The General Situation

Globalization is a permanent part of the world order. The ever-increasing connections among all parts of the world and with multiple disciplines affect every part of our lives. The examples are many and graphic. To begin, national economies are intertwined. One has only to review the business page each day and see the results of 24 hours of continuous trading occurring somewhere in the world. Preceding the opening of the stock markets, futures markets influence the specific trading that goes on in the stock and commodities markets. As surely as day turns into night and back again somewhere in the world, the impacts are connected, and on some days very unsettling.

The current economic crisis has affected (or infected) the entire world. Financial systems are connected. We have only to look at the current meetings of the world’s leaders as they ponder the size and effect of various remedies, essentially working together to cope with a worldwide recession and potential depression based on the globalization of bad debt and tightening on the credit markets. This high-level connection rolls down to average citizens around the world affecting their jobs, their standard of living, and potential for the future. No one is immune!

Goods and services are globally connected as never before. The automobiles we drive are composed of parts made by the lowest bidders around the world, assembled in different user countries, and profits returned to the parent nations of international corporations. We call the help desk for our computers and information technology (IT) systems, and many times talk with someone on the other side of the globe including countries such as India. Retail industry products and profits are affected daily by the connection to a global supply chain and a global consumer market.

Global technology development enables the connections that bind our corporations and economies in endless cycles of development and technological improvements that show up almost simultaneously in all parts of the world. The safeguarding of intellectual property rights (IPR) has become a high-priority topic of concern among the developed nations of the world. National leaders work continuously to ensure that technology transfers take place under recognized rules and protocols, with due respect to those that provide the seed corn for progress. In spite of our concerns for safeguarding IPR, technology travels to all parts of the world legally or not, enabled by expanding IT networks and the rapid movement of ideas.

Global organizations are likewise ubiquitous, beginning with a large family of high-level United Nations (UN) organizations that run the gamut of purposes from policy and governance to science, agriculture and environment, to name only a small sample. Likewise there are regional affiliations among nations, private sector organizations, industries, and charitable groups. Every conceivable cause seems to have advocacy groups, again enabled by IT and the ever growing flow of information.

Perhaps the easiest example of globalization for scientists to understand is the relationship that has always existed within the environment and among Earth and space sciences. The planet is and always has been connected—physically, chemically, and biologically; the Earth ecosystem is essentially a “system of systems.” With expanding globalization in other parts of life, it has become even more important to recognize and understand the synergy created by rampant globalization. Such visible environmental manifestations as global disease transmission can occur with the speed of modern aircraft. With people and goods as carriers, vector diseases can move around the globe in not much more than 24 hours. Invasive species circle Earth in the ballast tanks of ships or the cargo holds of planes, transforming the landscape at their new location and severely impacting the ecological balance.

Natural disasters caused by Earth-related phenomena such as hurricanes and earthquakes are clearly common worldwide and affect the biosphere in similar ways around the world. Resource shortfalls in water, energy, and food are global and are the cause of significant global efforts at mitigation, adaptation, and easing of human suffering. In such situations, political boundaries are irrelevant, and in most cases cannot limit the extent of the situation and may even hinder response and recovery efforts.

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