A decade or two back, we kept hearing that the world was headed for a democracy-friendly global economy with increasing stability and standards of living for all. Sure there would be a few holdouts – terrorists, dictatorships, what not – but they would be dealt with by United Nations led security actions – not wars mind you – and progress would continue.
While globalization had its detractors, there was something reassuring about the world as one giant supply chain, there to get us whatever cool stuff we wanted. Countries that were part of this supply chain would never go to war with each other because it would be too disruptive, so the argument went.
But in his recent book The Levelling, Michael Sullivan argues that Globalization is giving way to a multi-polar world where China, the European Union, the United States and possibly India offer different and competing “poles” for the rest of the nations to align to. The book’s title alludes to the original Levellers, a group of activists during England’s Civil Wars in the 1600’s. This group put sprigs of rosemary in their hats and championed an early manifesto of basic human rights known as An Agreement of the People. They were opposed and ultimately quelled by Oliver Cromwell, but the manifesto later influenced the development of the U.S. Constitution. Sullivan believes the values articulated in this manifesto have a renewed relevance today. Sullivan sees a similar conflict arising between modern day Levellers – pro-democracy, pro-privacy – vs. “Leviathons” – state run societies where personal freedoms and privacy are given lower priority than corporate interests.
In Sullivan’s view, the post-globalization multipolar era will be marked by friction and new risks, as these different regions pursue distinctly different approaches to the questions of democracy, privacy, fiscal policy, and perhaps most importantly of all, the regulation of technology innovation.
This ought to grab the attention of environmentalists and conservation minded leaders. For anyone concerned with preserving the ability of the planet to continue delivering basic mission critical services – air, water, food, climate control – post-globalization offers a set of new challenges and opportunities.
It was easy to envision globalization as a single kind of threat: the willingness of the multi-national corporation to destroy almost anything – water supplies, breathable air, the morale of its workforce, even its own future – anything just to meet the quarterly expectations of shareholders.
This mindset allowed for a straightforward playbook for holding corporations accountable when self policing and government policy failed: find a way to disrupt the corporation’s ability to satisfy its shareholders. Boycott its products, bring shame to its brand, litigate, lobby etc. Use social media to organize and to cast large corporations as super-villains. Rinse and repeat until the offending corporation changes its ways, or at least agrees to do some compensating good in exchange for harm caused.
In a multi-polar world this playbook may still be able to deliver some measure of accountability in some situations, but may have increasingly limited returns. Some corporations will decide to shift to other “poles” to escape accountability. A company operating in the U.S. might find that it enjoys lower scrutiny and regulation than in the European Union. Likewise a company in China or India may enjoy lower, or different scrutiny.
Corporations that choose to attempt to work across these conflicting “poles” will find it difficult to please their multiple masters, while also answering to a workforce increasingly concerned with ethics.
More than a few corporations are going to find themselves faced with the need to choose where they will operate and who they will do business with, based on technology boundaries.
In such an economically fractured world, how do we successfully advocate for and influence toward the preservation of Natures’ ability to do its own work?
It may come down to two things:
- Winning the hearts and minds of individuals.
- Individuals will need to discover for themselves the critical importance of nature’s services, and their utter dependence on, and connection to these life giving services.
- They will also need to discover for themselves the unparalleled joys of experiencing the incredible diversity of living things. The commercial world offers nothing that comes close to the thrill of riding a wave, or seeing a pod of dolphins, or watching an eagle glide down to its own glassy reflection in a lake, and lift a thrashing fish out of the water with its talons.
- Finding ways to cooperate across borders. In every part of the world, regardless of region or economic policy there is a single truth: Nature has work to do. Don’t interfere with Nature’s ability to do her work. Her work is actually more important, more fundamental, and non-negotiable than most of the rest of what we call work. When we hinder Nature from doing her work, we are threatening ourselves, our communities, our own children and grandchildren. No individual, no corporation or government has the right to do that.
If you think about it, a common concern for natural resources and services provided by Nature, driven by a common concern for human rights and well being may have to be the new “glue” that holds this world together. It would probably be a far better one than the “single economic policy” that gave us globalization as we knew it.
Tradition has it that Levellers identified themselves by wearing sprigs of Rosemary in their hats, perhaps plucked from the Rosemary Gardens next to the Rosemary Branch Tavern in Islington – one of the taverns where the Levellers were believed to have organized. Not sure if the current day tavern is the same or just named after the original, but it looks to be worth a visit. (This history goes back to 1816 but the original tavern would have been a couple centuries older).
So now you know why the headline photo in this post features my favorite hat, with a sprig of rosemary from my herb garden. 🙂