Globalization and sustainability


For quite some time I did start my presentations with a slide that shows the famous graph of the world population growth in developed and developing countries. “Oh, that one again ;-(” the audience might think, but honestly, do we really understand the impact of what’s in front of us?

China – although still applying a one-child policy – will grow by another 150 million people by 2050 (another one of those “rebound effects”: due to a higher life span a full generation of Chinese people will “mathematically not have died” between 1990 and 2050). India will see another 500 million Indians until 2050, more than the population of whole Europe today. 90% of all kids below 18 years now grow up in developing countries – NINETY PER CENT! The sheer size of these numbers should make us think what that means in terms of sustainable development. Also, what does that say about tomorrow’s markets? Here’s my take on it:

What would happen if the countries that are integrated in world markets today fail to integrate developing countries into the world markets? For sure, waves of migration, war for resources, new epidemics and negative effects on climate change strategies would be some of the effects. Our Western (and emerging) societies will simply not be able to cope with the overwhelming brutality of these effects. So, as failure would be a disaster and is therefore not an option, there is simply no other way than to accept the challenges of globalization and its world market logic. But how does that link with sustainability?

Isn’t sustainability just simply a synonym for a situation where everybody on this planet has the opportunity to participate in (globalized) world markets without being restricted by any rule that favours one person or place over another? The terms fairness and balance come to mind. And isn’t sustainable “development” not just the broad highway in front of us, aligned by stable crash barriers (meaning globally accepted and globally applicable rules of behaviour that ensure fairness and balance, based on transparency and openness)? The question that remains though: how much time do we still have to continue walking barefooted on that highway? That is the picture that I always have in mind when I read the latest about WTO’s never ending tragic soap “Nightmare on Doha Street”. In that sense – for me – sustainable development is the blueprint for a successful implementation of globalization. To all those who criticize globalization as the root cause of today’s malfunctioning of the ecological, social and economic world, I would say: there is no alternative to globalization from an ethical and moral perspective, however there are many alternatives on the way to get there. Demographic effects are a given, we’ll need to show that we are able to manage it.

What indeed frustrates me here is a single comparison: the complete body mass of ants on this planet is way bigger than the complete bodymass of all humans: now look at how ants serve this planet and compare that to what we’ve made out of this world. Is there something to learn?