Guest opinion: Living globally

  • Friday, August 21, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion

Columnists Pat Buchanan and Cal Thomas, among others, decry the impact of globalization. They complain that it destroys jobs, undermines our culture and leaves us dependent on others.

Buchanan repeatedly extols the virtues of nationalism as an element of citizenship, identity, culture and national unity. He consistently ignores the abuses of past nationalism gone awry, whether in Nazi Germany or elsewhere.

Some writers have proclaimed the end of globalism as nations have withdrawn from international interactions in reaction to COVID-19, raised barriers to immigration, imposed tariffs that restrict trade or supported a populism that emphasizes an isolationist self-reliance.

Such actions seek to avoid the problems associated with refugees from war-torn places like Syria, from places facing famines, or from the violence rampant in parts of Central America.

The coronavirus pandemic has intensified that feeling as borders were closed to stop its spread and prevent infected individuals from traveling. Airlines and other travel industries were shut down and may rebuild their former business slowly, if at all.

I was raised on a small farm in Southeast Missouri in the 1940s and 1950s. We produced most of our own food, knew every neighbor within a few miles of the farm, and only knew of “globalization” from the second World War and Korean War, and GIs returning to go to the university on the GI Bill.

The U.S. dominated manufacturing and world trade with its undamaged plant capacity.

As individuals we identify first with family, then with clan or tribe, later with community and eventually with nation. For some, even national identity may be a step too far, and global identity is not only difficult but undesirable. Is that realistic and acceptable now and for the future in which we will likely live?

The workability of a “Fortress America” concept is long past. Is it even desirable? Consider the following evidence, from the light-hearted or even trivial, to matters that are truly existential:

Growing up on the farm our cuisine was basic American with a touch of German and the rare Mexican dish. Would that be enough for today, or do we enjoy access to a global cuisine? You may buy clothes, shoes, tools, cars — almost everything in daily use, labelled “Made in America” but it almost certainly contains elements from around the world.

Are we prepared to give up variety and convenience in the name of national identity, or nationalism?

The coronavirus — and a century ago, the Spanish flu — has shown us that national boundaries are no protection from global pandemics. Are we ready to “stay home” in isolation, a self-quarantining action that will likely fail?

The global effort to stop the Ebola virus was not both altruistic and global self-protection. Serious global health threats will happen.

Coordinated global action is necessary for effective support of global (and national) health.

While the administration has touted our “energy independence” we both import, and export, millions of barrels of oil (equivalent) every day! Recent disruption in the oil market, due to reduced demand and the intemperate actions of Saudi Arabia and Russia, have caused serious problems for the financial stability of some U.S. companies and U.S. finances. The energy market is undeniably global.

The video of the death of George Floyd has travelled around the globe with protests in more than 140 countries. We, as a nation, have protested the murder of Khashoggi, the behavior of the Chinese authorities for imprisoning millions of Uighurs, and for violent suppression of the protests in Hong Kong.

We are strongly connected to international bodies such as NATO and the UN. Like it or not, our society, culture and politics, all have important global components.

Then there is our money. More than 60 percent of international trade is conducted in dollars. It is the strength of the greenback that has allowed the administration to levy huge fines on foreign banks and threaten foreign businesses with damaging penalties if they violate our sanctions on trade with nations such as Iran or Russia. The dollar is the global currency.

What about food? The U.S. is, or could be, food independent since we have a large portion of the globe’s arable land. Our farm had chickens, cattle, large gardens and a cellar to store canned goods. We were nearly “food independent.” Much as I appreciated the canned corn, beans, tomatoes, peaches and other good food, I wouldn’t go back. We appreciate both the local, and global, bounty available at Sunny Farms Country Store.

So our cuisine is global, the items we use daily are global, our health concerns are global, and our travel and entertainment are global. In the recent protests we have found that societal issues and politics are global. Energy is global. Our money is global, and our food is global. Can we, or should we, retreat in all those areas to not just “America First” but to America alone?

I believe we will soon be facing the most overwhelming global issue of all time, far worse than COVID-19. That is global climate change. Science has known, and understood, the implications of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since at least 1950. The evidence of how much that has affected our climate is extensively documented on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.

Those who say they have seen little evidence of “global warming” have simply not looked. The NOAA site is but one of many such sites supported by relevant scientific groups around the globe. Our weather has always been global, driven by huge ocean currents like the gulf stream or the Japanese current, and huge meteorological disturbances like hurricanes and cyclones.

But as storms, droughts, floods, and warming ocean waters continue to intensify, as they surely will, the global component of weather will be more devastating.

I have never seen a suggestion from anyone that there may be a “national” solution to the threat, or even a national position that would significantly mitigate the damage.

We are truly in this together, an inescapable “global” problem. With the important and urgent matters that impinge on our everyday lives, like the death of George Floyd and the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to lower our eyes from the more distant catastrophes that are coming.

I would urge Pat Buchanan, Cal Thomas and others who decry globalization, to take their eyes off the rear-view mirror, look around, and then look ahead. We are a global society. If they think about it they may not want to abandon it. More importantly we face future problems where only global action will have any chance of success.

We need to start now to rebuild our global contacts and influence to face that uncertain future together.

Paul Wessel is a Sequim resident.

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