Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

Author Replies # Posted on March 4, 2014 at 17:12

Reflection by Yaqi Fu

What are the gains from applying a world-systems perspective on global environmental history and is

anything lost in taking this approach?

In Hornborg’s book, he adopted a world system perspective trying to analyze the reasons why

environmental problems occur and who should be responsible for these problems. From his points

of view, I find it’s not proper to barely blame the countries which now are causing and suffering

environmental pollution, but the “core” countries can not escape the condemn. It exists a kind of

unequal exchange of time and space between core and periphery countries. The raw material which

produced by periphery countries usually costs more labors, time and space than the processed

products by the core countries. This whole process is driven by the world trade and functions in the

logic of capitalism.

The world-system perspective allows us to take different parts of the world into a comprehensive

understanding of environmental change. Environmental problems usually have no clear boundaries

compared with other issues. In a global respect, an environmental crisis happened in one country,

and to find the reason, connection should be made to other parts of the world. This connection

broad our visions, urge us to reflect upon ourselves and help us construct a much better solution

to the problems with the efforts of related countries. Moreover, we are able to find and take more

factors into consideration in world-system perspective. When we face a national range, what we can

find is the essentials that this country or the people in this country present. Our focus then become

narrowed and it leads our research to a sophisticated but restricted way which encloses us from the

outside world. But if we jump out of this structure and try to adopt a world-system perspective, from

other parts of the world, we can borrow some ideas and methods that will helpful to solve problems.

These new knowledge also gives a hint of something maybe important which we ignored before.

However, bounded by a world-system in analyzing environmental history, it will make some

conclusions less convincing if not enough facts and details are appropriately present. If common

sense mistakes about a country usually happen in a world system work, the readers, if I were one

of them, would not believe anything that the author wants to demonstrate, even how beautiful

some theories are. The author should be careful, prudent and precise when trying to write a global

perspective work. I understand being an expert in a global issue is extremely hard. To become

a expert even in singular area in one country is never a easy job without years of hard working.

A world-system expert, he or she should be well learned in different aspects and have deep

understanding of national issues as these certain experts.

In conclusion, I will here use a metaphorical way to end this reflection. From what I know, the

philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine sees a body as a whole. It emphasizes not the strength

on certain parts of a body, but the whole balance among each part. when your get headache, the

problem maybe is on your feet. I hope the world system perspective can absorb something from this

philosophy and help the uneven world regain its balance.