Climate change. Terrorism. Nuclear warfare. Pandemics. Today more than ever, we are being confronted with issues that are global in nature. Gone are the days when a country’s biggest problems were confined to its own boundaries. Nations are so economically, socially, and technologically intertwined that they are forced to depend on one another.
We are all, whether we realize it or not, impacted by globalization. Globalization doesn’t just apply to migration and other large-scale situations; it is present in everyday life.
People around the world are exposed to other cultures on a daily basis without crossing any borders, via international calls, emails, satellite TV, social media, and more. Most of the material possessions we own aren’t from our own country. Even much of our food has traveled: the average American meal is transported 1500 miles before being eaten! Furthermore, people might interact with immigrants, refugees, or tourists or frequent establishments that bring other cultures in close proximity to their own. This phenomenon is described by some as “internal globalization.”
As we can see, our lives have an inescapable global dimension. For this reason, it is becoming harder and harder to ignore the living conditions of our fellow humans across the world.
The problem with thinking on such a large scale is that it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the extent of the global challenges we face. On the flip side, it is also easy to feel disconnected from the issues at hand. It is difficult for someone shopping at their favorite clothing store to realize that the shirt they buy may support child labor. The true nature of the impact of climate change as it is experienced in developing countries is also unimaginable to many first-world dwellers. This feeling of disconnect may lead many to underestimate the scope of the issues the world is facing today.
In the context of globalization, thinking and acting as global citizens has become a necessity. How can we support this role in a way that speaks to us personally? One catchphrase that has emerged in recent years may be a good place to start: think global, act local.
“Think global, act local” can take on a variety of different meanings. Large, multinational companies, for example, use it as a business strategy. In order to succeed globally, these companies must cater to local consumers. One of the most obvious examples of this is McDonald’s menu customization. In Japan, you can find the Teriyaki McBurger, in India, the Maharaja Mac. Sorry Americans, you won’t be able to find these items under our golden arches.
Business aside, “think global, act local” is widely used in the context of climate change. Although climate change is a global issue, we cannot expect a large-scale, global solution to emerge anytime soon. Binding international law takes a long time to create, and is difficult to implement. States and cities, however, have greater flexibility and are able to be more responsive.
The 2014 National Climate Assessment , for example, mentions that building and landscaping codes can be updated to improve energy efficiency, conserve water, and improve protection against extreme events. Cities can also take action by doing things such as banning plastic bags in stores, implementing urban water-use reductions, transitioning to electric buses, and designing streets for walking and biking.
The idea of thinking globally and acting locally also applies on the individual level. One of the best ways to do this is to support small businesses. Small businesses offer stability to local economies and pay a living wage to well-qualified workers rather than abusing cheap, foreign labor.
Since owners tend to live in the neighborhoods they serve, they care about the impact their business has on the surrounding environment. This means less pollution and waste, and more support to communities, families, and local economies. Supporting local businesses also allows you to know the origins of what you are buying and gives you the reassurance that your dollar isn’t backing unethical business practices such as slave labor, use of toxic chemicals, or exploitation of land and vulnerable populations.
Looking at multinational issues through a local lens is a great way to feel more personally involved with what is going on. Strengthening ties with our local community while recognizing and acting upon obligations towards others around the world will allow us to become true global citizens.