Earth Day 2023 and Global Solidarity

David P. Turner / April 16, 2023

Earth Day 2023 (April 22) is the 53rd anniversary for this annual gathering of the global tribe.  Historically, it has been an opportunity to protest the decline in environmental quality and to envision a sustainable relationship of humanity to the rest of the Earth system.

So, let’s review three environmental trends of particular concern in 2023 and three pointers to the possibility of a sustainable Earth system.

Three concerns.

1.  2023 is shaping up to be an El Niño year.  Ocean circulation in the equatorial Pacific Ocean will slow, which means less heat removal to the ocean interior by downwelling water in the western pacific and less delivery of cool upwelling water in the eastern Pacific.  Global mean temperature will tick up a bit beyond the usual expectation.  There is speculation that 2023 will be the warmest year on record.

2.  Sea ice extent will continue to decline at both poles, which is part of the snow/ice albedo positive feedback to global warming.

3.  Greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise.  The annual increase in methane concentration is especially worrisome because the increase has been relatively large in recent years, a consequence of rising emissions from both the global energy sector and biosphere sources.

Three trends to be hopeful about.

1.  The International Energy Agency recently reported that 2023 will mark a step-change upward in the public and private financing available to support the global renewable energy revolution.  The official theme of Earth Day 2023 is “Invest in Our Planet”.

2.  The proportion of land and ocean area in some sort of biodiversity protection status continues to rise.  A 2022 UN biodiversity conference set a goal of 30% by 2030.

3.  Stratospheric ozone continues to regenerate in response to the global regulatory process associated with the Montreal Protocol.

There are endless issues within countries and between countries for humans to argue and fight about.  But recent anthropogenically-driven changes in the global environment are something we all have in common, and something that must be addressed collectively.

In the near term, the growing incidence of extreme weather events associated with anthropogenic climate change negatively impinges on the quality of life of a vast number of people around the planet.  On a decadal time frame, sea level rise will come to displace hundreds of millions of people.  At the scale of a century or more, on-going climate change may set off a cascade of positive feedback mechanisms that will drive the Earth system to a new state inimical to an advanced, high technology, global civilization (the Icarus Scenario).

There are many impediments to becoming a global “we” that will work collectively on global environmental change issues.  But Earth Day, as the largest recurring secular celebration in the world, is an occasion to think anew and commit to opportune joint initiatives.

Environmental Reglobalization

David P. Turner / April 24, 2022

Globalization refers to the increasing interconnectedness of individuals and social groups everywhere on the planet, and to the increasing inability of any particular social group to isolate itself from outside influences.  The process has geopolitical, economic, cultural, and environmental dimensions. 

In this post, I am particularly interested in how globalization, and its follow-on stages of deglobalization, and reglobalization, impact the global environment (Figure 1).

three stages of globalization
Figure 1.  Three sequential phases of globalization.  Neoliberal globalization from around 1980 to 2008 was based on maximizing profits by way of free trade within a global capitalistic system.  More recently, nationalistic deglobalization is characterized by a reassertion of national borders and reduction in flows of trade goods, financial capital, and immigrants.  Environmental reglobalization is a potential way forward in which the necessity to collectively address global environmental change issues provides a basis for global solidarity.  Image Credits: Neoliberal Globalization, Nationalistic Deglobalization, Environmental Reglobalization, Composite (D. Turner).

Despite globalization’s significant detrimental impacts on the global environment – notably a large stimulus to growth in the global Gross Domestic Product and associated greenhouse gas emissions – it has also had significant beneficial effects on the global environment, e.g. progressive environmental standards have been widely promulgated, and a global environmental governance infrastructure has begun to function.

However, globalization is currently in retreat, and any possible environmental benefits from it are in jeopardy.  Causes of the current wave of deglobalization include: 1) the economic suffering imposed on workers in the most developed countries by globalization of the labor market (which has inspired efforts to reduce imports of manufactured goods), 2) the psychological shock of juxtaposing very different cultures (e.g. secular vs. religious) made possible by modern transportation and communication technology (hence leading to revivals of xenophobic fundamentalism), and 3) the political benefits to autocratic leaders from rousing nationalist fervor (hence leading to outbreaks of war, as in Ukraine).

The rise of nationalism and deglobalization is associated with a retreat from global environmental change issues, e.g. the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement by the Trump administration in 2017, and the anti-environmental policies of the Bolsonaro administration in Brazil.  That kind of nationalism shirks responsibility for planetary scale problems and in practice is a false nationalism.  It ultimately endangers all nations on Earth as the global biophysical environment deteriorates and ecosystem services to humans are lost.

Reformed globalization (reglobalization) is a new concept that could help overcome the dangers of deglobalization.  Reglobalization would include stronger national and international efforts to reduce economic inequality and to extend the benefits of globalization more uniformly.  It would mean a wide recognition that we live on a crowded planet, which must be managed collectively to insure continued delivery of nature’s services.  Indeed, global environmental change issues could be the major driver towards an era of greater global unity.

With respect to the environment, reglobalization would include stepped-up green-tech transfer to developing countries for mitigation of climate change, stronger institutions of global environmental governance, and a revived commitment by individuals, institutions, and nations to global sustainability.

Environmental reglobalization will likely not have the prodigious force of the neoliberal globalization wave that began in the 1980s.  Rather, it must be cultivated based on wide public awareness, active civil society organizations, and wise political leadership.