Our global civilisation is emerging. Maps exist of the entire Earth, and there is nowhere on Earth where human presence is not felt. That we are continually revising our definition of "modern" is evidence of our continuing evolution.
The globalisation process is primarily characterised by increasing interdependence between all spheres of human existence. This process is part of our evolution as a species, and in this sense has been operational for a very long time. During this time, we have slowly developed our economic, legal, telecommunications and transport infrastructures, to the point where now, they span the globe.
The globalisation process is facilitated by technology. Advances in shipping, transport and travel mix people and products from everywhere. Information technology such as the internet facilitates interaction still further, and lets people feel like a citizen of the planet Earth. World issues become local issues, as people are provided with a picture of the world from a global perspective.
This interaction is bringing people together, as they are better able to experience, understand, and learn from each other. People are growing out of their religions, nationalities, genders and cultures and into the global village, where all people are citizens of planet Earth, where diversity is cherished. These ideas translate into the global recognition and acceptance of human rights such as equality of opportunity, and freedom of thought and expression.
Increased interaction also provides a more balanced view for decision-making, improved opportunities for the transfer of knowledge, tools and techniques, and increased awareness of global challenges, such as environmental degradation, over-population, over-consumption, public health, and education. Globalisation allows us, as a species, to become wiser.
Concern has been expressed that local cultures are swallowed in the global view. I contend that by the same process of evolution, "fit" cultural qualities will be retained; natural selection ensures that favourable attributes survive. Certainly, an opportunity is created for large multinationals to expand their marketshare; but the same process allows local producers to export their specialised skills and products to a larger market. If imported products outcompete local products, this is either because the local market was inefficient (the imports then providing a service to the local consumer and the environment, and an incentive to improve the local offering) or because of a distorting factor such as tax rebates.
Economically, globalisation produces increased allocative efficiency in the global economy. What this means, is that the economy (the system of satisfying demand) becomes less wasteful as it moves products from manufacturers to consumers. The "invisible hand" naturally works to this effect within national economies; globalisation is simply allowing this hand to work globally. However, the invisible hand is tied by such things as taxes, charges, duties, fees, levies, subsidies and rebates... all of which, regrettably, are still used by the world's largest economies, including the United States and the European Union. If globalisation works funny, start looking here.
Politically, globalisation shows long-term promise, once we've got the politicians out of politics, that is. The internet might be an ideal way for a species-wide vote on say, greenhouse gas emissions. But in the current political climate, a vote means very little. In a way, this note of caution is the underlying theme of the globalisation process. There is no doubt that building a global civilisation will advance the human species; the question, however, is whether what is actually happening out there in the real world is anything like what could be happening. That is, are governments investing the money they are making from taxes, from cash crops and from investments and privatisation programs into infrastructure, and into health and education programs? Or are they building meaningless monuments to themselves at the end of the mile-long road to their palaces? Globalisation as a process has plenty of potential; as with any thing, it also has plenty of potential for abuse. Given that we've currently only got one irreplacable planet to play with - in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "there is no planet B" - it's fair to be cautious.
Environmentally, innovations in economics, technology, culture and politics ultimately reduce consumption and pollution, and lead to more innovation, which reduce consumption and pollution still further. The process of globalisation is arguably the best tool we have in our challenge to become environmentally sustainable. It is arguably the best tool we have to minimise the harm we cannot help doing as we live.
It's suggested by some commentators that globalisation is, per se, an evil thing. I believe they are referring to the irresponsible actions of some international corporations. These actions are a symptom of globalisation, in the same way acne is a symptom of coming maturity. You're gonna get the odd parasite here and there.
These commentators suggest that we somehow wind back the evolutionary clock and stop growing - they do this while using electricity, eating food ultimately produced and delivered with the aid of fossil fuels, living in housing made of modern materials, listening to electronic music played off a plastic compact disc through a plastic stereo, and loudly publishing their websites made with plastic computers, served with plastic computers, and accessible only with other plastic computers.
There's no escaping the realities of the modern world. Without this same process of social and cultural evolution we're currently calling 'globalisation', we would not have invented the wheel, let alone photocopiers for all their little leaflets. These commentators certainly have a valid point about international companies - but by decrying globalisation per se, they are suggesting we forget about all the benefits a global culture can bring.
It is not the process of globalisation which these commentators need address. Rather, it is the actions of a relatively small group that are worthy of complaint. Ethics define the issue; just because one can, doesn't mean one should ... a principle lost on more than a few notable companies and individuals. However the fact that this principle was lost on those companies and individuals does not mean that the other 6 billion human entities on this planet should seek to avoid harmonising themselves in whatever ways feel good for them. What it means, is that when doing so, they should do it responsibly. It's not a hard principle to follow. Do unto others as you would do unto yourself. And, that means if you wouldn't like some big foreigner to come and finance rebels in your country which caused a civil war and the rape of your XYZ, then don't finance rebels in some other country either.
The root of the problem, in my view, are selfish individuals who are intent on making the world pay for their own ignorance. I believe that most people are nice. Furthermore I believe that every baby is born perfectly capable of being a Mother Teresa, and it's only the circumstances of the time that produce varying degrees of Adolf Hitler instead. [this is a rendering of the Tabula Rasa hypothesis - Ed]
There is every reason to think that globalisation - the process of intertwining of national cultures and economies - will provide some of the answers to these challenges of irresponsible corporatism. Certainly, posting ourselves back to the Stone Age (on recycled paper, of course) is not going to solve the ongoing issues we as a species continue to face with regards to overpopulation, resource depletion, and retention of biodiversity. Globalisation can create a world where people co-operate, and collaborate - where we can work together to overcome challenges faced by us all.