Can We Still Help the Earth?

I recently had the opportunity to visit and explore Venice, Italy for a few days on a family vacation around Europe.  While I was roaming the tiny streets of the historic city, one thing in particular caught my eye. It wasn’t the famous Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, or even the Grand Canal.  What I couldn’t keep my eyes away from was the Adriatic Sea, slowly creeping up the steps of buildings hundreds of years old, destroying the historic buildings. This increasing water level is one of the many destructive results of modern global warming.  Quite possibly the greatest problem with global warming is the fact that it’s entirely cause by humans, just like you and me. This is the greatest problem because it is also the only solution. The only way we can sustain the earth is if we change our lifestyles to incorporate more environmentally friendly practices.

While most of the world understands the effects of global warming, people may ask why all the sudden now is the time to start making changes.  The answer is really quite simple, we should have made changes decades ago before it got to such an aggressive level. The facts don’t lie: the five warmest years ever were all recorded after 2010, ice sheets in Antarctica are melting at 3X the speed they were 10 years ago, and the sea level rose 8” in the last century with the rate doubling in the most recent 10 years.  Pretty scary stuff, right? You can even see how this affects Venice in the image to the right, where algae is now growing on 3 levels of underwater steps that were previously above the water level.  This destruction of a great historic city is sadly a perfect example of the many costs of living a modern lifestyle.

Just like a product you buy in a store has a cost, so do your actions.  The various costs of living a luxurious, and quite wasteful, modern lifestyle are represented by climate change and global warming.  Essentially, global warming is a result of these negative costs. These costs tend to be hidden from the public since firms don’t want their customers to know the damage done in production.  The worst part is probably what you’ve already guessed, the majority of these costs are thrown on the earth and eventually the weight is too much for it to bear. At that point, the earth can’t handle the load of all these costs and thus global warming.  As stated in this article, “In its Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations, concluded there’s a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet. The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million in the last 150 years. The panel also concluded there’s a better than 95 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth’s temperatures over the past 50 years”.  Essentially, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that, with over 95% certainty, humans are factually and scientifically proven to be responsible for global warming.  

A question that’s been proposed many times is, why is global warming just becoming a large worldwide topic of discussion when it’s been happening for decades already?  The real answer is that global warming has reached the point where human lives are directly affected and, more than anything, inconvenienced by it. This is the honest, selfish answer no one wants to talk about.  Perhaps the most alarming fact is that the United States is ranked 26 in the most environmentally friendly countries, yet it produces 25% of the carbon dioxide pollution from fossil-fuel burning, by far the largest share of any country and only 4% of the world’s population.  According to this article, “The whole world is off course on climate change by that metric, meaning that many countries, including the United States, under-promised in Paris. The world’s commitments thus far, assuming they are realized, would lead to a warming of 3.3 degrees Celsius (5.94 degrees Fahrenheit), rather than the 2 or 1.5 degree Celsius (3.6 or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) targets of the Paris agreement”(Mooney 2).  The main problem with this is that the world’s temperature is rising at a rate that’s insustainable for the earth. If the temperature is even 2.5 degrees farenheit over the target, which it’s current on track to be, it can have horrible repercussions. Therefore, we need to start changing our way of life for the earth to survive. One of the best ways to do this is moving towards renewable energy, instead of burning fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.  According to this article, only 11% of the United States energy is produced using renewable energy sources.  Wind energy, the fastest growing renewable sources of energy only contributes to 2.4% of that.  In order to make a change, we need to start shifting our mindset towards more environmentally friendly practices.

While global warming is an internationally recognized world problem, there is a small percentage of people that don’t agree.  As you can see, global warming is currently a very large problem and something we need to fix. It’s up to you to help save the world, so start making a difference.

 

The True Cost of Goods

It’s not too hard to realize that the world is driven by the profit motive, the never ending human want to get more.  This is due in part to Capitalism, the economic system that drives profit maximizing down our throats. Capitalism is an economic system characterized by the private ownership of production, distribution, and the exchange of goods.  It exists as a worldwide system, making global capitalism a vital part to many economies around the world. Over time this has become a problem, as the externalized costs of global capitalism take their toll on our world. Externalized costs are the true cost of a good to society.  These costs can be both positive and negative, but tend to have a negative impact on our world. As global capitalism has taken over the world, increased profits have become the negative external costs of capitalism and are taking a toll on the environment around us.

Externalized costs exist as hidden costs of the goods we use everyday.  These are the costs not shown in that dollar value on the pricetag, they are the costs to society.  They don’t only cause harm to human health, but also harm wildlife, the environment, and social organizations.  While society has become much better about talking about these costs, we still haven’t done much to prevent them.  This chart even shows the constant decline in air quality:

1980 vs 2017 1990 vs 2017 2000 vs 2017 2010 vs 2017
Carbon Monoxide -84 -77 -61 -13
Lead -99 -98 -94 -80
Nitrogen Dioxide (annual) -63 -56 -49 -21
Nitrogen Dioxide (1-hour) -60 -50 -35 -14
Ozone (8-hour) -32 -22 -17 -5
PM10 (24-hour) -34 -30 0
PM2.5 (annual) -41 -18
PM2.5 (24-hour) -40 -10
Sulfur Dioxide (1-hour) -90 -88 -79 -66

 

This decline in air quality can be largely attributed to the increase in faster, cheaper, and dirtier modern production of goods.  In addition to harming the environment, these air pollutants are related to various diseases and sicknesses. A study about coal pollutants in this article even says, “A Harvard University study, which assessed the life cycle costs and public health effects of coal from 1997 to 2005, found a link to lung, cardiovascular, and kidney diseases—such as diabetes and hypertension—and an elevated occurrence of low birth rate and preterm births associated with surface mining practices”.  These are only some of the health risks associated with modern pollution. As global capitalism creates larger markets and stresses increased profits more, the true costs of production are increasing and damaging the earth more.

Externalized costs don’t just appear out of nowhere, they’re produced as a result of a decision made by firms.  These decisions are made to increase profits by any means possible with the cheapest production and the fastest distribution.  One example of this is the video we watched in class about Walmart’s intense supplier regiment. The video interviewed workers that were laid-off by a business in the United States after Walmart dropped their contract.  As the economists and Walmart executives explained, they simply could buy the same goods in Asia at a fraction of the cost. In my opinion, this is the epitome of global capitalism. Simply put, capitalism seeks out the cheapest possible goods, no matter the costs.  The only problem with that is the non-monetary costs. The externalized costs are increased greatly when production moves to less developed nations, or nation’s with less social and humanitarian based laws. As this article we got in class states, “Who paid for that $4.99 radio? Some people paid with the loss of their natural resources. Some paid with the loss of clean air, with increased asthma and cancer rates. Some workers paid by having to cover their own health insurance. Kids in Africa paid with their future: a third of the school-age children in parts of the Congo now drop out to mine metals for electronics”.  These undeveloped nations have little to no child labor laws, laws controlling work hours, work conditions, and laws controlling pollution and waste.  This allows firms to produce their goods at a greatly reduced monetary cost since their laws and regulations allow longer work days, and they’re able to pay their workers less.  This has resulted in a great deal of externalized costs affecting these nations, specifically nations in and around Asia. As stated in this article, “In 2010, 40% of the world’s premature deaths caused by air pollution were in China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide…The University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health reported more than 3,000 premature deaths in the city in 2013…A poll by the U.S. Pew Research Center found that 47% of Chinese citizens thought air pollution to be a “very big” problem in 2013 (up from 31% in 2008)”.  The deaths labelled in this article are direct costs of modern day production in these Asian nations.  Capitalism has created a craving for increased profits, but as we can see these increased profits to one side cost the other side their lifestyle and in extreme cases maybe even their life.

Externalized costs exist in every economy, not matter the structural or social aspects of it.  While global capitalism creates some of the largest and greatest affecting externalized costs, it may be argued that not all of these costs are direct effects of global capitalism.  Some say that externalized costs can be attributed more to humans and society than to Capitalism. They believe that these costs are created in any economy and are due to firms simply not caring about the effect they have on our planet.  While this is partly true, it doesn’t cover all the information. Without global capitalism we would have significantly less international production. If most goods we used were produced in our home nation’s, we would have a drastic difference in externalized costs and global pollution.  To only touch on the subject, the nation’s using the most goods that create the largest externalized costs have the most intense labor and pollution laws. This essentially means that if global capitalism didn’t exist and international production was minimal, we would have smaller externalized costs.  The only problem is that global capitalism very much exists, and drives the world as we know it, creating externalized costs everywhere it goes.

 

The Concerning Effects of Globalization on our World

As the modern world advances, so do business practices.  These modern day “retail giants” have shown the world just how much a profit means to them, even if it’s against their own people.  This is due to globalization, or the increasing of interconnectedness of the world through common processes of change. Large businesses have taken advantage of this process, leading to the division and damage of economies, environments, governments, and cultures.  While change can benefit certain parties, it also severely damage others. Society has progressed through technological advances, but as globalization develops by increasing international relations, it pulls society apart through economic division.

Over the past decades, the world has become increasingly connected due to new technology and other advances.  This increases interconnectedness, or globalization, has had multiple effects on our world. The recently most apparent being the economic division in both producer and distributor nations.  This is due to the ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor, as seen on the graph below below:

As shown on the graph, only 2.7% of the world’s wealth comes from 70% of the world population whereas almost 46% of the world’s wealth comes from the top 0.7% of the world population.  This drastic inequality of wealth can be attributed to the increasing globalization in our world. As a business closes its plants in its mother country, unemployment increases as these jobs are brought to foreign nations with less labor laws creating cheaper labor.  As a result the few executives of the business reel in massive profits, as prices commonly don’t drop due to lower costs of production; their previous employees must find new jobs, which tend to pay less as job demand increases. This profit-maximizing scheme awards executives with wealth while taking from the workers, the larger party.  The same result can be seen in the foreign nation as the workers are paid as little as possible, while the factory owners and shippers reel in big profits from wealthy overseas businesses. The week 6 reading from class even goes as far as saying, “low-technology manufacturing and assembly functions were being located amongst the world’s poor”.  This unhealthy system has been rapidly deteriorating economies as the gap between the rich and poor increases.   

The idea that globalization has pulling society apart is not a new one.  People have been fighting big businesses that move overseas for years, but to no avail.  The top few elite business owners and politicians rule the international market. As stated in one article, “Globalization is a house of cards built on a hill of sand on the shore of a stormy ocean, but the global ruling elite of political and economic leaders continue to sing the praises of their rickety construct while ignoring both its painful side effects and its risk of collapse”.  The elite gaining political power creates a social/cultural inequality that separates the elite from the majority of the population. The wealthy elite are able to gain this power and control as detailed here, “wealth can be seen as a “resource” that is very useful in exercising power. That’s obvious when we think of donations to political parties, payments to lobbyists, and grants to experts who are employed to think up new policies beneficial to the wealthy. Wealth also can be useful in shaping the general social environment to the benefit of the wealthy, whether through hiring public relations firms or donating money for universities, museums, music halls, and art galleries”.  Due to this fact, that the wealthy elite have power in their nation, economic progression with a more even wealth distribution is very difficult to create. The elite have no reason to share their wealth, and therefore use it to create power at a political level to maintain their wealth. As a result, a great cultural inequality is formed as specific groups are underrepresented or unheard.

While globalization has divided society, it also has its benefits that bring certain parts of society together.  The major benefit being the fact that globalization lowers prices and makes some goods more attainable. I only say some because there’s always a possibility that these goods would be more attainable if more people had higher paying jobs of production in their nation.  Low prices attract everyday consumers, which makes them purchase from big businesses outsourcing in foreign nations. This leads to the common misconception that these businesses benefit the people. After the benefit of lower prices comes the benefit to the nations. Both the mother country and the producing country rely greatly on import/export taxes.  These taxes account for a great deal of income to these national governments, and help decide leading nations in the world. Among these benefits sits a few more as stated in this week 7 reading, “Surpluses of capital and shortages of labor (or rigidity in labor markets because of political and institutional barriers) can be “fixed” either by the movement of capital to areas of labor surpluses and/or weak labor organization (hence North American capital moving into the maquillas along the Mexican border) or importation of cheap labor (as with guest worker programs in Europe) into centers of capitalist development”.  As described, globalization can help a nation together in a few different ways. While these are benefits to the nation and the nation’s elite, in the long run they still don’t benefit the majority of citizens. This eventually causes division in a nation, bringing the people and the nation apart.

 

The Ever Growing Population

The world’s population has grown trifold in the last 100 years.  From 1.5 billion in 1900 to 6.1 billion in 2000, it seems as though we won’t ever stop growing.  It’s no secret that our population has been growing these past decades, but it has reached a point of danger.  With the world’s population growing at such an alarming rate, natural lands and habitats are being knocked down to make the extra space.  While the destruction of natural lands is horrible, people are suffering from starvation, overcrowding, unemployment, and much more. We need to fix our overpopulation problem if we wish to survive on a finite planet.

Overpopulation is a large problem looked at by many scientists around the world.  Of these scientists, geographers are among the most abundant group. Geographers have many jobs beyond map making, especially human geographers.  Human geographers study the spatial organization of human activities on earth, ranging anywhere from economies to demographics. Geographer’s are well rounded scholars, especially concerning population.  Geographers use data they find to creates maps, such as the one shown below:

This cartogram shows the entire population of the world in 2015, labelling each country and stating their individual populations.  Maps like this one are crucial to solving our overpopulation problem, as they show where overpopulation may occur.

While conventional maps have their obvious benefits, more detailed cartograms have added perks in more problematic cases.  These could range anywhere from disaster relief to overpopulation. In our case of overpopulation, cartograms with population data are extremely helpful like the one above.  This map directly shows how overpopulated the earth truly is. As you can see, nations of similar size have drastically differently sized populations. For example, the US has almost 3/2 the population of Brazil, yet it is only ⅛ greater in size.  This is a direct example of how overpopulated nations have become. This causes a chain reaction of overpopulated cities that turn into crowded poor slums. These overcrowded slums then suffer greatly from disease and sickness in addition to hunger and starvation.  As a result, these innocent people are suffering from a problem that we can’t seem to solve.

Maps aren’t just created with one point in mind.  Maps are created for various purposes under numerous disciplines, and work in many ways.  The age of simple navigational maps is over. Nowadays maps come in all forms, from digital to nautical to cartograms.  In particular one new style of map making has separated itself from the rest. GIS, or geographic information system, is a new modern form of map making.  GIS involves using a computer to create a database of information gathered through tests, and then applying that information towards an online interactive and purposeful map.  GIS maps are created for an audience with a purpose. As one article states, “GIS technology also allows to “dig deep” in a specific area with many kinds of information. Maps of a single city or neighborhood can relate such information as average income, book sales, or voting patterns. Any GIS data layer can be added or subtracted to the same map”.  What makes GIS mapping so revolutionary is that it allows you to add or take away mental information from a physical map. This is extremely helpful when researching a particular situation among different locations and finding their similarities.

With new advances in modern technology many people rely on the internet as their source of maps.  The most commonly used digital mapping system is now Google maps. These new digital maps allow you to easily find precise locations the fastest ways possible.  The only problem with this mapping system is that, as all modern technology is, it is susceptible to human error and hacking. This has lead to many problems, and even in some cases, international disputes.  As stated, “In 2010, Nicaragua blamed an accidental invasion of Costa Rica on incorrect Google Maps information” (Turner 2).  These simple map mistakes have lead to big problems for many people. In addition to the Nicaragua-Costa Rica dispute, Google Maps has repeatedly had the wrong address for Mount Rushmore, sending tourists some 13 miles away from the actual location.  These problems are ones that must be fixed if we continue to rely on these digital mapping systems, such as Google Maps. As society becomes more and more modern, so do our everyday tools. Maps are just one example of this social modernization, and the apparent problems with them aren’t a good sign.  Society needs to make sure that everyday tools are reliable and ready for continuous use.

Maps are one of the most used tools in history.  As humans evolve, so do their tools, leading to the creation of new age maps.  These range anywhere from simple digital maps to revolutionary GIS maps that allow the creator to engage multiple variables into one map.  On the other hand, there are also cartograms that show generally problematic events in the world. Overpopulation is just one of the many world problems cartograms show, as they label exactly where the population may be in excess around the world.  The various types of mapping systems all work for a specific instance. Maps are used in many ways, but modern technology has allowed us to create purposeful maps to help the world.