"Globalization" is a term that describes the growing interconnectedness of nations through trade and communication. With easier access to communication and transportation worldwide, globalization has become a key dynamic in the world marketplace and in corporate development. It has both positive and negative effects in social, political and economic terms and also on the environment, which is a complex issue with many contributing factors. Mitigating the negative environmental effects of globalization will continue to be an important issue as globalization increases, so that we can keep the positive effects of a growing global community without unduly harming the environment.
Liberalization of trade, or the reduction of restrictions, tariffs and other barriers to free trade, has an effect on countries' industry composition, which can have a positive or negative environmental impact. If liberalization has the effect of increasing a nation's industrial or manufacturing segment, the result can be more pollution and more strain on the country's natural resources. On the other hand, if trade liberalization results in a shrinking heavy industry concentration and increasing growth in the services sector, the opposite may be true for that country. As companies expand, it is important to consider overall business and expansion plans to ensure they are fair, ethical and contribute to overall well-being of people and the environment, rather than subtract from it.
While greater competition resulting in lower prices, more choice and better service for consumers is often touted as a positive effect of globalization, it has a downside. With more households gaining access to affordable consumer goods, more manufacturing and more intense use of natural resources put strain on the environment in the form of pollution and depletion of resources. Production, transportation and use of consumer goods results in more waste, pollution and fuel use. While this wear and tear on the environment is heartbreaking, cheaper goods are also often produced in part through forced labor or human trafficking. Less than ideal conditions for the environment and for people create an atmosphere where it is important to consider ethics and integrity in globalization efforts.
As countries compete for global trade opportunities, they experience increased pressure to offer lower prices. In areas of the world without sufficient regulatory oversight, dirty industries and practices can thrive by exploiting resources for profit, resulting in a pocket of intense environmental damage. This also gives countries with stricter environmental regulations a comparative disadvantage against countries without stringent oversight, possibly leading countries to relax their own environmental rules to lower the compliance costs on their industries. Some of the poorest countries in the world have the most relaxed environmental standards, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by industries that are looking for inexpensive places to produce goods, without the expense of environmentally conscious production practices required in more affluent countries.
Competition to meet global demand can result in overexploitation of natural resources. With greater opportunities to export products, many countries have pushed their resources to the limit to maximize production. Without sustainable practices for harvesting, resources can be exploited to the point of no return. Deforestation and overfishing are examples of problems exacerbated by the liberalization of trade around the world. The African continent is rich with natural resources and valuable goods, yet overexploitation of those resources in the presence of other social conditions creates an atmosphere where the environment is harmed and African people never see the wealth of their own abundant resources.