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 15:02

Karin Sillén, Reflection on the Alf Hornborg seminar 2014-03-03

What are the gains from applying a world-systems perspective on global environmental history and is anything lost in taking this approach?

I think that a world-system perspective is a good way to analyze environmental issues. It gives a wider perspective. A world-system perspective shows the connections between local, regional, and global. By including the connections we are able to see how environmental problems “work” their way around the globe. For example, Hornborg (2012:11) writes about global terms of trade. In these terms we find unequal exchanges in many areas; labour, profit, and the distribution of resources in the world system. From this point of view I´m visualizing the world from a system that divides the world unequal. This unequal system needs to be recognized.

I also believe that the local is important and must be included in analyzing environmental problems on a global scale. When I think about local I refer to, amongst many things, to the core and the periphery. Hornborg (2012:19) is taking up the problem with core vs. periphery. The core imports from the periphery, and the core imports more than it exports. The periphery works the other way around and exports more than they import.A consequence is that the periphery has less resources left to it´s citizens. Another problem is that the core exports polluting industries to the periphery. Here we see connections between rich and poor areas, and the unequal exchange in trade relations and industries. The core uses the periphery as a dumpster (Hornborg, 2012:55). A world-system perspective is highly useful when looking into these aspects, and the system of unequal change. The local is there, but the connection between different local areas and the exchanges between them are of much value in discussing the environment.

All the above has to do with politics. Hornborg (2012:56) continues with that political issues are an important factor in a global society. When a nation is successful on the world arena, the nation has often relocated it´s own garbage somewhere else in the world. And the periphery has to take the downsides of political and capital success. This shows quite clearly the connections between areas in the world. World-system perspective is good; it reveals the connections that are important factors when dealing with environmental issues. But it also shows that it´s important to think about the local as well.