By Harriet Anne Rigby, Alderley Edge School for Girls
Rigby, H. (2021) ‘Globalisation and global events impact all places’. To what extent is this true?. Routes 1(3): 281-290.
Our world today is more interconnected than ever before. The process of globalisation, coupled with subsequent global events, has allowed for the general improvement of humanity’s standard of living and quality of life. Global events provide the catalyst (and therefore foundations) for international social, environmental, economic and political change.
This essay seeks to determine whether globalisation and global events impact all places through utilising examples of pandemics (including the Plague, influenza and COVID-19), climate change (and its impact upon the global commons), and the far-reaching effects of natural disasters. These three examples of pandemics, climate change and natural disasters therefore form the three sections of this essay. Through the analysis of these past and present examples it is clear that historical and current global events, along with the processes of globalisation, have wide-ranging geographical impacts that affect ‘all places’ differently. What’s more, globalisation facilitates the proliferation of events, providing them with the optimum conditions to become global in their nature.
Globalisation describes the increasing interconnectedness of the world, occurring through trade, communication, commerce, migration and the development of trans-national corporations (TNCs). Globalisation is a global process that has created global events as a by-product. As such, this essay is naturally divided into three sections of global events: pandemics, climate change, and natural disasters. This essay concludes by stating that both globalisation and global events affect many, if not ‘all places’, yet the extent of the impact of these processes upon different places is not equal, unveiling a limitation of the statement. Through critically analysing the extent to which global events impact all places, geographers gain increased understanding of the processes present in creating globalisation (and therefore global events), allowing us to direct these processes to create international improvements, revealing the significance of research into this topic within the wider field as it has the potential to improve people’s livelihoods.
For centuries globalisation has provided the optimum conditions for the spread of epidemics (subsequently creating global pandemic events), including the Plagues of 541 AD (Justinian’s Plague) and 1346-53 (the Black Death), influenza (in 1918), and more recently COVID-19.
2.1. The Plague
The development of trade and migration (dimensions of globalisation) has fuelled these outbreaks of pandemics. The Silk Road, for example, facilitated the proliferation of the Black Death outbreak of the Plague as this international trade route connected once isolated communities, creating a large economic network which allowed for the trading of goods, whilst simultaneously allowing for the dispersion of pathogens. The earlier Plague of Justinian moved along trade routes too, killing approximately 25 million people across Africa, Asia, Arabia, and Europe (Howard, 2019). The fact that even remote communities were afflicted with this disease supports the idea that globalisation affected many places from as early as 541 AD. However, it is too broad a generalisation to state that the disease affected ‘all places’; some areas were devastated by the disease whilst others escaped unscathed. The differing impacts of the Plague upon different places therefore refute the statement.
Like the Plague pandemics, influenza also became a global event impacting many places. The virus was able to spread around the globe more quickly than the past pandemics due to the increasing interconnectedness of the world and the rapid migration of troops to fight in World War One. The fact that globalisation facilitates the spread of these pandemic events supports the idea that global events and globalisation impacts many places. However, as is evident in Figure 1 below, influenza (like the Plague) affected different places to differing extents, with some areas escaping the disease entirely. This weakens the blanket statement of ‘globalisation and global events impacting all places’, as the globalisation of disease is clearly unequal.
The unbalanced nature of the globalisation of the influenza pandemic is seen clearly in its very low impact upon countries such as Argentina, however the same unfortunately cannot be said for the Inuits of Alaska. This nomadic group saw some of the highest influenza mortality rates in the world: in some communities up to 90% of the population succumbed (Gray, 2018). More positively, however, these past pandemics have resulted in the increased understanding of diseases, contributing to the global development of the public health profession. The influenza pandemic in-particular had a profound effect upon healthcare globally, as the sheer scope of the disease forced countries to recognise the need to coordinate public health at the international level, consequently leading to the formation of the League of Nations Health Organisation (LNHO) in 1919 (now the World Health Organisation). This organisation, which served as a novel ‘executive committee of sorts for a worldwide biomedical and public health episteme’ greatly affected ‘all places’, as it had the common goal to improve health and ‘alleviate human suffering through reducing, and if not eliminating disease’ on a global scale (Dubin and Weindling, 1995). This was achieved through the sharing of knowledge about the aetiology and epidemiology of many diseases, along with the ‘socio-economic factors contributing to human illness’ (Dubin and Weindling, 1995).
The influenza pandemic also inspired many governments to consolidate and expand access to their national healthcare systems during the 1920s and 1930s, with many nations embracing the concept of socialised healthcare for all, free at the point of delivery in the post-influenza years. This reveals that the global event of influenza did indeed impact a vast majority of the world’s populace, and has continued to do so to this day, as many countries’ national health services (which citizens continue to have access to) were born as a result of the pandemic. What’s more, the notable differences between these national health services refute Castells’s exaggerated argument of ‘globalisation signalling the end of place’ through Relph’s term ‘placelessness’ (Castells in Castree, 2009).
These healthcare organisations have allowed for a more controlled response to the current pandemic of COVID-19, as international health organisations, NGOs and national health organisations are in much better positions to meet new challenges. This enables past global pandemic events to benefit the current generations suffering in the present pandemic, as diseases of the past paved the way for improvements in the field of epidemiology, further supporting the fact that global events affect multiple generations. What’s more, globalisation is also seen to affect the lives of many during the current pandemic as the communication between experts in the fields of multiple branches of medicine relating to COVID-19 are allowing for improvements in treatment across the world as doctors and researchers share their findings, allowing for more lives to be saved. Global trade (an aspect of globalisation) has also allowed for personal protective equipment to travel from producers to consumers, further aiding countries’ responses to the virus as more people are protected against the disease. Even countries with no reported cases of COVID-19 have suffered the consequences of this global event, as their international trade (and tourism sectors) have declined significantly, having an adverse effect upon the economies of ‘all places’ as countries struggle to balance their budgets and provide sufficient economic help to those in need.
In regards to the study of pandemics, the extent of the truthfulness of the statement increases as the pandemics become more recent. As globalisation has only increased its influence across more places since the first outbreak of the Justinian’s Plague, this has allowed for more places to be afflicted by either the pandemic itself, or the secondary effects of reduced trade and economic turmoil at the very least on the national scale. This further reveals the great extent to which the statement is true, as globalisation and the global event of pandemics impact all places, albeit to uneven extents.
3. Climate change
Climate change epitomizes the clearest example of a global event impacting ‘all places’. Yet despite it being a global systematic problem, climate change remains an uneven crisis that affects ‘all places’ unequally too. Similarly to the spread of pandemics, climate change is also caused by globalisation. Anthropogenic and capitalogenic (Moore, 2016) activities, such as petrochemical practices, have created a proliferation in the consumption of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution, leading to the momentous increase in the volume of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. As the atmosphere is a global common, the entirety of the world’s populace is affected by this global event which has seen the planet’s average surface temperature rise by 0.9°C since the late nineteenth century (NASA, 2020a). This only emphasises the wholly valid nature of the statement that ‘global events and globalisation impact all places’. Yet whilst ‘all places’ are inevitably affected by the crisis, the impacts of climate change remain unequal. The most vulnerable countries (who have contributed the least to climate change) are ‘most at risk from its negative effects and the least equipped to withstand and adapt to it’ (Acharya, 2015). This further highlights the danger of generalising the impacts of global events and globalisation to ‘all places’, as different areas experience different severities of the climate crisis. The warming climate is affecting other global commons too, including both the high seas, Antarctica and the biosphere, revealing the extent to which climate change continues to impact ‘all places’.
Places’ exposure to heatwaves is also increasing: the number of people exposed to heatwaves between 2000 and 2016 increased by around 125 million (World Health Organisation). Almost 400 all-time high temperatures were set in the northern hemisphere in the summer of 2019 (Brownet al., 2020). Whilst the effects of extreme heat are exacerbated in cities (due to the urban heat island effect), the livelihoods and wellbeing of non-urban communities can also be severely disrupted by periods of unusually hot weather (World Health Organisation), further supporting the statement that ‘all places’ are affected by globalisation, which has ultimately increased the frequency and severity of heatwaves. Indeed, summer heatwaves have adverse social, economic and environmental effects upon the afflicted regions, as health and emergency services become increasingly burdened, and food, water and livelihood security become increasingly pressurised (World Health Organisation). The European heatwave of 2003 for example, led to a reported death toll of over 70,000 people and caused over €13 billion in financial damages (De Bono et al., 2004). This only validates the notion that ‘all places’ on Earth, including the global commons, are being impacted (albeit to differing extents) by the detrimental global event of climate change, which has been (and is being) caused by globalisation.
4. Natural disasters
Natural disasters have less potential to become global events, but their profound consequences have the ability to create severe environmental, social, economic and even political repercussions. However, like the case for the global events mentioned above, the extent of these repercussions remains uneven upon different places.
This was evident in the aftermath of the eruption of the Icelandic volcano; Laki, in 1783. The intense plume of smoke and sulphurous dry fog was reported to have affected considerable fractions of Eurasia and North Eastern Canada, yet recent research suggests that even the Southern Hemisphere suffered (Trigo et al., 2009), supporting the argument that a vast majority of places are affected by global events.
4.2. The effects of Laki: Famine
In Iceland, the eruption led to the death of over 60% of the country’s livestock due to fluorosis (Oregon State University), and crop failure was caused by acid rain. The famine which inevitably followed resulted in almost a quarter of the Icelandic population succumbing (Oregon State University). Famines also occurred in Japan (1782-1787), where severe cold weather (aided by the eruption of the Japanese volcano Mount Asma in 1783) destroyed the rice harvest, causing one of the worst famines in Japanese history, and in the Nile River region the Laki eruption aided the disruption of regular monsoon patterns, leading to a famine that claimed one sixth of Egypt’s population. This famine contributed to the Egyptian weakness during the Napoleonic invasion of 1798 (The French Invasion and Occupation, 1798-1801) as the severe population losses weakened its military capacity and capabilities. This further unveils the far-reaching effects of this global event, which impacted even Napoleon’s military strategy.
4.3. The meteorological effects of Laki
The eruption also impacted meteorological patterns in the Southern Hemisphere; between 1784-1786, Rio de Janeiro suffered abnormally high incidences of unusual dry fog and haze days, and it is now believed that the outstanding peak observed between September and November of 1784 was linked to the Laki eruption (Trigo et al., 2009).
4.4. The climatic effects of Laki
The eruption also had severe climatic impacts; in North-Eastern America average winter temperatures were 4.8°C below the 225-year mean, and the Northern Hemisphere experienced a decrease of 1°C (Oregon State University). European temperature records show that the winter of 1784 was one of the more severe in the past 500 years (D’Arrigo et al., 2011), resulting in many environmental historians supporting the notion that the disruption to the agrarian based economies in Northern Europe aided the French Revolution of 1789-1799, due to food poverty being such a crucial factor in the accumulation of unrest in France. This further exemplifies the eruption’s global impact which affected a vast majority of places. Many European countries (along with China) reported atmospheric haze and ‘dry sulphurous fog’ in 1783 (almost certainly associated with the volcanic aerosols), and Russian traders in Alaska noted a population decrease in the years after the eruption (Klemetti, 2013). However, recent research has revealed that it is possible that these climatic variations caused by the eruption could have been exacerbated by a corresponding negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation and an El Niño‐Southern Oscillation warm event (D’Arrigo et al., 2011). This limits the idea of Laki being the sole factor in affecting these places, therefore limiting the idea that global events affect all places.
4.5. The effects of Laki on globalisation
The eruption of Laki quickly hampered globalisation (which had seen the world become increasingly interconnected by the eighteenth century), as sea transport was immobilised due to the fog caused by the eruption. This disruption to international trade impacted many places as trade routes such as the trans-Atlantic triangular slave trade and the East India Company trading corridors became unsafe. This adversely affected many coastal regions’ economies, as merchants were unable to trade and make profit, subsequently temporarily increasing unemployment in these sea trade dependent areas. This highlights the great extent to which globalisation impacted many places as early as the eighteenth century. However, the eruption did not have lasting implications upon the affected areas; the primary impacts were short term on the more global scale, illuminating a limitation of viewing natural disasters as global events (which through globalisation impact ‘all places’) and decreasing the extent to which the statement is true. What’s more, not ‘all places’ were affected by the eruption: Oceania, for example remained relatively unscathed by the repercussions of the natural disaster.
Global events and globalisation impact ‘all places’ to differing extents. Logically speaking, the impacts of globalisation and global events are global, however this does not mean that the impacts are the same across the globe (Aalbers, 2009). The repercussions of globalisation have had profound effects upon our planet, as even areas with strong opposition groups to the process or isolated communities suffer from the processes’ indirect effects. Charles Maier (2000) suggests that globalisation was one of the undoing forces of ‘territorialisation’ (a concept which framed the era from 1860-1960), further solidifying the statement’s accuracy in that ‘all places’ are somewhat impacted by these processes, as the interdependence of the world allowed for the diminishment of the importance of empires and boundaries, creating what Marshal McLuhan termed the ‘global village’ (McLuhan in Logan, 2010). Additionally, the diffusion of globalisation and ‘trends’ also threatens the traditions and culture of many communities, which are at risk of homogenisation due to increasing numbers of people being influenced by social media and the standards set by more dominant cultures (namely the West). Yet more recently, for example, western societies have experienced the imposition of aspects of the global south’s culture upon the western world (Hoolihan, n.d.). This idea supports Castells’s notion of placelesness being a dangerous by-product of globalisation, revealing the truth in the statement ‘globalisation affects all places’, however the severity of the affects differs in different places. Whilst there is much veracity in the idea that ‘global events affect all places’, the statement is not wholly accurate. Therefore, we must be careful about generalising the same level of intensity of the impacts of these global events upon ‘all places’, as the impacts are ultimately uneven.
I would like to thank Caroline Wood for her continued support of this work and her encouragement when I was submitting this article.
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