One World Now: The Ethics of Globalization, is a book by my personal favourite philosopher ever- Peter Singer, an Australian moral philosopher and bioethicist, which discusses the need for humanity’s shared ethical responsibility and sovereignty in an ever increasingly globalised world. The book addresses whether the nation state is loosing sovereignty, and whether or not it should. Singer’s thesis is based on the notion that we are living in “one world,” a phrase which here describes the nature of the our increasing interconnectedness of life on Earth, and also a prescription of how our ethical thinking should be in such a world. Although I’m not at this point sure whether I 100% agree with what Singer proposes, I found that this book by far provides the most compelling insight into the ethics relating to globalisation hat I have come across. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in moral and political philosophy, but for those who don’t intend on reading the book, I have written this two explain Singer’s stance on the ethics of globalisation by focusing on the first two examples he gives; global climate change & the World Trade Organisation.
There is no doubt that we are living in an increasingly interconnected and globalised world, driven by advancements in technology and transport, which has resulted in increased trade and communication between nations around the world. Living in such an interconnected world has many benefits, like providing developed countries with new jobs for local people, bringing wealth and foreign currency into their economy, promoting the widespread sharing of ideas, lifestyles, and other cultures, increasing people’s awareness of what is going on in the world, news events become widespread, and allowing people to become more aware of global issues. Globalisation does however allow for an increasing number of these global issues to arise. This is primarily because it operates in the interests of richer countries, multinational corporations often operate in less economically developed countries because they have less strict laws that allow them to exploit poorer countries for insultingly cheap labour, raw materials, and other services, or to consume natural resources at an unsustainable rate that wouldn’t be allowed in more economically developed countries.
To find out more about how globalisation works, and the impacts that it has on the world we live in, check out these PBS Crash Course World History Videos on globalisation.
One World: The ethics of globalisation
One World by Peter Singer was originally published in 2002, and One World Now is the updated and revised 2016 edition. In the book, Singer, a renowned utilitarian, discusses the ethics relating to living in a globalised world from a “global ethical viewpoint.” He looks at two global issues that relate to living in our increasingly globalised world- global warming and the regulation of international trade, and discusses issues relating to national sovereignty and the distribution of aid. Singer provides compelling arguments for why these are in fact moral issues just as much as they are environmental or economic issues, and why in this age of globalisation we must turn our attention from state sovereignty to acting as one globalised world to not only improve the lives of our national citizens, but to improve the lives of the entirety of humankind.
Global Climate Change
Singer has devoted the entire first chapter to climate change, and he begins by summarizing the scientific evidence that currently exists for global warming and the likely consequences of such, including rising sea levels, volatile weather patterns and increased natural disasters, threats to food security, increased spread of tropical diseases, and currently inhabited areas becoming uninhabited for humans, and he emphasizes that developed countries will be far better equipped to deal with these issues than developing countries.Singer also discusses current international efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, such as those discussed at the conferences in Rio, Kyoto, and most recently Paris.
Global climate change is a moral issue, because certain countries, corporations, or individuals contribute far more carbon and pollution than others, but everyone must suffer the consequences, and some countries must bear a far greater burden of consequences than others- even though they may not contribute much to the problem. These unevenly distributed consequences make it very difficult and often unfair when trying to determine who is responsible in solving the issue.
Currently, the United State’s emits more carbon than any other nation, about 5 tonnes annually per person, while Chinese emit 0.76 and Indians 0.29. According to Singer there is no ethical justification for our present system that allows some countries to emit such large amounts of greenhouse gases, while others must bear more of the negative effects. Singer suggests three possible outcomes for a fair distribution of the responsibility of tacking global climate change.
“You break it you buy it:” The first of these is a “you break it you buy it” type argument, where countries should be responsible for share equivalent to the amount of damage they have caused. Historically, the United State’s has been the largest contributor to global climate change by emitting the most greenhouse gasses, so they should have the most responsibility in repairing the damage.
Forget the past: Singer’s second argument forgets the past and focuses on the present. He proposes that the responsibility should be divided up according to how much each industrialized nation currently pollutes. Similar to the first argument, the United States still emits six times as much carbon as any other nation, so they will have the most responsibility in repairing the environment.
Rawlsian justice: The third argument that Singer proposes is a Rawlsian concept of justice (based on the work and theories developed by John Rawls,) where inequality is only acceptable if it works to the advantage of the least advantaged members of our global society. Once again, this would result in the United States taking more responsibility for the repercussions of global climate change since they produce the most carbon and aren’t as negatively affected by it by other nations.
This is Singer’s favoured solution, and in this he proposes and makes a case for global emissions trading. If you are unfamiliar with how emissions trading works, check out this video:
World Trade Organisation
The second section of One World Now focuses on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and four main charges against it.
The WTO places economic considerations ahead of concerns for the environment, animal welfare, and even human rights: Singer’s argument for placing economic concern above the environment, animal welfare, and human rights is rather compelling and offers a good overview of major examples and responses. He discusses Article XX, an article that lays out a number of specific instances in which WTO members may be exempted from GATT rules, and discusses the product/process distinction in trade disputes- where certain countries cant discriminate against a product based solely on the process by which it was made, even if the process may be harmful to the environment, people’s health, animals, etc.
The WTO erodes national sovereignty: Singer discusses how the WTO erodes national sovereignty, but talks about both the positive and negatives impacts this can have on a global scale.
The WTO is undemocratic: Singer argues that he UN is somewhat undemocratic, and as a utilitarian he believes that more weight ought to be given to nation states according to population numbers
The WTO increases inequality: There is no doubt that the way in which nations currently trade and the way multinational corporations are set up makes the rich richer and leaves the world’s poorest people even worse off than they would otherwise have been. Singer goes fairly deep into this, providing examples and explaining how many developing nations are now incurring the costs.
The Need For One world
The final chapters discuss the need for this notion of One World: one law, one community, one governing body, etc, whilst emphasizing the negative impacts that the United Nations have/can have on this. Singer discusses this using his utilitarian approach that is founded upon political and economic theories. For anyone who is interested in reading the book I highly recommend that you do so, as Singer aims for democratic solutions, and believes that once we fully understand the interconnectedness of our globalised world, we will then be able to realise and uphold shared common values.