South America. Therefore, oppressing and restricting the use and trade of drugs result in the prosperity of underground illegal activities 1. The problem to this counterpart of globalization is that the power of governance within nation states is not able to cover the entire land. Restricting is necessary for order within a society, but if governance can’t be accomplished, there is no way to prevent illicit trade.
If we completely become open to illegal activities such as the recreational use of drugs, we fall into the addiction, which has the potential to escalate violence. To use violence in a war to restrict what can cause violence and crime seems ironical. As the population of people in developed countries starts to decline, developing countries such as India will have increases in population. It is projected that countries in sub-Saharan Africa will comprise 40% of the world population by 2100 10.
From the sudden increase in human population thanks to technology innovations, the power balance between countries is bound to change at a rapid pace. The speed of technological, industrial growth is increasing at an exponential pace, and we are incapable of predicting how and when incidents will happen. The average lifespan of human beings will increase from advanced medical science. Globalization can help these sciences to permeate throughout the world, and we now are facing overpopulation. Overpopulation, especially in developed countries, has become terribly serious due to food and water shortages. Also, the lack of energy can become a problem as well. Below, I will discuss the energy shortage problem and its connections to climate change.
The rise of population means that we will need more energy in the future. Figure 1 shows the world shares of primary energy sources. Oil, coal, and natural gas make up roughly 86% of energy sources in the world 4. However, fossil fuels are the cause of global warming, caused by the greenhouse gases such as CO2 emitted from the ignition of fossil fuels. Global warming is actually happening, and by the year 2100, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) projects that temperatures will increase +1.8~+3.
5 degrees Celsius from the year 2000 5. A 2~3 degrees Celsius increase can severely damage the ecosystem and can result in the loss of up to 70% of all plant and animal species 6. If we look at electricity generation, the electricity created today are mostly from burning fossil fuels.
If we look at the alternatives, we may find nuclear energy as an alternative. However, this type of resource isn’t future-oriented, thanks to its high radioactivity of Uranium and Plutonium, and furthermore, the wastes created by nuclear power plants have no place to go. In Japan, the government has still not found a place in this highly-densely-populated country where they can dispose this waste, and the waste is now stored in an interim storage facility in Rokkasho village in Aomori. What is more, the nuclear power plants have restarted electricity generation after the quake and tsunami in Tohoku. I reckon that it is extremely alarming to generate electricity from radioactive materials when there is no place for the waste to go. Uranium ore itself are found mostly in Australia. The ore can’t be used for electricity generation by itself, so to process the Uranium into rods that are available for power plants require electricity 7. If we look at automobiles, the majority of them use gasoline.
Electric cars are said to be an innovative, alternative way to move cars. However, in the paragraph before, most of the electricity created in the world is through fossil fuels. If creating electricity accompanies the exhaust of carbon dioxide, there is no meaning in electric cars in the sense of preventing climate change and global warming. Another alternative fuel is Hydrogen. Hydrogen in cars only produce water as its byproduct and is referred as a clean combustible. Hydrogen is created mainly from fossil fuels or water. Above that, the way to react the substances into Hydrogen is powered by electricity, and we come back to the same problem of the production of electricity. I stated some of the problems in world energy, and we can recognize that society still depends predominantly on fossil fuels.
One of the benefits of globalization is that it is remarkably easier to communicate and share information with each other. Science had been going through an era of separation, where each field was distinctly partitioned, such as physics, chemistry, engineering, and medicine. Here in the modern world, we frequently observe integrated science, where research develops by multiple fields working together. That is because scientists researched each distinct field until there is no significant growth in discoveries. Just like the fields are integrating, the globe should share ideas and thoughts, which can create a completely new finding in research and development of science. I would like to share my speculation on globalization.
As I belong to the Science/Engineering department, what I focused on was natural resources. Each industrial revolution gave way to a new resource. For the First Industrial Revolution, it was coal that produced steam, then came petroleum to create electricity. The third industrial revolution, or the digital revolution, created networks between people that do not need a concrete medium to pass through 3. However, the “brains” embedded inside computers are integrated circuits, and they need rare metals such as platinum for it to work.
For all three industrial revolutions, each depended on a specific natural resource. Natural resources, however, are distributed on land with a bias. If we look at petroleum, countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, countries in Africa such as Nigeria, and Venezuela dominate the amount of petroleum buried under the surface of the entire planet. For platinum, South Africa possess multiple mines.
Here we recognize a geographical obstacle of globalization. Let’s say each country has a mountain and a valley, the mountain expressing a field which a country is plentiful at, and the valley which the country is insufficient at. As a country, trade is cutting down the mountain and filling up the valley, making it flat. In the modern world, all the resources, from crops to technologies, are all turned into what we call money, which standardizes the value of all the resources.
If we assume that we trade through the same currencies, we can recognize the power balance between any two countries. That is, the country which has the largest number of (height of mountain – depth of valley) is the most powerful. There are massive differences between countries and this naturally creates barriers towards a globalized world. Countless nations are standing on the verge of taking two utterly different courses. One is to retain sovereignty and to keep the mountains and valleys as they were like before; The other is to make them flat as possible by cooperating with other countries. A notable example is the EU: Countries in Europe are helping each other to create one economic sphere.
So, which choice is better? Both has its own problems. The former means that the country will isolate itself from others. Consequently, the lack of bonds with other countries will result in less information flowing into the country. The mountains and valleys make it difficult for knowledge to pass through. For the latter, cutting down the mountain is a high risk, and sharing an economic zone with other countries means that consideration and compromise is a must.
There is also the problem of free-flowing capital and the slow-moving labor across borders of countries 11. This can create an imbalance when countries try to trade. Capital has become so mobile for they are easy-to-move objects (they aren’t even objects anymore in the next paragraph about bitcoins), but moving around people suddenly becomes an ethical problem. Here, ethics ties the portability of human beings, so some say that restrictions of the mobility of capital can shift globalization into a better direction 11.
New technologies have appeared in the last year, and one of the most prominent is the bitcoin. It uses a system called block chain, where the transactions between users are all recorded and can be detected in public 8. This is an example of what globalization can permit us. The outcome of globalization is the overflow of information. We ought to decide on what information to trust, and what to discard. Also, the administration of this vast amount of information has to be established soon, or else, the Internet may become a place of chaos. Without restrictions and monitoring, a new war, a cyber war can outburst, and that is not what we hope for.
The globe has shrunk so much that AR and VR are now in the spotlight as well. VR can create a completely new world, each of their own 8. What is more significant is that VR permits us to do anything. Here, restrictions are hurried as well. Just like in video games, it could become extremely simple to gain money and commit crimes. Our consciousness can tip over to VR rather than what we live in now.
When that happens, globalization will have been destroyed, with people living individually. Then, it’s game over. Some researchers are advising that there are not only Western ideas of creating a globalized society. There is what is called “Occidentalism”, where countries esteem self-sacrifice, discipline, and submission to the collective good 9.
These thoughts created a wholly different country compared to the Western states, such as Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, China at the age of Mao, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Modern China also doesn’t follow the rule of Western thoughts, but its growth in the economy and the market is enough to demonstrate an alternative, a more planned economy 10. As the defects of democracy and capitalism start to unveil, we are compelled to move on to a different, improved system. The gaps between the poor and the rich are becoming wider, and both sides are moving towards the extreme, the poles of affluence and poverty. With money being the vital necessity, people with more money own much more rights and possibilities in education, occupations, and entertainment. If the quality of life of the massive number of people who are poor reaches rock bottom, their will to work will become their will to fight for their rights.
Becoming the extremes is not the best way. Taking moderate policies without adhering to one specific idea is a possible key to continual growth. It seems as if we have reached the ceiling in terms of solutions to this societal system we live in, but a revolutionary idea may create a breakthrough to this difficult stage. Just like we did many times before. The next industrial revolution may become the blueprint for generations to come.