Why globalization is (mostly) green

Shipping millions of containers of stuff around the world might seem to be bad for the planet, but in the long run globalization will help us solve our environmental problems.

With apologies to anyone who took Econ101 in college and at the risk of oversimplification, here’s why:

-The global economy is not a zero-sum game.

-Trade benefits buyers and sellers

-Rrising incomes and wealth are good for the environment.

Ergo, globalization is mostly green.

This may seem self-evident to some, but as I follow the conversation about business, the economy and sustainability in a number of venues -- from the sparring over China in last week’s presidential debate to Mark Bittman’s musings about an ideal food label to the argument from some enviros that what we need is not economic growth, but “degrowth” -- I’m surprised by lack of understanding of the benefits of trade, globalization and growth.

Take China. Playing to middle-class anxieties over the decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs, President Obama and Mitt Romney tangled over China during the debate. “I’ll crack down on China,” Romney promised. To which Obama shot back: “Governor, you’re the last person who’s going to get tough on China.”

In the sustainability arena, the China-bashing has played out over the rise of Chinese solar-panel manufacturers. This month, the Obama administration upheld steep punitive tariffs on Chinese companies after finding that they were “dumping” solar panels into the US market. China will surely retaliate.

Image of green world supported by many hands provided by Maxstockphoto via Shutterstock. 

Next page: Why crack down at all?