By Ben Gelman ‘22
“Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination… That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination” said President Trump in September at the United Nations’ 73rd annual General Assembly. This statement is emblematic of a rising discontent with so-called “globalism,” an ideology defined by a willingness to conduct foreign policy through coordination with other nations, and one associated with international systems of governance like the United Nations and the Paris Climate Accord. “Globalist” has become a dirty word, used to describe those who purportedly put the interests of outsiders above those of their fellow citizens and their country, turning the phrase into a smear against politicians who embrace international participation. This negative attitude towards globalism represents a massive difficulty: current problems such as worldwide climate change, or growing global refugee crises require coordination between states around the world to be properly addressed.
Examples of increasingly popular anti-globalist politicians and policies abound. The recently elected president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has criticized the Paris Climate Accord, even pledging to withdraw from the agreement before reversing his position. President Trump has continued to enact policies consistent with the skepticism he expressed for international institutions during his campaign, such as withdrawing from the Iran Deal, the Paris Climate Accord, and the United Nations Human Rights Council. British voters too delivered a strong anti-globalist message in 2016 when they decided to leave the European Union, and voters in other nations voiced similar anti-globalist sentiments, evident through the election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and the popularity of Marie Le Pen in France.
This anti-globalist sentiment has arrived at an exceptionally unfitting time. While the need for global collaboration is nothing new, crises levels surrounding a variety of global issues increasingly require mutual efforts between nations. These efforts cannot be simply bilateral, as the issues at hand such as climate change and refugee crises affect and are affected by a multitude of different nations in continents around the globe.
To focus on just one, a prejudice against globalism would leave the world even more vulnerable to climate change. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we only have about 12 years until global warming surpasses 1.5 degrees Celsius, at which point the effects such as rising sea levels, droughts, and mass extinctions could become catastrophic. The impacts of climate change have already been apparent through the drought in Cape Town, and in the increasing number and severity of hurricanes.
Agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord are humanity’s best hope at avoiding disaster, as the only feasible way to limit global warming’s negative effects would be for governments to coordinate measures such as carbon taxes, prioritization of renewable energy, and limiting deforestation. To leave countries alone to address climate change individually would be immensely ineffective and likely to fail, as without guarantees of a worldwide effort no nation will be incentivised to incur the costs necessary to combat climate change. Such an effort would require placing self-imposed limits on fossil fuel based industries and job opportunities in order to prevent the negative environmental impacts of carbon emissions. No country would willingly do so without guarantees from the international community that they will not be undercut in the global economy by other countries who refuse to abide by emissions limits. Therefore, any effective system to fight climate change requires a robust set of enforceable rules that ensure each nations’ cooperation. Of course, there is always the risk of free-riders slipping through the cracks of regulations, but this is an externality that we must accept in order to have any reasonable chance at preventing future climate disasters. Additionally, any individual effort by any one nation to limit their own emissions, no matter how genuine, does not make much of an impact on Earth’s global temperature unless this behavior is copied by the rest of the international community.
The U.S withdrawal from the Paris agreement and President Bolsenaro’s threat to do so are therefore severely misguided. Donald Trump outright denied his own government’s dire report on climate change’s potential harms to the United States, saying “I don’t believe it.” President-Elect Bolsonaro recently pulled Brazil out of a successful bid to host the next international climate summit, a symbolic gesture that sent a message of non-cooperation and skepticism of climate science to nations hoping to include Brazil in a multilateral solution. Mr. Bolsonaro even recently threatened to strip his own government’s environmental agencies of their authority to impose, in his words, “fines all over the place.” In his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the historian Yuval Noah Harari commented on this phenomenon of right-wing nationalist leaders being hostile to any sort of remedy to climate change by stating that “since there is no national answer to the problem of global warming, some nationalist politicians prefer to believe the problem does not exist” (121).
Climate change may be the single most dangerous threat the world faces today, and those running for office must treat it as such and begin to propose the appropriate solutions. The case must be made by more sensible candidates in elections across the globe for engaging with the outside world as a means of defending against things such as rising sea levels and droughts that endanger citizens of all nations.Though dire, climate change is only one example where nuanced multilateralism is badly-needed in contemporary geopolitics; there exists a historically unprecedented refugee crisc zones in places like Syria and Yemen to name a few others. This being the case, it is clear that some of the world’s most severe problems require a new wave of pro-globalist diplomats and politicians that understand the virtues of globalism as a tool for improvement.