Although globalization has affected many nations in a positive light whether that be economically, politically or socially, the connection between increasing trade and industrialization and high carbon-emissions brought by globalization is unmistakable. As world systems theory suggests, the global north takes advantage of and in some cases even exploits the global south in regards to the food and agriculture exported to us. This is evident since it is estimated that the food found in America has estimated to have traveled on average 4,200 miles to end up on our plates (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015) making the global south our open and very cheap grocery store (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015). With our global south grocery store making fruits that are not in season available for us all throughout the year, there is of course a cost to this luxury and although that price is not too expensive for our pockets it is indeed very costly for the wellbeing of those doing the dirty work in the global south. Using an environmental sociology lens, specifically the theoretical approach of Neo-Marxist political-economy world system theory, this essay will examine the high environmental costs and social implications of food and agriculture being grown and exported from the global south. I will begin by explaining the environmental costs that come with production and transportation of our food then I will continue by going into detail on the social implications globalization has on the global south and finally I will introduce the power of the alternative food and agricultural movements.
The way in which we grow, harvest and sell food and agriculture now is very much different than how it was done a few generations ago, and with this sociologist Philip McMichael claimed the phrase “food from nowhere” as the modern explanation of where our food comes from (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015). This idea of “food from nowhere” suggests the truth that people have little to no knowledge of where their food is from or how we are able to eat strawberries in the dead of winter. This phrase also suggests that the food we find in our kitchens and on our plates are produced nowhere near us. What is interesting to note is that in the eyes of world systems theory it is for good reason that the food we consume and find at our local grocery stores are produced nowhere near the rich global north because of the strains and costs it has on our environment. To begin, there is a vast array of chemical inputs used in agriculture that pollutes ecosystems and water systems and affects the wildlife of the global south. To be more specific Nitrogen is a key component of industrial fertilizers and its runoff is a leading source of water contamination (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015). It is estimated that one third of coastal rivers and bays face nitrogen pollution (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015) because of this and that approximately 20% are achieving periodic dead zones (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015)
refers to a reduced level of oxygen in the water.
that animal life suffocates and dies
meaning that there is a reduced level of oxygen in the water which results in the suffocation and deaths of animal wildlife (NOAA, 2017). Another target of wildlife are pesticides which according to the US fish and wildlife service, in major rivers and streams pesticides were detected 90% of time and in over 80% of sampled fish (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015). These pesticides, that are used to destroy weeds and other unwanted vegetation from getting in the way of crops, have also been linked to the decline in amphibians and are considered a potential cause of decline in pollinator species (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015)
It is estimated that one third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination
which are necessary for the survival of humans as they pollinate an estimated one third of the food we consume daily (Sustain, 2013). What is even worse than trying to better care for crops using deadly pesticides is the fact that the processing of crops into final products as well as the transportation of them produces 14% of greenhouse gas emissions (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015). World systems theory anticipates that environmental degradation will also extent across national borders and yet they chose to continually elevate the demand of food and agriculture that are the leading cause for these environmental and wild life destructions (Hooks, 2018 ).
Not only do the harms of mass producing food and agriculture for the global north harmfully effect the ecosystems of the global south and their wildlife, they also shrink the ecological limits of many countries in the global south due to the fact that they are taken advantage of by the global north. Farmworkers and neighboring communities are disproportionately affected by pesticide-related illnesses due to the fact that the pesticides that are banned in the U.S (for better reason) are allowed in the global south causing for greater negative health effects (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015 ). Ultimately taking advantage of the fact that these harmful pesticides are not banned and so having the global south do the dirty work that the global north would never dare to do. Ultimately displaying the exploitation conducted by the capitalistic corporations of the global north that mirrors the works of world system theory.
Although the exportation of industrialized agricultural technologies and practices to the global south has led to a variety of negative environmental impacts, it has equally created dependency on the global north and on big businesses for inputs leading to a loss of independence and reliance (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015). This can be viewed in the fact that peasants in the global south have lost access to their land and natural resources, specifically in rural populations found globally which have decreased significantly by 25% from 1950 to 1997 and are estimated to continue this state of decline up until the year 2050 due to big businesses(Konefal & Matanaka, 2015). As well in this case, correlation does in fact imply causation since it is during this same time that there has been an explosion of urban slums across much of the global south (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015).
Between 1981 and 2001 the percentage of rural people living on less than 1 a day decreased from 79 to 27 percent in China, 63 to 42 percent in India, and 55 to 11 percent in Indonesia.
On one hand there has in fact been a decline in the rates of poverty between 1981 and 2001 when the percentage of rural people living on less than a single dollar a day decreased from 79 to 27% in China, 63 to 42% in India and 55 to 11% In Indonesia (Bardhan, 2006). Yet much of the global south still cannot afford food even though they are the ones producing food and agriculture for the global north (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015). Globalization and its corporatization and industrialization of food and agriculture have simultaneously produced societies of abundance as well as scarcity and this is often seen being within the same nation, truly creating a social divide in the global south (Konefal & Matanaka, 2015). Ultimately painting the true picture that globalization has fostered inequality in the global south as core countries exploit periphery countries for their labour and land, and profit off the yields.
Food’s carbon footprint, or foodprint, is the greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food you eat
Much like our carbon footprint, our food footprint signifies the greenhouse gas emissions produced from growing, harvesting, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of food that one eats (“Using APA,” 2018). It is estimated that it takes 7-10 calories of input energy to produce one calorie of food meaning in larger terms that it would take approximately 20,000 calories to grow and transport 2,000 calories to a dinner table (Konefal ; Matanaka, 2015). This ultimately means that about the same amount of energy used to grow our food is also the same amount we use to power our homes or fuel our cars (Konefal ; Matanaka, 2015). Although this model of cheap foods with high environmental costs may be ideal for some, there are also more sustainable alternative food and agriculture movements available that do not need 10 times the amount of calories to produce and transport them. Alternative food and agricultural movements share the view that conventional food and agricultural systems are unjust and unsustainable, as they “prioritize the maximization of corporate profits at the expense of food safety and quality, small farmers livelihoods and ecological sustainability” (Konefal ; Matanaka, 2015, p. 202). Their common goal is to advance non-petroleum-dependent and sustainable food systems ultimately allowing producers and consumers to have a voice in the kinds of foods that are produced and how they are produced (Konefal ; Matanaka, 2015). Although big businesses are in control and it is difficult to hide the harm that they do it is indeed easy to draw that power away from them and into the hands of smaller local businesses through demand. This is possible due to the fact that if enough consumers purchase organic and locally sourced goods then the demand will be greater. Greater demand will ultimately lead to supermarkets carrying the demanded sustainable foods which would potentially shift the production and transportation of food and agriculture towards a more just and sustainable form of production (Konefal ; Matanaka, 2015).
In short, efforts to increase productivity have disproportionally led to the demise of our environment as well as the wellbeing of the global south. Countries like Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Thailand to name a few are referred to as ‘new agricultural countries’ as if this is a prestigious name (Konefal ; Matanaka, 2015) when it realistically involves labour intensive work to feed the rich and spoiled world. These countries have been growing food and agriculture for years but due to the works of globalization this work has been amplified and has led to pollution in the global south and the destruction of their ecosystems as well as the negative social implications that have resulted from it. Although globalization has in some regard affected nations in a positive light whether that be economically, politically or socially it has still disproportionally encouraged inequality and harm to the global south as well as to the environment. Ultimately benefiting the global north while socially and environmentally harming the global south. With this in mind there are alternatives to supporting big business that would lessen the demand for harmfully produced and shipped items from the global south if the demand for locally grown goods went up. Although it may be hard to transition from cheap, easy ways of getting food and agriculture to locally grown more expensive foods, it will ultimately benefit the environment, the social status of the global south as well as one’s health.