KGNU COMMENTARY (as broadcast on September 14, 2000)

Finite Global Resources and Corporate Globalization

This is Robert Cohen with a Commentary relating to the KGNU Connections program of Friday, August 25. That broadcast featured an interview with Les Knight of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Mr. Knight raised some important concerns about the degradation of the Earth's ecology as the result of human overpopulation. He went on to recommend one course of action - that people drastically curtail their procreation - to cause the human species to become extinct. The intent of my remarks is to broaden that discussion by providing some additional perspective on the global concerns he raised, about other global concerns, and on various actions people can take to help mitigate these concerns.

Clearly there are serious problems arising from human impacts on finite global resources, of which the annual extinction of thousands of biological species is an indicator. But whether or not the human species voluntarily chooses to self-destruct, there are some significant and urgent steps we need to take to avert a planetary disaster that seems almost inevitable. That disaster looms because global overpopulation and global overconsumption - along with excess global production capacity - are tragically combining to put tremendous, irreversible pressures on global resources. Some global resources about which there are immediate concerns are the environment, ecosystems, fresh water, topsoil, and energy.

Fortuitously, only about 20% of the world's 6 billion people are overconsumers right now. But there is a built-in "consumption bomb" as the peoples in the developing world - anxious to improve their life styles - are encouraged to consume more global resources by corporate advertising that is fanning the flames of consumerism. And the current push toward trade liberalization and corporate globalization is developing new markets, such as the automobile market in China. Introducing automobiles as a major transportation mode in China ignores the facts that global warming is already worrisome, that the global rate of extraction of petroleum is nearing its peak, and that Southeast Asia is already the most polluted region in the world.

The global trade regime poses many problems - especially its neutrality toward human values - but its most tragic and irreversible problem is its indifference to planetary sustainability, without constraints on the overconsumption of finite global resources. Lacking such constraints, global consumption will explode, there will be great human misery, and there will be dieoff of species, including the human species.

So what can we do about all this? We can begin by substituting quality-of-life aspirations for consumerist aspirations, both in the First World and the Third World, but especially in the former. This means that our focus needs to shift - toward providing good nutrition, health care, and education to all the world's peoples, and away from unessential consumer goods. We must distribute global resources more equitably. Pending reduction of global consumption, we must improve the quality-of-life of Third World peoples at their current locations and minimize their migration to consumerist countries. We must encourage family planning and the empowerment of women, so as to stabilize - then reduce - global population. And we must speed the transition from depletable fuels to renewable energy sources.

Many of these objectives cannot be realized in the face of the current global trade regime, which is recklessly hastening the rush toward unsustainable economic globalization without concern for either planetary values or human values. So we must modify the global trade regime to take into account both planetary values and human values. That won't be easy.

Thank you for sharing my concern about the key problem we face: that corporate greed and the liberalization of trade lack provisions for the consideration of human values and for the conservation of global resources. More details on the concern about global resources are contained in two op-ed pieces posted on my Web site,
http://csf.colorado.edu/authors/Cohen.Robert