When Globalization Goes Wrong

Dr. Vandana Shiva
Dr. Vandana Shiva

Living near New York City (NYC) has its perks. I had the pleasure of attending the NYC Food & Climate Summit this past weekend.  My interest in doing so was to better understand the relationship between food and the climate, especially in light of the talks in Copenhagen this past week.

This summit introduced me to my new hero – Dr. Vandana Shiva.   Her bio,  according to the conference materials states:  “Dr. Shiva has devoted her life to fighting for the rights of the ordinary people of India. Born in India in 1952, Dr. Shiva is a world-renowned environmental leader and thinker. Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology, she is the author of many books, including Water Wars: Pollution, Profits and Privatization (2001)…”  I’d prefer to describe her as an activist who observed the negative impact of globalization on her local community and therefore stood up, said ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, and did something that empowered me to write this post today.

Dr. Shiva spoke via video and floored me with the statistics:

– the world is producing only 1/2 of the food/nutrition that it could be

– 40% of greenhouse gases come from HOW we make and deliver our food

– A Danish study (approximately 10 years old) verified that 1 kg of food that is produced equals 10 kgs of carbon dioxide being thrust into our atmosphere

– the US spends $400 billion on farm subsidies

– perhaps the most horrific metric of all:  400,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide, in areas where Monsanto has pushed the sale of seeds onto them.

I sat, frozen and helpless, hearing this last data bite.  Having seen the film “Food Inc”, I had heard about the patent on seeds, but did not realize that patent extended to developing countries.

Dr. Shiva emphatically claimed that the agri-business system is broken and that we must take back the power to fight for the world’s right to affordable and clean food. (I encourage you to watch this video interview of Dr. Shiva’s fight for Earth Democracy below.) Thankfully, Dr. Shiva has dedicated her life to fighting to protecting the seeds in India so that people there can be assured the human right of diversity in their food.

Her carefully prepared presentation left me pondering how we handle such information as educators? How are we teaching the impact of globalization to college students as they travel abroad?  Do our students understand the effects of globalization, particularly when they take courses in business abroad?  Do we require that they know the pros AND the cons of global branding, trade agreements and big business?

How are we addressing how globalization impacts culture?  Are we watering down individual national culture so much that when you travel abroad, you’re seeing the Starbucks and McDonald’s shops in all of the airports to the point that you cannot figure out WHICH country you’re in because all of the airports start to look the same? (Those of us that are old enough will remember the days when you got to an airport abroad and it felt like you were entering a different place – the shops gave us a hint of what was to come. Can we say the same today? I think not.) Worse yet, are we globalizing to the point that patents on seeds can push farmers in India to kill themselves rather than be faced with another year of horrible crops and loans that they cannot afford to pay? And doing so in a way that damages our precious earth, all in the name of revenue?

Today’s blog doesn’t have answers to these issues.  Today, I am still digesting (pun intended) the web of information that I learned at this incredible meeting on Saturday.  I’m also thinking about a comment that a friend made recently when we were discussing how some schools and some individual courses abroad still don’t have a required pre-departure orientation that attempts to prepare students for these realities.  My friend commented, “Well Missy, we require young people in this country to take a driver’s education course before they can obtain a license – why aren’t they required to sit through a lecture on the country they’re traveling to so that they understand what an ugly American is, or what happens when you get arrested abroad?”  Hmmmm, not a bad question.  And now, reflecting upon Dr. Shiva’s lecture, I wonder why we aren’t required to read something about the impact of globalization when we obtain our first passport? Or for that matter, when we mindlessly enter our local grocery store, grab a cart and pick up what appears to be a lush green avocado that was grown in Mexico and flown to the US.  Where did those seeds come from and who had to suffer for me, in the North, to have the luxury of eating that avocado in wintertime?

  • Katie Sholian

    Very interesting blog. My recent degree in cultural studies opened my eyes in a similar way. You won't ever be able to go back to not wondering about the bananas that are out of season locally and coming from Honduras, or the products from all over the world.