This is an insight written by Jack Schurman on the recent Bahá’í Chair for World Peace panel on The Impact of Global Economic Governance on Low and Mid-income Countries, co-sponsored by the College of Behavioral and Social Science on April 9, 2019.
I went into this symposium thinking about the topic of climate change, since this is one of the modern day problem I’m personally most concerned about, and is an area in which I’m an activist. I know from previous knowledge how developing countries, trying to catch up economically to the developed countries, rely on non-environmentally friendly methods of generating energy and do not have adequate environmental regulations. This isn’t too surprising, since as she pointed out later in the symposium, you have to consider what the developing countries priorities are. Those countries are going to want to focus on making sure their people have enough food to eat, and have their basic needs met before they even think about the environment.
This then raises the further question, of whether or not it’s fair for developed countries to put the same type of environmental constraints that they follow on these developing countries. On the one hand, I’m inclined to say yes in order to protect the environment. However, this might seem unfair, since the developed countries were able to develop without any environmental restrictions imposed on them, so it might seem hypocritical for them to now tell other countries that they cannot do the same. It seems as though the choice is either to restrict states from behaviors that would drastically improve the quality of life for their citizens, or to not restrict them, allowing them to perform behaviors that would negatively impact the environment, and thus threaten the wellbeing of future generations of animals, human and non-human alike.
This topic is obviously contentious, but one that also seems to be of utmost importance. Scientists already believe we are past the point of irreversible change to the climate, and as more and more countries industrialize, this has the potential to get even worse. It also raises the issue regarding who should be in charge of making these kinds of decisions, and how those decisions should be enforced. To me, these questions, in which actions made by individual states have global scale impacts, are one of the greatest motivating factors in favor of the establishment of international organizations such as the UN, which I have been learning about all semester in this honors seminar.
Another part of the symposium that really made me think was their discussion about all the aid that developing countries receive. It really shocked me how they pointed out that the second best group of countries at having organized civil society groups (behind the wealthiest ones) are actually the poorest countries, due to the immense amount of aid they’re given. They then went on to discuss China’s Belt and Road initiative, and the positive and negative considerations that go along with it. This made me think about whether or not there are potential scenarios where it may actually be a better idea for countries to refuse certain types of aid, in order to keep greater control over their own agenda.
The previous point, combined with the discussions regarding the increased influence of nationalism and increasing concerns over immigration, lead me to think about the AP spanish literature class I took my senior year of high school. In the class, we read and discussed a lot of articles and poetry written in south american countries regarding their economic and social struggles, and their fights for political freedom. I was also lucky enough to be taught by a teacher who had lived her entire life up until a few years ago in Venezuela, and every student beside me was a native speaker.
This environment gave me a wonderful opportunity to learn about the problems that people in those countries have faced in areas such as immigration and economic development. This allowed me to empathize to a greater degree with the discussions regarding how developing countries sometimes feel compelled to prioritize the interests of their own citizens above global interests.
The class also taught me about many instances where the people in the developing countries may not have liked to accept the aid offered to them due to the rules attached, which forced them to comply with the wishes of the other states, rather than be truly free. Even though it may not always be clear which choice is the correct one, and often it seems as though none of them should really be considered correct at all, countries always have to choose what they believe is best at the time.
About the Author:
Jack Schurman is a Sophomore from Columbia, MD studying computer science and philosophy. On campus, you can find him with the Philosophy Club or out skateboarding. He is not sure what he wants to do after school, but he is leaning towards doing something with research.