Monday, April 11, 2005

Reverse globalization?

I had lunch with an economist last week and suggested to him that globalization was entirely dependent on cheap transport and that cheap transport was based on cheap fuel. This stopped him in his tracks. It had never occurred to him that this one leg in the global marketplace could become the broken link that might bring the entire system down. Of course, the reason it had never occurred to him is that he had bought into the economic notion of substitutability, that is, that there is or will be a substitute for any product or raw material including oil AND that the substitute would come along in a timely manner so as not to disrupt our tidy global trade arrangements.

When I asked him what that substitute would be, he responded that we will run transport on electricity. I inquired whether he thought we could run aircraft and freighters on batteries. He agreed that it would be unlikely. I pressed him about whether tractor-trailers might run on batteries. He thought perhaps someday, but obviously not now. And, I asked where all this electricity might come from if not from coal-fired and natural gas powered generating plants. He said yes, indeed. Was he aware that in North America natural gas production is only keeping up with demand now and has probably entered a decline? Is that really true? he responded.

Here is an extremely bright, thoughtful, compassionate and well-informed person, deeply concerned about social and economic justice. But, as with so many people, it is almost unthinkable that globalization might falter and reverse, and with it economic growth. We have our work cut out for us.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)


Anonymous said...

I think there are a lot of silly stuff that will fall out of the transportation equation when higher fuel prices arrive.

Shipping drinking water from other continents is an easy one. I used to see farm-fresh New Zealand eggs in Newport Beach, California. That's another. I think we have three brands of French butter at Trader Joe's ...

I've got a gut-feel that we could cut half our overseas transport without hitting anything we really miss.

Anonymous said...

Of course there's not only 'overseas' transport, there's also petroleum-dependent "within the continent" transport like lettuce and other fresh vegetables from California to the rest of the USA, and dairy from Wisconsin to many other states, as well as anything sent by every air and ground shipping company in the USA, plus all the internet businesses that have to mail/ship whatever you buy from them to wherever you are. . . etc. This list goes on.

Whether we NEED or merely want all the foodstuffs and other items we buy is one thing; whether they will be obtainable, whether needed or not, is another. I like those winter salads and fruits, but I live in upstate New York. Winter Cabbage anyone?

Anonymous said...

I was thinking that the most-distant imports would drop out first. If we get to the point where interstate trucking of staples is a problem ... que the disaster moive.

Anonymous said...

very true the reverse globalisation will occur and sooner than we expect look at us here in usa we are losing jobs to other countries and importing almost every imaginable thing so what is our GDP growth gauge is going to be I hope not per capita consumption.